RECOMMENDED: Vanhoozer and Kruger on the Pastor-Scholar (or Vice Versa)

An (Unintentional) Introduction

Within the span of a few days, I ran across two media, one by TEDS‘ very own Kevin Vanhoozer and another by Michael Kruger over at RTS, both addressing this idea of a pastor-scholar (or vice versa).

This topic of pastor as scholar is particularly interesting to me because I originally wanted to go into academia but have since change my plans and now desire to go into pastoral ministry. I suppose my reasons for shifting directions are more complex than I will explain here in this paragraph (see this post for further elaboration). But in short– My reasons for doing so are not that my concern for scholarly or “deep things” has somehow lessened over time or that I value such things to a lesser degree than I once did. Hardly. If anything my concern to become more studied has increased now that I want to be a pastor and feel the weight and breadth of that task. Nor is this because I now have become more of a “people person” (if you know me well, you might laugh at the thought of that) or more pastoral or that I now value pastoral matters more than I once did. Hardly. When I wanted to be a professor, that was what I wanted to do primarily. That is, that’s what I wanted to do to make a living. And I wanted to serve in the church as a lay elder-pastor. Now I just want to be a pastor as my primary “gig.”

(How is all of this connected to Vanhoozer and Kruger’s stuff? Where was I going with all of that?)

My point is that what Vanhoozer and Kruger share in these pieces is of particular interest to me as one who (1) wants to be a pastor but (2) feels that the pastorate needs to recover a serious level competency in variety of disciplines, a competency that unfortunately often seems to be viewed today as unnecessary (or maybe even a hindrance!) to pastoral ministry. And if we want to refer to that competency as being a “scholar,” okay; that’s fine.

But also, having spent some time in academia (as a student, that is) for the past few years, I’m slightly nervous that the world of scholars has become less and less pastorally geared and more and more detached from and unconcerned for the church (see, for example, Kruger’s 6th category below, which drives me nuts!)

Anyways… I wasn’t intending on rambling about my personal reflections. But, whoops, that’s what I just did. I’ll get on with things are share Vanhoozer and Kruger’s material.


In these videos Vanhoozer address the role of pastor-scholar and its importance. (I recently shared these videos over on Library’s Facebook page. I decided I’d share them here as well for my own unique audience.)

You can see three more videos like this here.


In a recent post, “Should You be a Pastor or a Professor? Thinking Through the Options,” Kruger presented a very helpful spectrum of pastoral and scholarly activity or dispositions to ministry. I think this is a helpful framework. I definitely aim to be #2 (if not #3 — but we’ll see about that). As noted above, the existence of #6 secretly [<–not really] irritates me.

1. The Pastor.  This category includes your average Reformed pastor who is theologically-trained, understands the importance of academics, but is not engaged in any meaningful study/research beyond weekly sermon prep. This individual does not degrade or downplay the importance of theology/academics, but simply doesn’t engage much with those subjects himself.

2. The Pastor-Scholar. This individual has an interest in theological and scholarly issues that goes beyond the average pastor mentioned above.  Thus, he is often engaged in serious reading, study, and academic work that goes beyond weekly sermon prep. And such study often informs his ministry, preaching, leadership, and counseling.  He is the type of individual that would probably work hard to retain some level of proficiency in Greek-Hebrew even after many years in the pastoral ministry.

3. The Pastor-Scholar who is active in scholarly world. This pastor shares the same deep interest in scholarly issues as the pastor-scholar in the above category, but takes it to the next level by actively contributing to the scholarly world in some fashion. This may include writing books, articles, or giving papers/lectures at conferences and gatherings.  Such an individual will often have a Ph.D. or other sort of degree beyond the M.Div.

4. The Scholar-Pastor who is active in the church. Notice the terms “scholar” and “pastor” have now been flipped. This word order change indicates that this individual is a full-time professor/academic with a Ph.D., but is still very much engaged with the local church and with pastoral ministry.  This individual is certainly ordained and may, in addition to his faculty duties, have some sort of part-time pastoral position at his church.  He is actively engaged in teaching and preaching within an ecclesiastical setting.

5. The Scholar-Pastor.  This individual is a full-time professor and has a real heart for the church and for pastoral ministry, but is not as actively engaged in it himself.  He may be ordained, but he is not on the pastoral staff of any local congregation and probably only preaches occasionally.  The main thing that defines this individual is that he gears his academic work towards the church.  The church (and pastors) is his primary audience.

6. The Scholar.  This individual is what one might call a pure scholar.  He is interested primarily in the specifics of his academic field, and has only a secondary interest in how it might impact or be used in the church.  He is probably not ordained, and does not really engage in regular ministry in the local church (beyond that of any normal member).  The primary audience for his writing/research is his academic peers.

Further Resources

The Pastor as Scholar: A Personal Journey (message; video ) by John Piper.

The Pastor as a Scholar (message; video ) by D.A. Carson.

The Pastor as a Scholar – Q & A (video) with Don Carson and John Piper.

See this outline by Andy Naselli of the three resources directly above.

The Pastor as Scholar & the Scholar as Pastor: Reflections on Life and Ministry (Book) by D. A. Carson and John Piper.

See this fantastic quote about pastor-theologians by Doug Sweeney, TEDS professor of church history.

One thought on “RECOMMENDED: Vanhoozer and Kruger on the Pastor-Scholar (or Vice Versa)

  1. Interesting article. Whatever path you choose, I confess 2 Corinthians 9:10-15 over your journey.

    My pastor, whom I wouldn’t trade for the world, does indeed have a Ph.D. What’s so cool is that the scholarly side of him is subtle. After one of his sermons, I feel like I leave with new tools in my toolbox – and with homework. He is practical.

    But, a one-on-one conversation, or in counseling, the evidence of the Ph.D. is glaring. This man is brilliant. I would imagine his ministry would be different without his advanced studies. I believe they play a role in every aspect of his ministry.

    However, he will tell you and I would agree, connection with the Holy Spirit trumps any degree, any day.

    I commend you for scholarly goals and wish you the best!

    One more piece I’ll leave with you from my pastor – and it’s one all us ‘intellectual types’ must be on guard for: Those who will endlessly argue doctrine are often times not thirsty.

    Stay thirsty for Jesus!! Shalom!


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