Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition – Andrew Purves

One of the most surprising and moving aspects of Andrew Purves’s description of the pastoral theology of Gregory of Nazianzus, John Chrysostom, Gregory the Great, Martin Bucer, and Richard Baxter is the consistency of their testimony concerning pastoral theology, particularly concerning the essence of the pastoral task in a church’s ministry—to preach and teach the Word of God, and to care for the people with the power of Christ’s love for them [that] they may come to a sure knowledge of their salvation.” 86 Two aspects of the work most profoundly affected me: (1) the potentially corrosive effects of a pastoral ethos that is primarily therapeutic, and (2) the constant emphasis on necessity of pastoral piety, devotion, and accountability.

First, it seems to me that the growing conception of pastoral ministry as therapeutic, with a concomitant deemphasis on its didactic and prophetic character, is very damaging to the potential for gospel healing and reconciliation among believer and non-believer alike. One aspect of this damage is its tendency to give up the uniqueness of Christ as the ultimate and only Healer. The therapeutic outlook tends to place Jesus on the level of another tool in the toolbox to address felt needs.Not so for these Fathers of the faith. For these men, like Gregory of Nazianzus, what we know of God through revelation compels pastoral love and service addressing people’s real needs, and service is possible only because of the revelation. 23.

The same idea came through in the discussion of Bucer: “With the loss of the Christological emphasis in much pastoral theology today has come a corresponding loss of the true nature of the pastoral office and of its concomitant authority. . . . For Bucer . . . Jesus Christ alone has and exercise all power and rule in the church, for he rules, feeds, and cares for it, and through the church Christ brings the gospel to those people who are lost or have stayed away from the ways of God. He does this in order that his flock may be purified more thoroughly and liberated from sin and sin’s consequences.” 87 I pray that as a pastor, God will help me resist the tendency to reduce the Gospel to the merely therapeutic, and thereby sap it of its power to transform our beings and lives and not just our circumstances. What God says about himself, and what we witnessed of Him here on earth in an earthy body stakes a claim on all of me and all of His followers. Our submission to the full extent of that claim will never fail to address our true needs with the essence of His Love, which is now ours in Him.

Second, the constant emphasis of these fathers upon pastoral piety, devotion, and accountability to the Word is both scary and helpful. I always had heard and subscribed to notions similar to this (e.g., that the strength of a pastor’s preaching flows from the quality of his devotional life), but all of these fathers seemed to shout out the necessity of the maturity of the pastor’s heart for the growth of a flock to maturity. The seriousness of God’s demand in calling me to the ministry continues throughout that ministry. (Perhaps there is a parallel between the compelled ordination experienced by so many church fathers, and the compulsion I experienced in responding to God’s call to seminary. 9-10)

While I found all of the various attention to this issue persuasive (e.g., contempt of praise, force of eloquence, despising of slander and envy [perhaps the two fruits of gossip?]), I was particularly moved by the emphasis of Gregory of Nazianzus, Crysostom, and Gregory the Great on the necessity of persuasion in the life and role of a pastor. 29, 48, 69. This aspect of pastoral ministry exposes the true limits of the Shepherd – Sheep metaphor. I suppose there is one Shepherd, and pastors are really sheepdogs, but we can’t force the sheep to go where we want them to. We lead and convince by persuasion of words and the witness of an ordinary life lived. An essential complement of a pastor’s attention to theology and doctrine is attention to living out the spirit of the things taught. The pastor’s “’voice penetrates the hearts of his hearers the more readily, if his way of life commends what he says.’” 69 So if I live by law rather than grace in the way I treat my wife and children, for example, I will be commending to my flock a life (and death) by law rather than new life by grace. Woe! For I am called to lead them away from law’s penalty, the debt to which Christ nailed to the midst of the cross. Help Jesus!


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