Ed. Owen Strachan and Kevin J. Vanhoozer
Baker Academic, 221 pages (hardback, 2015)
In my quest to read more contemporary theology books in 2016 the first one I read reminded me why I have generally stayed away from this type of contemporary theology book in the past. So much focus on programmatic “Do it this way and succeed” and first person accounts of how what Pastor A did is the right manner of going about the doing of x that is almost nauseous. It is ironic that a book which has as its purpose to re-examine the role of the Pastor and tear it away from the commercialization of the pulpit ministry it unnecessarily falls into similar traps.
I realize that is a pretty inauspicious way to begin a book review. It kind of begs the reader away from looking at the conversation which shall follow. But I do promise there is good to come.
That all being said this book is chock full of so many gems that at times I was genuinely moved to stand up and cheer. This is especially the case in the chapter by Owen Strachan (one of the co-authors, more on that in a second) titled Of Scholars and Saints: A Brief History of the Pastorate and Kevin Vanhoozer’s introduction Pastor’s, Theologians, and Other Public Figures plus his concluding chapter on Artisans in the House of God are worth the price of the book. There is much to commend in this work and it touches on a very serious and much needed subject matter, that is what is a Pastor, what should he be doing when it comes to his intellectual and theological work, and why the current view of what Pastors are and what they are called to do is totally out of whack with what the Bible says and the Church should expect.
Owen Strachan (Professor of Church History at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Research Professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) take turns in the 188 pages of text (end notes and bibliography make up for the final 33 pages) explaining their vision. After each section their are a couple of testimonies given by various pastors (Kevin DeYoung, Josh Moody, Todd Wilson, Guy Davies, among others) from several different traditions and geographical locations concerning their personal ministerial work and how the thesis of this book works itself in practice among their churches. I found these excurses to be unhelpful and distracting. As was noted above it is ironic that in a book critiquing an aspect of modern evangelicalism (if it works, it must be biblical) they bring in numerically successful (and God bless them for it, this is not a criticism born out of jealousy et al) pastors who give two or three pages about themselves and their churches. I understand the authors purpose, to provide encouragement for those reading, but again it falls into the same gutter of pointing to big steeples for signs of success that so much of modern American Christianity is drawn to. The book would lose nothing by cutting out the testimonials from the work.
In closing I recommend this book to pastors looking for a theological and biblical case for means of grace ministry and for laypeople wondering what it is that Pastors were put on this earth to do and what they should expect of their own local minister.