on being a pastor/theologian

someone on the pentecostal theology worldwide facebook page is asking this question:

Is it possible for a pastor, who does not desire to be a professional/vocational theologian, to become a solid pastor/theologian without knowing the biblical languages? I wonder what people who work with the biblical languages regularly think about this?

many of the responses have been in the affirmative though there have been not a few “yes, but…” responses as in “yes, but you’ll always be lacking in your exegetical skills without having learned the bible languages….” etc.  One person did well to point out that even with knowledge of the Bible languages there is still ALOT of WEIRD and BAD theology going around in Pentecostal circles, and that by folks who supposedly have seminary degrees and training in the languages so it is important to note having training in the languages is not a cure all or safety net necessarily.  There is responsible exegesis too, but then one might want to know what that even means anymore.

But I wanted to share a couple responses I thought were pretty good.

One person emphasized the importance of reading:

Reading (and reading and reading) is always the main key of being a good theologian. If one is diligent and discipline enough to read everyday, one can become a better theologian than many seminary graduates.

I think this is the simple truth.  There is a prominent blogger who proves this point.  He is as good as if not better than a lot of seminary grads simply because he reads a lot and asks questions and talks it all out on his blog.

My friend Monte had this to say:

I believe we can, and should certainly strive to be “a solid pastor/theologian,” even if we do not for varied reasons possess a grasp of “biblical languages.” I say this even while I myself had been graced by God to acquire many years ago, two solid years of Greek grammar and syntax, and I can still read and consult my Greek New Testament.

The reason though why I hold this conviction is that over the years I have gone over to the position that most important is a good “theological reading” of the Bible, as a maturing “Catholic Christian,” and more specifically in this context— as a “Catholic Pentecostal.” I did not say “Roman Catholic;” I said “Catholic;” but also in becoming “Catholic,” it may perhaps help to sometimes give our ears and hearts to our Roman Catholic brethren.

So to become a “Catholic Pentecostal” means I inform my reading of the Bible with some broad consensual understandings of the Christian Story— which I simultaneously inform and integrate with a distinctive Pentecostal reading of Scripture; I find Kenneth Archer’s idea of Pentecostal “Central Narrative Convictions” helpful here.

I believe the Holy Spirit sends the Church to the ends of the earth with the Gospel so that in the process of discipling the nations— we raise up “Catholic” people. Even as the Spirit gives each of us a distinctive “tongue” and hence “voice” through the Pentecostal experience of Spirit baptism, the Spirit then enjoins us to share these “tongues,” “voices,” and “gifts” with those we reach and minister to, and we in turn receive “gifts” from them, affirm their “voices,” and worship God as we hear their “tongues.”

So in the process of opening ourselves to the global Church and to the outpouring of God’s Spirit on all flesh, we become Catholic Pentecostals— as the Spirit enriches us with the gifts and tongues and voices of all the world. Then the riches of all the world’s nations flow into God’s new Zion! (Rev 21:24, 26). I am here by the way, drawing on some thoughts gathered from Miroslav Volf’s “Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation.”

Ultimately however, what qualifies us as true “pastor-theologians” is that we have somehow at some point received in our bodies and spirits— a sharing in the sufferings of Jesus. That is why Martin Luther thus said a true “theologian” is one “who comprehends the . . . things of God seen through suffering and the cross.” Then we become true preachers of Christ only and Him crucified because we have received from God a true “theology of the cross” and not a false “theology of glory.”

There, in the crucible of mystic experience with Jesus our Healer, we together with the comfort of the Holy Spirit— forge a theology of moral and redemptive power for the healing of all nations. When this happens, we like Jacob, worship God in no other way than by leaning on our staff— because the Spirit had wounded our thigh; our strength had become touched and transformed by hand of God— which now makes us partakers in the wounds of God, that we may also rejoice as partakers of His glory.

I think his point about doing a “theological reading” of the Bible is a good point.  I happen to think good theology comes out of good practice of Inductive Bible Study and honest responsible handling of the languages, but even so, we must at some point go beyond that.  This can come through the discipline of reading theological works such as Brunner or Barth or even Torrance.  I know Vanhoozer has a work out on a theological reading of the New Testament and so on.   I even think Dave Black is doing some of this with the stuff he is doing lately such as with his book The Jesus Paradigm and so on.  Tim Gombis’s The Drama of Ephesians is another good example of this.  The think I like about Monte’s response is how he has taken and received from others and integrated it into his own theological background, into his Pentcostalism. I think that is something we should all do – learn and receive what we can from others and integrate into our own thinking and theological backgrounds.  It will make us better people.

If you think you’d like to be part of the pentecostal theology worldwide facebook page, let me know and I could add you.  but please know it is closed group.

Feel free to let me know what you think.



5 responses to “on being a pastor/theologian

  1. There are obvious benefits to being able to read the Bible in its original languages but I don’t think it’s necessary to be a good pastor/theologian. I always think back to the days when the church read their OT in Greek, which obviously was a translation, and they somehow managed to crank out some of the best theologians history has ever known. Augustine knew a smattering of Greek and did the majority of his Bible reading in Latin and look at all he managed to accomplish. Find me a top 10 list of theologians throughout the church’s history that doesn’t have him near the top.

    And let’s be honest—how many people can really read the Bible in its original languages anyway? I’m talking about without the aid of lexicons or software; without translating into their native tongue in their head or on paper. Very few I’d suppose.

    I’d add to your list above (both points with which I agree) and say that lots of time spent with God in prayer makes a great pastor/theologian. The theologian’s task is to say something about God. Who’s better equipped to do that: the person who can read Hebrew and Greek or the person who spends time seeking the face and voice of the Lord in prayer?

    My 2 cents anyway…

  2. I truly cringe when I hear a preacher / teacher do a word study from ‘Strong’s’ and say this is what this means and it’s taken out of context; whereas a understanding of the original languages would prevent that from happening.

    I think in many Pentecostal circles there is a low view towards academia, and I say this as one who attends a Pente college. I struggle in understanding Greek and I have no interest in even looking at Hebrew…yet the little I know helps me to know that I don’t know enough to make a final verdict on a passage on the basis of the language, yet it helps me immensely when reading commentaries. The added bonus is that I now know a number of Greek scholars who are willing to give their advice if I ask them nicely.

    My soap box angst is more to do within the framework of ‘Pastor’ within what seems to be an every increasing movement within Pentecostalism towards a leadership movement….and therefore good pastoring is on the decrease.

    I wouldn’t mind joining up with your FB page either…thanks.

  3. One can certainly be a good “pastor-theologian” without the languages, but you will be handicapped in what you can access.

    And I would like to be added Brian. 🙂

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