The Church’s Neglect Of the Prophetic Voice in It’s Faithful Theologians

Has the Church gone deaf? Yes and no. At large the American Church has stopped listening to the prophetic voice brought to it by its own faithful theologians. Yes many popular figures in today’s church sell many books and write many articles (John Piper, J.I. Packer, Mark Dever, Wayne Grudemn, yes, even Mark Driscoll), but are they offering the prophetic voice the Church needs or merely writing to meet their publisher’s quota (I leave the reader to decide)? But what about the Giants of the past? How many people are wrestling through the pages of Calvin’s Institutes or taking the long and baffling journey through Barth’s dogmatics? Where are the faithful readers of Augustine or Aquinas? How much ink is spilled noting in the margins of Puritan tomes? Sure, they are out there, but it seems the Church as a whole has forgotten its giants.

My point is this: God has spoken to and through His Church, why then are seminaries across the country dropping their Reformation Study classes, or no longer offering theology courses as a requirement for degrees in Pastoral ministry? Why is the church neglecting the Pannenbergs and Moltmanns of our day? Should we agree with everything written by our Church’s prophets? No. But do they deserve the neglect they have been shown? No! What saith the Scripture? “Καὶ αὐτὸς ἔδωκεν τοὺς μὲν ἀποστόλους, τοὺς δὲ προφήτας, τοὺς δὲ εὐαγγελιστάς, τοὺς δὲ ποιμένας καὶ διδασκάλους, πρὸς τὸν καταρτισμὸν τῶν ἁγίων εἰς ἔργον διακονίας, εἰς οἰκοδομὴν τοῦ σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ. ” (Eph. 4:11,12) “And indeed, he gave the apostles, also the prophets, also the evangelists, also the pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.” This is God’s gift to the Church, the προφήτας (prophets), why are they being neglected?

In his (dare I say) prophetic book written in the late 60’s Alvin C. Porteous wrote: “One of the unfortunate developments of recent American Church history, which has contributed to the rather unflattering ‘new shape of American religion’ described by Martin Marty, has been the effectiveness with which the church has quarantined its theologians from the mainstream of its life. The result has been the disturbing paradox of a theologically inarticulate church content to eke out its existence on a meager diet of theological pabulum surrounded by a veritable galaxy of brilliant and prophetic theological minds.” (Prophetic Voices in Contemporary Theology, pg.12) I think this is a fair statement even in our day. What happened to the Pastor-theologian? Where is the Pastor’s library of well used theology books and why has it been replaced with a few self-help books?

My plea is that Pastors and yes even the laymen of the Church return to the present day theological giants as well as the giants of the past. What bounty lays in front of us! Why must we starve ourselves?! I close with one final quote from Porteous:

“The theological renaissance, which has been going on for several decades now, has so far apparently failed to ‘take’ in large areas of American church life. The occasional preacher who reads his Barth and his Niebuhr and the even more rase ‘thoughtful layman’ who tangles now and again at first or second hand with the theological greats of our time are the magnificent exceptions rather than the rule.But even more important than the reading habits of the clergy or the laity is the failure of so much of the preaching and teaching of the church to reflect the constructive results of the theological labors of our generation. By and large the laymen of our churches have been barred from even a superficial acquaintance with the profound insights spawned by the theological dialogue which has been going on in recent years. For one reason or another, the ministry has failed to communicate to the laity any sense of the ferment which has been permeating the theological work with creative new ideas for several decades now.” (Prophetic Voices In Contemporary Theology, pg.12)

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