Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Defining a Pastor (Oden)

I'm currently reading Thomas C. Oden, Pastoral Theology (1983). Judging by the introduction this seems to be the book where he started to figure out his avowedly-unoriginal "ecumenical consensus" approach to theology which works so well in his big systematic theology, Classic Christianity. As a Baptist in a denomination that currently has virtually no theology of ordination (yes, you read that right) it is challenging to read a book from Oden's ecumenical perspective. However, as Oden notes any emphasis on a distinct ordination of ministers risks undermining the general ministry of the Church (p.26). As a Baptist the danger of an ordained priesthood is that it would seem to contradict the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9-10). Nonetheless, there is no doubting that even within Baptistic churches, focused on the ministry of the people, the office of pastor has a peculiarity to it which, perhaps because it is so under theologised/theorised often becomes an authoritarian and managerial role. In this, I love Oden's centering definition of the pastoral vocation, as well as his repeated warnings as to how it can be abused.  

All the varied activities of the pastor have a single center: life in Christ. Pastoral theology seeks to point to that center in credible contemporary language and to see every single function in relation to that center. The Center is Christ's own ministry for us and through us, embodied in distortable ways through our language, through the work of our hands, and quietly through our bodily presence. (p. 3)

"The pastor," concisely defined, is a member of the body of Christ who is called by God and the church and set apart by ordination representatively to proclaim the Word, to administer the sacraments, and to guide and nurture the Christian community toward full response to God's self disclosure. (p 50)

Wherever Christians speak of authority or dignity of ministry or headship of the shepherd, these are not properly understood as coercive modes of power, but persuasive, participative modes of benevolent, empathetic guidance. This is an extraordinarily complex, subtle, and highly nuanced conception of authority, but it is intimately familiar to those who love Christ and listen for his voice. The proper authority of ministry is not an external, manipulative, alien power that distances itself from those "under" it, but rather a legitimized and happily received influence that wishes only good for its recipient, a leadership that boldly guides but on on the basis of a deeply empathetic sense of what the flock yearns for and needs. The analogy of shepherd was not promiscuously or thoughtlessly chosen by Jesus as the centerpiece of ministry, but wells up from the heart of God's own ministry to the world. (p. 53)

Anytime ministerial leadership of authority is asserted as a bald, coercive power over the will of the recipient, it has already become alienated from the interpersonal analogies that show evidence of its deeper participation  in the body of Christ. (p. 54)

Jesus prayed: "As thou hast sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world" (John 17:18). A moving analogy her begins to unfold between incarnation and apostolicity, between God's engagement in the world in Christ and our engagement in the world as ambassadors for Christ. (p. 61)

Let me know what you think :-)

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