Theological Footnotes 15 - What is a Pastor-Theologian?


Theological Footnotes

I am a pastor-theologian and author creating resources to help you grow as a disciple of Jesus. My goal is to make Christian theology comprehensible so that it will build up the church. I write and publish books through Peniel Press.

Hello Reader,

My family is probably sick of hearing me talk about the intricacies of Latin over dinner, but I hope that this work will eventually be a benefit to you and the broader church (more info below). I currently have three books in print that you can buy here and a YouTube channel where I regularly post videos related to theology and discipleship.

This month, I want to explore with you the calling of a pastor-theologian, which is the term I use most often for myself. Even if you are not a pastor, I hope it expands your vision of what it means to do theology for the sake of the church.

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What is a pastor-theologian?

Thankfully no one actually calls me “Pastor-Theologian Stephen” (my congregation calls me “Pastor Stephen”), but when I talk about my vocation and calling, I usually use the term pastor-theologian. I am a local pastor, an author, a board chair, and a host of other roles and responsibilities at work and at home. But when I name what God has called me to be, I say I am a “pastor-theologian.” But what exactly is a pastor-theologian? A pastor-theologian is a minister who sees theology as integral to what God has called him/her to do in the life of the church. In order to get a better handle on the term, I want to name two things a pastor theologian is not, and then give three different ways that pastors attempt to embody this form of pastoral calling.

First, a pastor-theologian is not just a ‘smart pastor.’ It might be controversial to say it, but just because someone has a Phd in theology doesn’t mean they are a theologian. Many people serving in the academy (and even highly educated pastors serving in the church) can have all sorts of formal education in theology, but it makes little impact on their life in the church among the people of God. Being a pastor-theologian is more about vocation and then how much education you have. Many pastor-theologians will pursue advanced degrees like Phds and DMins, but there are plenty of pastors who may have struggled through many of their seminary courses and yet live out the calling of a pastor-theologian to a greater degree than some of those who got an A in every class.

Second, a pastor-theologian is not just a pastor who likes to read theology. For some pastors, they love reading theology because it is personally beneficial and edifying to them. This is wonderful! However, it is not the same as being a pastor-theologian. There are other pastors who read theology so that they can have the right answers for their congregation or feel confident that they will not be in error in the theology they teach. This is also very good, but not the same as being a pastor-theologian. Most pastor-theologians do enjoy reading theology, but the purpose is in order to be doing theology in a way that will build up the church of Christ.

There are many smart, theology-reading pastors who are doing good work in the kingdom of God, but they are not pastor-theologians. At the core of the calling of a pastor-theologian is the integration of theology and the life of the church, so that the pastoral calling becomes a means by which theology serves to build up Christ’s church. Even in this narrow calling, there are multiple ways that one can live out what it means to be a pastor-theologian.

Three Ways of Being a Pastor-Theologian

1. The pastor-theologian may be a bridge between the academy and the church.

For much of the life of the church, its best theologians were pastors in local congregations or perhaps belonged to a monastic community. Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, Chrysostom, Basil, Gregory Nazianzus, and more were all people for whom their work as theologians was deeply connected to their life within the worshipping people of God. However, with the creation of modern research universities, theology as an academic discipline has become increasingly disconnected from the life, faith, and worship of the church. Some pastor-theologians today are called to serve as a bridge, to bring back together what we have wrongly separated. These pastor-theologians (sometimes called pastor-scholars) often pursue advanced degrees so that they can have one foot in the theological academy and one foot in the life of the church. They likely teach classes at church and at a theological school and try to bring the wisdom of the academy into the church, while also speaking prophetically to the academy from within the church. As a bridge, they seek for there to be traffic passing between the church and the academy so that both can benefit and be called to greater faithfulness. This is the vision of places like the Center for Pastor-Theologians.

2. The pastor-theologian may be a translator of theological wisdom into the life of the church

Most theological work in the present is not written so that anyone but other academic theologians can read it. It is specialized, scholarly writing. This leaves much of the wisdom inaccessible to the life of the church. Similarly, much of the wisdom of the Christian past (while easier to understand than modern theology) is also out of sight and difficult for everyday Christians to understand. Some pastor-theologians serve as translators. This may be literal, as they translate works from foreign or ancient languages into the vernacular (i.e. my current translation project of The Body of Orthodox Doctrine). At other times, this translation work will be more conceptual - taking the complex theological ideas of important works and making them understandable for the farmers, factory workers, and families in the church that seek to grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ (i.e. All Things Hold Together translates the ideas of Herman Bavinck’s Christian Worldview into accessible language). Some pastor-theologians, like me, will do this translation work through writing, but others will do it in preaching and teaching in the life of the church without any of their work ever seeing publication. This is the vision of people like Kevin VanHoozer and others seeking theological renewal in the life of the church.

3. The pastor-theologian will see the pastoral vocation as a theological calling.

This vision captures the heart of what it means to be a pastor-theologian. In pastoral work, you are doing theology within the life of the church. Visiting the sick, speaking the Word to them, and praying with them is a theological task. Listening and leading at consistory is a theological task. Sermon preparation and crafting is a theological task. How you work and how you rest is a theological decision. How you live in your neighborhood and in your work is theological (see Rooted). Just as, in some sense, all of life is theological, the pastor-theologian seeks to see all of pastoral ministry as a form of theological ministry. Theology is not something that you simply studied in seminary or read in a book, but “theology is the doctrine of living for God through Christ” (Petrus van Maastricht). Because God is the living God who creates, convicts, redeems, calls, and claims his people, theology cannot be divorced from the life of faith or the work of pastoral ministry. This is the vision of Eugene Peterson and others who seek to see our theology integrated with the lived spiritual life of believers - pastors and parishioners alike.

I am a pastor-theologian. Though I rarely act as a bridge between the church and the academy, I frequently work to translate the theological wisdom of the church into the everyday lives of believers in my congregation and beyond. I also work to see all of my pastoral work as a form of lived theology, where my convictions about who God is, what God has said, and what God has done takes shape in my life and in my work among the people of God. I pray God will call more men and women serve as pastor-theologians within his church.

Brantford Theology Conference 2025

Our current 'big crazy idea' is to put on a theology conference to build up the church. We are in the initial planning stages of an all-day conference where pastors and theologians will be able to share theology for people in the pews that will help their grow in their life in Christ. In addition to presentations, there would be time for panel discussions, Q&A, and more. We hope to have the conference online as well as in person so that those distant from Brantford would be able to participate as well.

Continue to pray for us as we plan dates, theme, logistics, and begin to reach out to potential presenters. If you are interested in this idea, please reply and let me know so we can continue to gauge interest.

Writing Updates

The Body of Orthodox Doctrine - Status: 25% done with Part 1

I have begun translating in earnest this last month. My Latin is rusty, but it is coming back quicker than I anticipated. If you know anything about the Heidelberg Catechism, the first section (Misery) is the shortest of the three and Ursinus' commentary is no different. I have translated just over 20 pages of the roughly 75 pages of commentary that makes up part 1 of the book. We will be publishing the commentary in three parts corresponding to the three sections of the Catechism before putting together a complete volume with a full Scripture index. I hope to be done with the first draft by the end of 2023. I will then pause on the translation to do edits of both this book and The Sinews of Scripture, which has been sitting on my desk for almost a year. When those projects are both moved through editing, we will push to publish both of them next year while I move back to writing and translating follow up volumes in both series.

Thank You/Milestones

We appreciate your prayers for the work we are doing in providing theological resources for the church. One of the best ways to support us to buy our books and tell your friends to do the same. However, if you'd like to contribute in other ways, you can always buy me a coffee.

From the desk of

Stephen C. Shaffer

Author, Pastor-Theologian


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Theological Footnotes

I am a pastor-theologian and author creating resources to help you grow as a disciple of Jesus. My goal is to make Christian theology comprehensible so that it will build up the church. I write and publish books through Peniel Press.