A few years ago I wrote this article on David Prince’s website. As I go to teach Systematic Theology 1 this week, I am reminded of it, and the need for theologians to be preachers.
In theology, we are not just called to study and store up knowledge of truth. We are called to study to show ourselves approved so that we may preach—or teach, or write, or counsel, or anything else that qualifies as heralding the good news—sound doctrine. To that point, I repost this article, in hopes that God may continue to raise up men sound in doctrine who will preach the Word.
When I came to seminary, I wanted to study the Bible and theology. Having never “preached” a Sunday morning message, I was uncertain as to the role preaching would have in my life. Ten years later, through a combination of providential opportunities and willingness to preach whenever I was asked, I have finished my theological education (Yes, it took a decade!) and have preached more Sundays than not.
For nearly five years I have filled the pulpit at my current church—first as a supply preacher, then an interim pastor, and last as the senior pastor. In the lustrum before serving at our church, I like so many of my seminary peers preached in nursing homes, urban missions, country parishes. It was a wonderfully painful time, one where precious little flocks like Corn Creek Baptist Church endured my preaching and helped me learn how to preach.
During that time, preaching was a priority, but so was theology. By training, I am a systematic theologian, or at least, that’s what my degree says. Therefore, as a pastor and a theologian, I feel a measure of familiarity with both vocations. And I feel a fraternal affection and responsibility to exhort aspiring theologians with what Paul commanded Timothy: Preach the Word!
Sound Doctrine Preaches
In 2 Timothy 4:1-2, Paul writes with warmth and weight:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
In the Pastoral Epistles the offices of pastor and theologian were not divided. Pastors were to teach in accordance with sound doctrine, and theologians—well, that vocation had not really been established, yet. Paul, who was arguably the greatest theologian in the Scriptures, regularly described himself as a preacher (1 Tim 2:7; 2 Tim 1:11) and urged Timothy and Titus to follow his model by spreading sound doctrine through preaching and teaching (1 Tim 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim 1:13; Titus 1:9; 2:1, 2, 8). Indeed, as Paul finished his last earthly epistle, he urged Timothy to take seriously the task of preaching the Word.
For aspiring theologians this union of doctrine and proclamation must be recovered. Those who are in theological training must take seriously the call to preach, as well as the call to rightly understand God’s truth. Indeed, to my brothers who love theology but who do not feel “called” to preach, let me offer a word of challenge.
Theologians Need to Prepare to Preach
No matter what your specialization, if you are called to ministry you are called to proclaim the Word. This means that even for those who sense a calling to academic teaching, there should never be a disconnect with (or worse: a disinterest in) the local church.
Churches that suffer from a lack of sound doctrine need compelling voices peppering their pulpits with gospel truth. Indeed, assuming the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are in place, who is better equipped to preach the word than the men who have spent years studying theology?
For this reason, the seminary preaching class is not an optional course for theologians. Just the opposite, it is one of the most important theology classes in the seminary curriculum.
In my seminary days, I focused on theology. During my M.Div., I took six or seven theology electives, on top of the basic theology courses. Nevertheless, the capstone course was not an upper-level course on eschatology; it was my preaching class.
Combining hermeneutics, biblical theology, and systematic theology with ethics, spiritual disciplines, and biblical counseling, this class proved to be one of, if not the most, theologically rigorous classes I took. Why? Because it is one thing to have good theology at your desk; it is quite another to have good theology in the pulpit. The former is essential to the latter, but the latter makes you realize how much farther you have to go. In truth, preaching is the quintessential theological act—nothing is more theological than preaching and nothing needs theology more than preaching.
Now, I admit, not every theologian will be or should be a pastor. Truly, some of the best theologians cannot be pastors, because they are women (1 Tim 2:12-13). Others will find their primary area of “preaching” in Sunday School, biblical counseling, or children’s ministry. But to the rest, to the men loitering in the halls of Louisville or wandering through Westminster: What is keeping you from preaching the Word?
Brother-Theologians: Preach the Word!
It is too easy to love theology and to be non-committal about preaching. The modern church has fostered a separation between the two, which is all the more reason for biblical theologians to recover a vision of preaching, one that sees the preaching of the Word as the ultimate and necessary goal of theology.
Brother-theologians, preach the Word! Labor to study the works of God (Ps 111:2) and tell of them before the congregation (111:1). Pursue the finer points of theology and learn how to communicate them to Christ’s bride. If you are graced with the chance to study theology, remember: It is not just for you! It is for the church. Therefore, study theology and prepare to preach. It may turn out that Christ doesn’t call you to fill many pulpits—then again he might—but when he does, why would you risk being unprepared when God’s word tells theologians to “Preach the Word”?!
Soli Deo Gloria, ds