“During the past two centuries, things have changed. Christians today don’t look primarily to pastors as their most important intellectual guides.”

Why the Church Needs Pastor-Theologians - TGC


I would not agree with every benefit he sees in modern seminaries (psychology being one) but I think the overall point of this article is good.

One thing he fails to mention is that when church was no longer compulsory, and things like pew renting, which added to the coffers, went away, pastors are not supported like they once were. It’s hard for many to afford to go to increasingly expensive seminaries and then go make peanuts. Not that many guys can become full on theologians while at the same time being a faithful pastor. Certainly a good goal and something that should be pursued though.

People now have access via the internet to both broad and deep scholarship on any theological topic (or any topic) imaginable. It's impossible for any one pastor have doctorate level knowledge on everything. I research plenty of topics online where I know my pastor is clearly out of his depth. It's not his fault, just that he simply can't go that deep on every topic that interests me.

If the article is referring to a spiritual guide, then maybe it is true that the pastor should be the most important. But not as an intellectual guide.

A pastor should be well-studied. But there's also a danger in focusing so much on study that actual pastoring is neglected.

It's worth noting that in the days of the Puritans and Separatists, even the "free" churches (more or less those kicked out of the Anglican churches), as well as in the free churches of mainland Europe, pastors used to be well trained in the Biblical languages, qualified to go to seminary by learning (and using) Latin, learned formal and informal logic, and more. As a result, the pastor was rightly seen as someone who was competent in intellectual matters.

Fast forward to the fundamental/liberal split, and you've got two things going on that are going to impair this position of the pastor--beyond what Josh notes about compensation. First of all, "our tribe" had gotten kicked out of the prestigious, university seminaries, and we had to pretty much start from scratch--and that meant that some things got dropped as a matter of necessity.

Second, since theological liberalism had been introduced through the prestigious seminaries, "our tribe" not surprisingly became suspicious of overly intellectual pursuits. That lead to a very interesting thing with Moody--it was founded to train deacons, I'm told, but in the overall mood in funda-gelical tribes, its graduates started to become pastors/elders. Other Bible colleges ended up at more or less the same point.

The plus side is that our Bible college graduates were generally not infected with theological liberalism. The down side is that educated people in our churches quickly figured out that their pastors were not generally able to think at their level. I think a reset would be wise.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Most people during Luther's and Calvin's day were either minimally educated or not educated at all. The guys who were pastors went to universities and entered university already fluent in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. While in university they learned rhetoric, theology, and philosophy, etc.

Today, it's sometimes the exact opposite. Almost all people are educated (e.g. over 44% of US adults have a college degree), but many pastor's lack advanced theological training and most probably can't read Hebrew, Greek, or Latin well enough to translate a Bible verse. There is definitely an anti-intellectual / pro-emotionalism bent in our churches today, and this is promoted from the pulpit (if there even is a pulpit).

A 50 year old man whose been saved for 30 years and reads his Bible regularly knows more than a 30 year old pastor.

Darrell McCarthy wrote: A 50 year old man whose been saved for 30 years and reads his Bible regularly knows more than a 30 year old pastor.

but also, maybe not

Seems kind of an arrogant assumption, to start with. We need humility in the pulpit and in the pew.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Darrell hits on a core of what Tom & I are noting; if the pastor does not have a good academic education, he really is counting on his own good habits and experience in order to become a good exegete of the word, really the same thing an ordinary church member has. He will, indeed, be at something of a disadvantage when compared with older church members who've been doing, really, about the same thing he does in his preparation for....four, five, six or more decades.

Now the variances would be wide--I've seen senior citizens who tell me they've been reading the Bible every day whose Bible knowledge is scant, and almost new believers who really have (IMO of course) great understanding, and vice versa--but all in all, if you've learned the basics of logic, languages, grammar, history, and the like, you do indeed have a huge advantage in sorting out what that ancient text actually means.

We like to point out in our circles that the apostles were unlearned men, and that's true, but at the same time, we forget that they were native speakers of the languages translated into the New Testament, and they lived the culture in which they found themselves. They didn't need a whole lot of explanation to understand the "back story" of narratives, culture, and the like. Since we don't have this, academic training is huge for us.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.