Friday, September 25, 2015

How the Pastor came to NOT be a Public Theologian

Here is a massive quote, a few pages, so don't even bother to read if not your thing, from Vanhoozer and Stracham on how the role of "theologian" has largely been forgotten in the pastorate.

From their book; The Pastor as Public Theologian


Throughout the Great Awakening one need not be a member of the formal clergy to preach; one could emulate Whitefield, the tireless celebrity evangelist, and with Wesley claim the world as one's parish. As the First Great Awakening gave way to the Second, it produced new movements and powered upstart denominations. In the early nineteenth century, the Baptists and Methodists exploded in numbers as a generation of circuit riders and evangelists roamed the country.

The effect of these awakenings on America was revolutionary. It was this period and its wave of popular religious movements that did more to Christianize American society than anything before or since. No preacher more exemplified the spirit of the rambunctious Second Great Awakening than Charles Finney. After entering the ministry with little formal training, he promptly sought to modify the theology of of the Edwardsean (Jonathan) revivalists, whom he believed hindered sinners from coming to Christ due to their belief in the necessity of sovereign grace. Finney seized Edward's idea of "natural inability" but converted it to "natural ability" in terms akin to Pelagian theology. According to Finney, in their "inward being" sinners are "conscious of ability to will and of power to control their outward life directly or indirectly, by willing." In Finney's scheme, conversion therefore became a matter of discovering the right agitator of will. Turning to Christ was, in a watershed statement, "a purely philosophical result of the right use of the constituted means." Because of this, Finney instituted the "anxious bench" and other methods that placed tremendous psychological and emotional pressure on the sinner. Unlike past revivalists, conversion for Finney did not require a miracle; it was, with the proper techniques, a sure thing. Finney exerted a significant influence of fellow Christian preachers. Scores of other Protestents began to adopt his practices when they saw just how many converts Finney could win with a single night of preaching. Innovation and no-holds-barred gospel proclamation became the means by which one won a hearing. In many places, formal training was seen as a deadening agent on a young preacher and on the church who endured his stilted preaching.

In one generation, America went from a nation featuring a carefully guarded pastoral office - marked by learning, communal stability, and staunch theological preaching - to one in which disestablishment reigned and highly gifted populist communicators like Finney dominated. At the same time, the increasingly secularised American academy expanded and made territorial claims over the intellectual life of the country. Pastors yielded to academics as thought leaders. The American academy was transformed and with it the American church. Scholarship was seen as its own profession. Philosophy and the sciences replaced theology as the queen of the disciplines. Theology was separated from the life of the church.

It took sometime for the Enlightenment to triumph over the Great Awakening and the victory was not truly recognised until the twentieth century. But the theological guild, particularly its evangelical members, would never be the same again. The queen of the sciences, the discipline that for centuries had God for its object, had dwindled into religious studies, a region of merely human (all too human!) behaviour. If society was one grand dinner party, the theologians were increasingly to be found in the corner, left to their fantastic thoughts and their pious imprecations.

The cultural shift it pastors hardest. Theology became a specialist's discipline, not a generalist's, as was formerly the case. By the early twentieth century pastoring was now a practical profession, more concerned with meeting immediate personal needs than with formulating timeless truths. We thus witness a sea change in the ministry; a taking of the pastorate. Pastoring was now a "practical" field and with the increasing dominance of the American business climate in cultural life, churches began to seek to grow just like mass-market enterprises rocketing into profitability all around them. "Efficiency" propelled the "church growth" model, and "administration" ascended to primacy of place in the panoply of pastoral duties. Outside of the confessional traditions, the pastorate had largely lost its character as a theological office in midcentury America; in many pulpits this conception was lost and has not returned.

Theologically minded pastors like C. H. Spurgeon didn't lack for an audience and yet pastoring had changed. Revivalism blazed on with revivalists like Billy Sunday carrying the torch into the twentieth century. Sunday famously - and proudly - said that he knew as much about theology as a jackrabbit knows about Ping-Pong, a quip that historian George Marsden affirmed as stated "with some accuracy." There is no real contradiction between theology and evangelism and yet many pastors eschewed the former for the latter, finding their model in the mega-evangelists. These tended to see their chief duty to be not biblical-theological instruction but rather the oversight of ongoing revival. In this climate theology seemed separate from evangelism and from the local church's everyday ministry. The church's evangelistic apparatus was strong, but it's theological muscles had atrophied due to disuse.

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