Stone and Duke Encourage Theological Reflection

Stone and Duke, How to Think Theologically

Howard W. Stone and James O. Duke. 2006. How to Think Theologically. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra, Author of Simple Faith and other books available online.

Our anti-intellectual society has trouble seeing the God’s hand at work, in part, because such vision requires thinking about things outside ourselves. Since the romantic era of the nineteenth century, Americans have preferred to “experience” God emotionally rather than to “know” God intellectually.

This is truly disturbing outcome for anyone familiar with the Great Awakening experience of eighteenth century. Post-mortems by theologians, such as Jonathan Edwards (1746), clearly showed that religious experiences not followed by theological reflection are soon forgotten. Consider the increase in church attendance immediately after 9-11. Theology helps us reflect on our experiences of God in scripture and daily life.


Howard Stone and James Duke in their book, How to Think Theologically, respond to this question, writing:

“It is a simple fact of life for Christians; their faith makes them theologians.[1] Deliberately or not, think—and act—out of a theological understanding of existence, and their faith calls them to become the best theologians they can be.” (1)

This is not a throw away comment; when life loses its meaning, we die even if the body continues to process air and food. If we are to continue living we need to seek meaning in the many challenging experiences that life holds for us. The question is not whether we have a theological view of life—we all do—but rather whether the theology we live by is the one that we would chose if we took the time to think about it.

Faith Seeking Understanding

Like most good theologians, Stone and Duke cite the famous line from Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109 AD) who wrote: “I believe so that I may understand” (2008, 87) or as they cite it: “faith seeking understanding” (2). While this idea that faith precedes knowledge seems controversial until you realize that assumptions are faith statements and are required before any scientific inquiry can begin. Anselm’s apologetic laid the philosophical foundation for the modern era.

Theology Defined

Also like most good theologians, Stone and Duke define important terms. For example, they observe:

“Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted definition of the term theology. It comes to us as a compound word from ancient Greek: theo—logia are logia (sayings, accounts, teachings, theories) concerning theos (the divine, gods, and goddesses, God).” (7)

They also distinguish Christian orthodoxy “correct opinion or belief” from orthopraxy “correct practice” (7). It is often the case in some church circles that the accepted doctrine of the church is orthodox, but the church does not practice orthopraxy—a kind of hypocrisy that minimizes criticism and correction.

Embedded Theology

Stone and Duke make distinguish between embedded theology and deliberative theology. Embedded theology is defined as “Christians learn what is all about from countless daily encounters with their Christianity”. Deliberative theology is“the understanding of faith that emerges from a process of carefully reflecting upon embedded theological convictions” (13-16). Notice that neither embedded nor deliberative theology requires scholarly intervention. We engage in both types of theology on our own every day as we deepen our understanding of our own faith journey. But, as Stone and Duke observe, “theological reflection cannot flourish unless it is valued and practices by the church itself” (23).


Stone and Duke write in 9 chapters proceeded by 2 prefaces and an introduction and followed by a glossary, notes, and index. The 9 chapters are:

  1. Faith, Understanding, and Reflection,
  2. Fashioning Theology,
  3. Resources for Theological Reflection,
  4. Theological Method,
  5. The Gospel,
  6. The Human Condition,
  7. Vocation,
  8. Theological Reflection in Christian Community,
  9. Forming Spirit.

At the time of publication, Howard W. Stone was a professor emeritus of Department of Psychology and Pastoral Counseling at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University and the author of numerous books. James O Duke was also a professor of history of Christianity and historical theology at Brite.


Stone and Duke’s How to Think Theologically primes young seminarians for seminary. Assess to its wisdom goes much further and any dedicated reader will benefit from it.  If nothing else, consider the irony posed by the cover!


Anselm of Canterbury. 2008. The Major Works. New York: Oxford University Press.

Edwards, Jonathan. 2009. The Religious Affections (Orig pub. 1746). Vancouver: Eremitical Press.

[1] My best friend in high school, who is now a Lutheran pastor, used to moan that our faith forced us to become “little Kierkegaards” because our faith raises more questions than answers. Soren Kierkegard (1813-1855) was a well-known, nineteenth century theologian.

Stone and Duke Encourage Theological Reflection

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VanHoozer and Strachan Argue Case for Pastor-Theologian

Pastor_Theologian_review_05032016Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan. 2015. The Pastor as Public Theologian: Reclaiming a Lost Vision. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Amid periods of rapid social and philosophical change, tension in the church often revolves around our interpretation of the identity of Christ which, in turn, informs our sense of identity as Christians and other things, like worship. Worship and identity are practical applications of our theology because one of the primary tasks of theology is interpreting both the Bible and our world. Hence, theologian Karl Barth’s comment that pastors should preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other clearly assumes that at the heart of the pastor’s role is applying theology.[1]

In their new book, The Pastor as Public Theologian, Kevin J. Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan start with a harsh assessment:

“Societies become secular not when they dispense with religion altogether, but when they are no longer especially agitated by it. The church, the society of Jesus, is similarly in danger of becoming secular and in the very place where we would least expect it: its understanding of the clergy. This not because churches are dispensing with the pastorate, but because they no longer find its theological character particularly exciting or intelligible.” (1)

Their objective in writing is to “reclaim the theological pedigree of the world’s boldest profession” with three groups in mind—pastors, churches, and seminaries (2)—and against competing visions, such as the pastor as therapist, the pastor as political activist, the pastor as story-teller, the pastor as professional XYZ, and the pastor as manager (7-10). Against these competing visions, the author’s caution: “Without a biblical vision of the pastor, the people of God may indeed perish: they will certainly fail to prosper.” (15) In order to prosper, they write: “Success in ministry is determined not by numbers (e.g., people, programs, dollars) but by the increase of people’s knowledge and love of God.” (22)

In expanding our knowledge of the pastoral office, Kevin J. Vanhoozer[2] and Owen Strachan[3] collaborate with a number of pastors to write a series of 4 chapters, including:



Introduction:  Pastors, Theologians, and Other Public Figures

PART 1: Biblical Theology and Historical Theology

  1. Of Prophets, Priests, and Kings: A Brief Biblical Theology of the Pastorate
  2. Of Scholars and Saints: A Brief History of the Pastorate

PART 2: Systematic Theology and Practical Theology

  1. In the Evangelical Mood: The Purpose of the Pastor-Theologian
  2. Artisans in the House of God: The Practice of the Pastor-Theologian

Conclusion: Fifty-Five Summary Theses on the Pastor as Public Theologian



Scriptural Index

Subject Index


The introduction and each of the four chapters includes short “pastoral perspectives” written by working pastors.

One of these pastor perspectives, written by Gerald Hiestand, offered some practical advice for would-be pastoral theologians in the form of 6 steps:

  1. Hire staff with the vision to overcome isolation.
  2. Network with like-minded pastors through Skype, ETS or blogging.
  3. Make study-time a priority in the weekly schedule.
  4. Get buy-in from your leadership.
  5. Remember that theology serves the church, not vice versa.
  6. You do your work in a “study”, not an “office”—Bureaucrats work in offices while theologians have studies (29-31).

Personally, my study time in the morning minimally includes journaling, studying, reading, and praying for 30 to 60 minutes before wandering out to swim laps, but as a writer I spend more time in my “study” than would be typical for pastors.[4]

In the Old Testament, three anointed offices are described—priest, prophet, and king (40)—which today describe different aspects of the role of Christ in the New Testament. Concerning these anointed offices, the authors write: “The priest was a man set apart by the Lord to be an on-the-ground mediator of holiness between God and the people.” (4) “The prophets exercised the ministry of truth-telling.” (44) The king personified divine wisdom (46). These three anointed offices do not readily transfer to the role of pastor, as the authors observe:

“Priestly ministry was centered around the teaching and performance of the law. Pastoral ministry is centered around the person and work of Christ” (49).

Still, aspects of these three anointed offices inform the role of a pastor and the interpretation of each of the roles differs among denominations, ethnic communities, and age groups, as is frequently observed.

An important observation repeated throughout the book is that throughout church history the best theology was often written by pastors, not academics, as the authors observe:

“…it is easy to forget that Jonathan Edwards spent little time in the ivory tower. He was never a professor in the modern sense. Edwards composed many of his treatises in the middle of a demanding pastorate, at the largest church in New England, outside of Boston. Later he wrote soaring theological works on the Massachusetts frontier while serving as a missionary.” (82-83)

This observation remains a valid point today as many of my own influences—Barth, Bonhoeffer,[5] Ortberg,[6] Sproul, Lucado,[7] Peterson, Keller[8]—are better known as pastors than academics, even if they have freely moved between the academy and the church.

Clearly, a lot more could be said about this book.

Kevin Vanhoozer and Owen Strachan’s The Pastor as Public Theologian is timely resource on where pastors ought rightly to be spending their time, which is unfortunately much needed by some of my best friends who are pastors. Pastoral burnout is a huge problem for the church, not only because of the loss of great talent, but also because “pastor as dervish” is a poor model for a church that, presumably, glorifies the “Lord of the Sabbath”. A better model is the pastor-theologian presented in this book—buy it; enjoy It; share it in a group study.


Barth, Karl. 1991. Homelitics. Louisville: Westminister John Knox Press.


[1] Barth’s comment, which is widely cited by his students, appears nowhere in his writing. Instead, we read: “theology as a church discipline ought in all its branches to be nothing other than sermon preparation in the broadest sense.” (Barth 1991,17).

[2] Vanhoozer is a research professor of systemic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago and the author of numerous books (

[3] Strachan is a professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of numerous books (

[4] I am currently studying First Samuel which has been surprisingly fruitful.

[5] Sample review: Bonhoeffer’s Nachfolge:  Following After Christ (,

[6] Review: Ortberg Sharpens and Freshens Jesus (

[7] Review: Lucado Calls Out Fear; Instills Peace (

[8] Sample review: Keller Argues the Case for God (

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