What’s the difference between a “theologian” and a “pastor”?
We discussed an e-mail response to the summary of our November 2013 discussion which suggested that the distinction we had made between the “theologian” (whose skill is to develop understanding of the faith in the light of modern challenges) and the “pastor” (whose task is primarily to maintain the faith as it has been received) was too stark. Even though it is a daunting task, the two need to be held together, ideally within a shared leadership in the Church.
Perhaps there has always been this creative tension in the life of the Church- for example in the book of Acts between Peter, who clung to traditional ways, and Paul, who was seen as an “innovator”. Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road (Acts ch. 9) changed his thinking- but what we do not know is how long his mind had been struggling with conflicting ideas about Jesus which came to a crisis at that time. (Or do such attempts to “explain” what happened undermine and question what was essentially a miracle?)
When the Church gained political power within the Roman Empire (after Constantine) this creative tension in the Church began to be suppressed (though it never completely went away).
For some people faith is rooted in the sense that there is a supernatural “world” which science can never explain. The existence of the Universe can only be explained by belief in a Creator; there is therefore a “moral law” which we ignore at our peril; the miracles in the Bible are proof that God can and does intervene in human life; although we may hope to see some goodness and justice in this world, our real hope is to be focussed on heaven. If others in the Church (and especially clergy) question these beliefs they wonder if they are genuine Christians.
But some cannot do not believe in that way. For them scientific explanations of Creation, miracles, the Christmas stories etc, (even though always tentative and incomplete) can strengthen faith, rather than undermining it. To them the main emphasis of the New Testament is not on a future life in heaven, but on the fact that in Christ God’s love has entered human life to break the power of evil and injustice in this world.
These two “types” of believers find it hard to be to the same congregation these days. We look for a ministry that suits our “needs”, in the same way that we may “shop around” between Asda and Waitrose for groceries. But the Church’s witness might be stronger if we were to stay together, listening to one another and explaining ourselves to each other. Perhaps need to see the Eucharist/Communion as the point where we are called to search for a unity which we do not yet possess, but have to work hard to achieve.