Dr. Edward (Mickey) Klink completed his PhD at St. Mary’s College in the University of St Andrews in 2005. After serving for nearly a decade as an Associate Professor of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University in southern California, he has served since 2014 as the Senior Pastor of Hope Evangelical Free Church in Roscoe, IL. His published works include The Sheep of the Fold: The Audience and Origin of the Gospel of John (Cambridge, 2007), The Audience of the Gospels: The Origin and Function of the Gospels in Early Christianity (editor; T. & T. Clark, 2010), Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice (with Darian R. Lockett; Zondervan, 2012), and John in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series (Zondervan, 2016). Mickey has been married to Laura since 1999, and they have three children: Jacob, Benjamin, and Ruth. He is a Fellow at the Center for Pastor Theologians.
As a student of Scripture and theology, as well as a Christian and member of the church, I live in the tension between the academy and the church. Although I did not know it when I first began my studies, the two had long since divorced and were raising me in separate homes. Both welcomed God, Scripture and even faith, but both defined and appropriated them in very different ways. Speaking generally, the church’s home defines God under the category of devotion. Christianity is lived, practical, and reflective of the heart, at least in my American evangelical, pietistic context. The academy’s home, in contrast, defines God under the category of doctrine. Christianity is learned, principled, and reflective of the mind, as least in the more historical, scientific context in which I was trained. Both homes are welcoming and helpful in what they emphasize, but neither are intended to function separately, nor raise children as single parents.
Historians of my tradition would describe my summary above in much more technical terms, explaining, for example, how the influence of revivalism and pragmatism and its preference for orthopraxy pressured an undesirable minimization of orthodoxy. But however it is explained, the divorce between the church and the academy is real and has produced numerous negative side effects. In the academy, especially the sub-discipline of biblical studies, for example, the parts of the Bible, even the big parts like the Old and New Testaments, are often disallowed to be studied cooperatively, or at least not without permissions and restraints. Theology is often viewed as an imposition on the biblical text, or at least something to be contained by the more important tutors of history and sociology. Much of the reverse is true in the church, where there is almost an allergy to words like doctrine or exegesis, and practices that do not address felt needs and personal circumstances are often viewed as irrelevant if not inappropriate. The result of this divorce and division of labor has been an ecclesially illiterate academy and a theologically illiterate church. And in the church, God’s primary ministering agent in the world, the result seems even more disastrous.
My categories for all of this were deeply formed by my participation in the Scripture and Theology seminar at St. Mary’s College as a postgraduate. The seminar was directed by Professor Christopher Seitz and Professor Mark Elliott, who with the help of several other staff members created one of the most deeply engaging learning environments of my intellectual life. It was in seminar room one that I saw most clearly the massive chasm between the academy and the church, and yet the necessary overlap between their tasks. I saw how each – the academy and the church – had a role to play in reading “Scripture” (a term more comfortable in the church) and theological “research” (a term more comfortable in the academy), and yet neither could (or can) fully do the task. As a theological student with gifting that aligned with the academy and passions that aligned with the church, I felt at home in both, but therefore in neither also.
Since those days in seminar room one I have returned home and held both “offices” that the institutions of the academy and the church have established for their purpose and mission: the professor and the pastor. Each “office” is a necessary component in the contemporary study and practice of Christianity and theology – one grounded in the wisdom of men and women of old, the other commanded by the Word of God itself. Yet I cannot help but wonder if another kind of “office” is needed, one that stands between the offices of the professor and pastor, bridging them where they are divided and yet rebuking them where they stand independent or incomplete. Could there be such an office, “the office of the pastor-theologian?” This pastor-theologian would be a true shepherd of a local church, and yet a theologian for the church at large. It is in the symbiosis of the two that both become true to themselves. This office of the pastor-theologian would not just unite the offices of the professor and the pastor, but provide the necessary repair to them both. The use of a hyphen for “pastor-theologian” implies that this pastor is (and must be) a theologian, and equally that this theologian is (and must be) a pastor. The pastor-theologian is not non-tenure-track adjunct who pastors simply to support their family, nor a professor who serves part-time (usually as a teacher) in their church. The pastor-theologian is its own office, a shepherd-scholar of sorts, whose social location and ministerial work reinforces their task as both a pastor and a theologian. The scholarly work of the pastor-theologian, as much as it would have similarities with the academic scholar, would have numerous differences, maybe most notably in permissions and perspective of its exegetical practices, but that conversation is for another time.
To be honest, I do not think the pastor-theologian can reside primarily in the academy; I believe only the church, that is, only the office of the pastor, in the historical sense of the term, can handle the office of the pastor-theologian. This is not to say that the social location of the contemporary church defines the pastor-theologian, nor that the current trajectory of such a social location supports this kind of office. For I do not think most churches are able to support (or even understand?) this office, or most pastors are able to perform (or even desire) its duties. A pastor-theologian must reside in the church, but they need to have the training that currently only the academy currently provides. It is my hope that the office of the pastor-theologian becomes not merely a concept but a course of action for the student of Scripture and theology – even more importantly, for the church itself.