Ordained academics

Posted on March 25, 2008

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Geordie asked a question in response to this post which seemed to demand a longer answer. How is a vocation to ordained ministry lived out on the academy? It seems to me that there are two sides to this question: one theological and one existential.

On the theological question there are probably two basic ways to jump: one might acknowledge the presence of different orders of ministry within the church, of which an academic role could be one. Calvin included ‘doctors’ alongside ‘pastors’ amongst the ordinary ministers of the church (Inst. IV.3.iv), calling on Eph. 4 as his justification. The Baptist Union of Great Britain is beginning to head in this direction, recognising specialist ministries in evangelism and in youth ministry on its list of accredited pastors. One might, then, offer an account of ministry that included within the basic vocation a call specifically to the study, explication, and defence of the doctrines of the church. Such a vocation might of course be exercised in various places, but a university theology department would seem a particularly hospitable one…

The problem with this line would seem to be the movement from ‘doctoral’ ministry to ‘pastoral’ ministry, and vice-versa; is God’s calling mutable? Well, possibly, or God may call some to both roles, to be exercised in different ways at different times. The problem is not insuperable.

If, instead, we regard ordination as to a unitary ministry of ‘pastor-teacher’ (as other readers of Eph. 4 find the text affirming), the question needs to be answered a different way. I once argued in connection with ‘sector ministries’ (hospital chaplaincies and the like) that it is the visible practice of every denomination I know to regard other roles (national or regional leadership; translocal charitable or preaching work; chaplaincies; …) as legitimate exercises of a calling to pastoral ministry. (‘Visible practice’ here meaning that even if they don’t admit it, by not excluding ordained ministers who take on such roles, and not re-ordaining them should they return to pastoral ministry, they imply that these roles offer the potential for an adequate fulfilment of their calling and ordination vows.)

In a word, my theological answer to Geordie’s question is here: I am able to fulfil my ordination vows, and the vocation God placed on my life, in my current employment. This is a judgement I have made, but it has been guided and confirmed by my church fellowships and denominational officers.

An existential answer may have to wait till another post.

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