Why Pastoral Theology?

I hope I am in good company with other bloggers in being a little obsessive and sensitive when it comes to my blog.  I just made a major shift from a longstanding blog that I had run for a number of years.  There I tried to engage academically with theology.  This mode met with greater and lesser success at times.  The shift here was to represent an intentional attempt to shift my manner of discourse to become more particular with respect to my vocation as a pastor.

This past week I was reflecting on this recent shift and as I looked at my blog I suddenly had the temptation to change my tag line, descriptive pastoral theology.  The reason for this was both internal and external.  Externally I felt that it might project too limited a scope on what I am trying to do here causing people to judge this blog by its (sub)title.  The second and more significant motivation is my own internal relationship to the thing called pastoral theology.  I hated my pastoral theology course in seminary and I have never encountered pastoral theology text that I have appreciated nor have I come across many pastors blogging who have kept my attention.  These are supposed to be the practical applications of theology for the church but they always strike me as impoverished theoretically or simply uninteresting practically.  For this reason my academic pursuits have always been a little escapist when it comes to the day-to-day realities of pastoring.  At least when I was focusing on biblical studies I was gaining invaluable tools for directly related study.  Theology always presented itself as the un-winnable dichotomy between irrelevant systematic theology and weak pastoral theology.  I have come to terms with this experience as being a symptom of my choice in educational institutions.  However it influenced a trajectory that has been hard to alter.

I decided to keep my tag line because I see the value, potential and role of pastoring.  Given my congregations I have experienced a greater freedom in my intellectual formation.  I am no longer on a track of greater and greater specialization making sure I can account for all secondary literature on a given person or subject.  I now read broadly with a sense of imagination in how various themes can engage with each other.  The problem remains that this process has still largely confined itself to the pulpit.  It is my hope that this space will eventually lead to the exploration of other areas of pastoral work (pastoral care, baptism, Lord’s Supper, ‘mission’, etc.).  In this way I hope to engage and also challenge the intellectual trends that have been formative in spaces marginal or outside the church.  And of course that those trends would also challenge the practices within the church.

For this reason I also want to maintain the title descriptive pastoral theology.  Again, this is no claim to objective understanding of task or concept.  This points rather to a practice or discipline which is meant to slow things down and takes for granted that things are already in motion and so shifts in perspective and articulation will already announce and enact shifts of practice and understanding as this is worked in particular.


3 thoughts on “Why Pastoral Theology?

  1. I have more or less made my home in the tensions and struggles between “pastoral” and “academic” theology, or the “church” and the “academy.” But I really see this dichotomy as a false one and I constantly find myself doing the work of translation, whether that means encouraging people in my congregation to audit classes at the University I attend (Canadian Mennonite University, which is an institution that emerged out of the conference of Mennonite Churches in Canada), or bringing in professors to offer insights, historical background, and teaching skills for hired pastors, lay pastors, deacons, or anyone else. I’ve also never cared for the “practical theology” courses that are required for my BA because I think the category itself is false. Theology for it to be theology is practical. This has everything to do with the theory/practice dualism which seems to function in nearly every discipline. But it is a false one for theology because the church is the church in the performance of it’s story. Or, to put it another way, whatever it is that faith names, is not a set of propositional belief statements.
    That was really just a long affirmation of your post. I agree with you and I appreciate the kind of work you appear to be doing both here in the (albeit strange) theological blogsphere as well as in your congregation. We need more pastors who think of themselves as theologians (and, of course, more academics who are engaged and active in their churches). I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this blog at all, but Jason Goroncy is both an active minister and academic and I’ve appreciated many of his posts: http://cruciality.wordpress.com/


  2. Oh, I was going to add that while I am not a pastor, I do find myself relatively involved in the church and the above (work of translation, as I call it) is a concern of mine precisely because of my love of the church.


  3. I agree that the dichotomy is a false one, but as you acknowledge to it is one that must be overcome. Good theological work is simply hard work. I will shortly be posting a review of Epp Weaver’s States of Exile which I found to be an excellent example of what theological work can be. There will always be accounts that are more particular and some that are more abstract and there is no problem with this, theory is work. However, what is often missing is the possibility a fuller or richer conversation which allows those working along the spectrum of the various poles to have more access to and influence on each other. I would understand your work of translation as a contribution to that conversation.


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