I’ve written two posts (here and here) aimed at helping pastors think about engaging in historical theological work. This third post continues to point in this direction. What I’d like to do here is move the conversation towards incorporating historical theology into the actual ministry of the pastor (though much more needs to be said in terms of actual practice, this is more modest beginnings).
In other words, in the first post I offered some reflection on the importance of historical theology for ministry. The second post attempted to identify some resources and suggest a plan for engaging in historical theological reading in 2019. Here I want to offer a few suggestions as to how a pastor might introduce his people to historical theology and how it might benefit the larger congregation.
Reading—I’m starting with reading even though the congregation does not immediately feel the effect. However, if the pastor will help his people benefit from historical theology, he first needs to engage in historical theological work. That means the pastor needs to pick up, read, and digest historical theology for himself.
Furthermore, by taking the time to read, the pastor is able to point his congregants towards resources they could utilize. In addition, by reading specific works, he can steer his people away from works that might not help them. He might read and recommend John D. Hannah’s, Our Legacy because he finds it accessible for the layperson. At the same time, he might caution someone from spending their money on a copy of Paul Helm’s, John Calvin’s Ideas (tough sledding!).
Simply put, if you want to incorporate historical theology into your ministry, you must start by incorporating it into your own life. You do that at the outset by reading. And where might you begin? See my last post on the subject for a proposed plan heading into 2019.
Preaching—though I’m starting with preaching, I think I should note what I do not mean before speaking more positively. I do not mean a preacher should start quoting Calvin and Luther at every turn, or give historical theology lectures in their sermons. Instead, I have more modest advice. In your preparation for preaching, pay attention to the exegetical work of those who have gone before you. You can begin to do this by picking up the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (these are expensive. I’d suggest you start by buying one volume on whatever book you are preaching on). I’m preaching through the Gospel of John at the moment. Part of my weekly rhythm is to peruse the comments of reformation age preachers on the text. Of course Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli are included, but you also hear from Martin Bucer, Oceolampadius, and a host of others.
Writing—do you set aside time to write? Taking the time to write something historical from time to time is helpful for numerous reasons. Writing about history helps you solidify your own grasp of the material. And, if your people read your writing, you point them towards important historical events and ideas. Instead of merely writing motivational or inspirational pieces, try your hand at writing about history (you’ll find history can motivate and inspire!). I think Justin Taylor and Thomas Kidd are modeling this fantastically over at TGC’s blog, Evangelical History.
Counseling—this may seem out of place, but I think church history and historical theology are excellent tools for discipling believers, particularly in terms of both formal and non-formal counseling. A good reading and understanding of history (see point 1 above) helps us see that there truly is “nothing new under the sun.” That is, it can help us normalize our present experiences. Just as we struggle with doubt, anxiety, or fear, so Christians in the past did the same. Furthermore, as Christians in ages past have learned to fight their sins and faithfully follow Jesus, we can learn from them how to fight effectively and live faithfully in the present evil age.
We could elaborate on every point above. However, these comments should suffice to help you think more strategically about including historical theology in your life and ministry in 2019. Pick up a good book on historical theology and read. Pay attention to ancient voices as you prepare to preach to modern ears. Put pen to paper and write something historical. And as you counsel God’s people, point them to faithful followers of Jesus from days-gone-by.