KANSAS CITY – Midwestern Seminary’s Center for Public Theology hosted its first major event, Sept. 22-23, as a well-respected evangelical theologian delivered the school’s C.W. Scudder Lectures.
Kevin Vanhoozer, author and research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, was the keynote speaker for the lectureship dedicated to exploring the biblical basis for dealing with contemporary social challenges and ethical issues.
“One of the greatest aspects of having the Center for Public Theology, as one of Midwestern Seminary’s resources in serving the local church, is hosting events like the Scudder Lectures with scholars like Dr. Vanhoozer,” said President Jason Allen. “Dr. Vanhoozer brings a great deal of experience and insight into the topic of theology, as well as the pastor’s role within it. We are grateful he could share that in such a winsome and intuitive way with our seminary community.”
The Center for Public Theology was launched in June during a seminary event at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in St. Louis. Owen Strachan, Midwestern Seminary’s associate professor of Christian theology, was named the center’s director.
In what was the CPT’s initial public event, Vanhoozer lectured on a two-part series entitled, “The Pastor-Theologian as Minister of the Gospel: Understanding What is in Christ” and “The Pastor-Theologian as Minister of the Gospel: Acting Out What is in Christ.”
In Vanhoozer’s opening lecture, he noted an “incredible shrinking evangelical imagination.” By this, he meant that the church, over the years, has failed “to see our world as the staging area for God and his plan of salvation. We just stopped seeing the reality of God.”
Ever-increasing secularization and a shift in the cultural view of the church and pastors, in general, infiltrated the church, Vanhoozer added. To correct this secularization of the church and negative view of the role of the pastor, what needs to take place, Vanhoozer posited, is “that we adopt biblical rather than cultural criteria for success, especially in the ministry.”
The lecturer, who has authored or edited more than 20 books, noted that two urgent social and ethical issues needed to be addressed in his two-part series: 1. “How we need to recover biblical metaphors, biblical pictures, for the pastor” and 2. “How pastors need to awake, liberate, and then disciple the imaginations of their congregations.”
The two metaphors Vanhoozer employed to describe pastors were those of a shepherd and an artisan. “The pastor is a theologian who leads the church toward greater understanding of Jesus and His way – that is shepherding – and then who helps the church act out that understanding by building a faithful community – that is the artisan part,” he said.
Ultimately, the role of the pastor is to make disciples, Vanhoozer said. He also needs to be discerning because the culture around the congregation is working overtime to capture people’s imaginations and cultivate their spirits to its ways.
“Pastors have to know one big thing, and they know it because the Bible tells them so, not because they are geniuses,” Vanhoozer suggested. “They have to know what God is doing in Christ, through the Spirit, to create a people for His treasured possession.
“If you want to become a pastor-theologian, you want to be the kind of grown-up who can help others grow up into the fullness of the stature of Jesus Christ,” Vanhoozer said. “We all need to grow up into Christ. We need to graduate from skim milk to whole milk, and then from whole milk to solid theological food, if we are to become mature disciples.”
In the second lecture, Vanhoozer pictured the role of the pastor-theologian in terms of a theatrical production, with the pastor being an artisan who communicates what it means to “be in Christ.”
“That is the special mandate of the pastor-theologian—to present Christ as the high point of God’s revelation and God’s redemption, to help people understand what is in Christ…to help people lean into and live out what is in Christ,” he said. “Pastors respond to the great pastoral commission to make disciples and to build God’s house by ministering the gospel and thereby communicating Christ.”
Additionally, Vanhoozer said the pastor’s role is to deliberate, discern, and demonstrate what it means to be a disciple in today’s world. “To do this, I think pastors need to know and to be able to teach Christian doctrine.”
Referring back to his theatrical metaphor, Vanhoozer stated, “Why not think of doctrine as a kind of theatrical direction for Christian disciples, direction for walking across the world’s stage, direction for playing our parts to the glory of God. Doctrine, you see, helps us understand the script….
“The Bible is the church’s holy script,” he continued. “It has an authority that no other social script has…And the church is a company, summoned and gathered together to be a theatre, to perform this script and not any other.”
Vanhoozer said the pastor’s role in this production is that of actor and assistant manager. “The pastor is a believer, but also an overseer, a shepherd. The primary role of a pastor is to lead the church toward understanding, and into understanding.”
This understanding is not just theoretical; it’s practical. The pastor helps congregants understand what is happening, and enables them to participate and work out in their lives the truth of what God is doing in their lives, Vanhoozer added.
View the 2016 Scudder Lectures in their entirety at http://cpt.mbts.edu.