Pastoral cop out
In 1997, then-moderator Bill Phipps, said the divinity of Jesus and the reality of heaven and hell were irrelevant. ‘I don’t believe Jesus was God, but I’m no theologian,’ Rev. Phipps said at the time. – Charles Lewis, “The Split in the United Church”
Presbyterians have always valued an educated clergy. Each of the churches in the Presbyterian family require an undergraduate education and, in addition, three years of graduate theological study in seminary. In addition, we administer ordination examinations on the topics of
- Theological competence
- Worship and sacraments
- Biblical exegesis
In an addition level of scrutiny (sometimes more scrutiny, sometimes less) each candidate is examined orally by the Presbytery to which he is called.
So it is mystifying why someone such as Bill Phipps (past Moderator of the United Church of Canada and trained in a Presbyterian Seminary) would cop out with the line, “I’m not a theologian.” If you are a pastor then you’re a theologian. In fact, if you’re a pastor then you may well be the most significant theologian there is.
One of the main tasks of the preacher, and one of the main reasons as preacher should have the best theological training possible, is that they are supposed to be able to unpack abstract theology in a way that will mean something to the person sitting in the pew. That this classical understanding of the preacher’s role sounds strange is a sign of how far we have departed from the traditional Reformed understanding of the professional ministry.-Gerald Bray, “Rescuing Theology from the Theologians,” Themelios 24:2. p. 54.
Bray continues by referring to Karl Barth’s claim that if theology cannot be preached, it is not theology at all.
The church need to recover its belief in the role of the pastor as theological teacher. We need academic theology to be a conversation partner with the church. We do not need to cede theology to the academy.
Presbyterians have traditionally maintained that the order of presbyter (elder) is comprised of two types of elder based on their particular function: teaching elders (ministers of Word and Sacrament) and ruling elders. This traditional nomenclature captures something of the teaching and instruction function of ministers that has been lost.
Theology exists to make sense of our experience of God based upon the reflection of the church on the Word of God. It exists to form us and shape us so that our lives will become beautiful.
As Dane Ortlund put in recently, “Doctrine matters. But doctrine is meant to fuel some thing else—beautiful, radiant living. Standing immovably on the finished work of Christ will get us there.”