In the Winter 2001 edition of the Founders Journal, Tom Ascol wrote about the recovery of “The Pastor as Theologian.” We are living in a day where the best theologians are supposed to be academicians rather than pastors. Pastors have become disinclined to doctrinal development and instead focus on honing in their leadership skills and techniques for church growth. Books on church methodologies have supplanted the rich theological tradition on the average minister’s bookshelves such that Barna is quoted more than Baxter, Warren over Watson, Hybels over Henry, and on and on. Unprincipled pragmatism which has effectively built megachurches has, at the same time, destroyed the foundational understand that the pastor’s predominant function is to teach God’s Word and promulgate the rich truths of Scripture as stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor. 4:1).
With that said, Ascol does a fine job of presenting the case for the pastor as theologian. Below is an excerpt and conclusion to his article where he explains the divine directives for the minister in the pastoral epistles.
In the 242 verses which comprise these three letters, which are in effect divinely inspired pastoral manuals, Paul uses the word, “doctrine” at least sixteen times. Theology was to be at the heart of Timothy’s and Titus’ understanding of what a pastor is to be and do. Consider of few of the points Paul makes about a pastor’s doctrinal responsibility.
• He is to charge people that they teach only apostolic doctrine. (1 Timothy 1:3)
• He is to beware that some professing believers will depart from the faith and will be taken in by deceiving spirits and the doctrines of demons (1 Timothy 4:1).
• He will be a good minister of Jesus Christ if he teaches his brethren to see through ascetic gnosticism and he himself continues to carefully feed on good doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6).
• He is to give careful attention to doctrine (1 Timothy 4:13).
• He is continuously to take heed to himself and to the doctrine, with the assurance that by doing so he will save both himself and his hearers (1 Timothy 4:16).
• He is to aspire to become worthy of double honor by ruling well and laboring in word and doctrine (1 Timothy 5:17).
• He is to regard the Scriptures as being profitable for doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16).
• He is to preach the word because he knows that the time is coming when people will not endure sound doctrine (2 Timothy 4:1-4).
• He is be so doctrinally grounded that he can refute false teaching by sound doctrine (Titus 1:9).
• Everything which he teaches is to be consistent with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).
• In doctrinal convictions he is to have integrity, be reverent and incorruptible (Titus 2:7).
How in the world can any man hope to pass the apostle’s admission test to pastoral ministry if he is not committed to being a careful theologian?
Ascol concludes with several practical reasons why it is important that we recover the biblical understanding of the pastor as theologian. He writes (emphasis mine):
Recovering the pastor-theologian model is not optional for a ministry which is committed to being biblical. God’s Word requires pastors to see themselves in this light. Though this approach to ministry will require going against the stream of modern thinking, the benefits are far reaching.
Church members who are theologically instructed become better equipped to handle the Word of God responsibly. They are able to use Scripture in problem solving and counseling others. They also become better at listening to preaching and teaching. A theologically grounded congregation makes for better preaching. A pastor who trains his hearers to reason biblically will not be able to bluff his way through a sermon. Doctrinal preaching raises doctrinal literacy which in turn encourages careful study and prayer by the preacher.
A pastor-theologian can be useful in the lives of other pastors–especially those with less experience. I have avoided many wrong steps and unnecessary controversies in the church by listening to the experienced, theologically informed counsel of fellow pastors.
Finally, a pastor who sees theology as his life-long work will help lay the foundation for reformation and revival. If churches are going to be strengthened and renewed in our day, it will be accomplished on the foundation of God’s truth and nothing else. Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17). The Spirit uses nothing less in that great work. So if a pastor would see himself and his people become increasingly holy, he must restore truth to the pride of place in his ministry. He must continue to aspire to the work of a pastor-theologian. “Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:13).