That’s quite a lineup of Baptists! The associate editors of the volume, Peter R. Schemm (PRS) and David P. Nelson (DPN), graciously agreed to answer some questions about this new theology and how it can best be used for the good of the church to the glory of God. This interview will be posted in two parts.
We are agreed that theology is vital to the health of the local church, but from our experiences in various churches, we know that not all agree with us on that point. What is the most compelling reason that a pastor should continue to read theology—even if, as he sees it, he already suffered through one of these books in seminary?
DPN: I am tempted to answer, Because we know that “suffering produces endurance”, but I hope this text won’t actually cause too much suffering. Pastors should read theology because the ministry of the pastor, from preaching to any number of pastoral acts, is inherently theological. So, the most faithful pastors will be good theologians, and good theologians are made through years of continuous reflection of the teachings of Scripture. I think it is important, as a professor of theology in a seminary, to pursue a lifelong study of theology. How much more important, then, for a pastor, who has the responsibility to feed God’s sheep, to study theology continually. We hope A Theology for the Church will aid and enrich such study of the Scriptures.
PRS: The most compelling reason that a pastor ought to read/study theology is that it is the essence of his vocation to do so. The nature of pastoral ministry is so directly rooted in truth and doctrine that the Apostle Paul can hardly write a paragraph of the so called Pastoral Epistles without referring to something like “the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth” (Titus 1:1; cf. 1 Tim 1:3; 2 Tim 1:13). This makes sense since the church itself is “the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim 3:15). And, it is also why so many of the great pastors throughout the history of the church were theologians—from Paul to Augustine to Luther to Fuller. It is our hope, then, that TFC will assist in forming the next generation of pastor-theologians.
So pastors should read theology, should they encourage lay people to read a book like this, or should the lay folks stick with Max Lucado and Rick Warren?
PRS: Now that is a loaded question. No, it is not enough for “lay people” to read only popular works such as Lucado’s and Warren’s. However, one of the first Christian authors I ever read was Max Lucado. So I appreciate what I think he is attempting to do in his writing. I would hasten to add, however, that it was theology books much like TFC that helped me to see where the popular works are often lacking. Sometimes they lack theological precision and sometimes they lack theological substance. Sometimes they say more than the biblical text allows. Sometimes they are so concerned about being “practical” or “connecting” with people that, ironically, they undermine the gospel itself. I suggest challenging all believers to read more and to read better. Most of the thoughtful laymen I know want to read substantive, time-tested works.
DPN: I encourage my children to have a balanced diet – we don’t eat only from one food group. Christ’s disciples will do well to eat a “balanced diet” in their reading. While the kind of literature you mention may serve a purpose, any lay person will benefit much from reading good theology. I think we underestimate the desire and ability of congregants to think hard theologically. I have served in local churches for over 20 years and I recall very few occasions where lay persons did not readily engage in serious theological reflection. To be blunt, I think that often when in the church there is little theological interest among the people we likely will find that this is because we pastors have ourselves become theologically lazy.
Let’s say a pastor makes copies of A Theology for the Church available in the church book stall. How should he go about cultivating an atmosphere at church where people will want to buy this book and then spend their free time reading it?
DPN: Let me suggest a couple of strategies for cultivating interest in reading a book like this. First, in general, biblical preaching will create an appetite for theology. A pastor should point the congregation to good biblical and theological resources routinely. Second, as particular sermons raise certain theological questions, a pastor could point out how a book like TFC helps to answer such questions.
PRS: The primary means for cultivating a theological atmosphere at church, seems to me, to be the ministry of example. What the pastor loves his people will soon love. His love for the deep things of God will show up in everything from his preaching to the way he leads his family. As to his preaching, it will be characterized by a theological mindset that is willing to employ biblical language. He is not the pastor who substitutes “permissiveness” for “lewdness” because no one understands what lewdness means, or worse, because someone might be offended by the term. He employs particular biblical and theological language in his messages and explains what it means. In this way he cultivates a mind for God among his people.
As to family life, if a pastor is in the habit of training individual men in the church to think theologically—to think, say, about the glory of the Triune God—and if he personally models how to take this thinking home to the dinner table or to the workbench, then it will not be long before he forms a deep appreciation for theology in the life of the church. In the end, I believe it is the responsibility of the pastor to personally embody a love for all things theological.
Finally, a pastor ought to consider leading a small or large group through TFC as a systematic study. He need not choose every chapter to do this but he should certainly include the chapters by the editors!
Hearty thanks to Drs. Nelson and Schemm! Part 2 will, Lord willing, be up tomorrow.