Richard Hays on Being Pastoral-Theologians like Paul

When Richard Hays says something you listen. The author of such ground shaking books like The Moral Vision of the New Testament, The Faith Of Jesus Christ, and Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, he is known not only for bridging the gap between biblical criticism and literary studies – he is also known for his commitment to the authority of scripture all while using the critical methods of biblical studies in order to defend historic orthodox positions. So again – when he speaks – you listen!

Recently I came across a paper titled “Divine Poiesis in Galatians: Paternity, Passion, and Participation” in which he tries to move past the redemptive-historical vs. apocalyptic dichotomy often presented in readings of Paul’s letters. In this essay he argues that

“Paul is seeking to reshape the imagination of his readers, seeking to narrate them into a symbolic world where God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Spirit are powerfully at work to bring a new world into being.”

In this essay he pays attention especially to the language and imagery Paul uses to drive this story forward – key among these images are the motifs of Paternity, Passion, Participation.

He brings all of this to a climax by reflecting on Paul’s style of pastoral theology and let me be honest with you…

Its pure gold!

Hays does something that many biblical scholars shy away from – he gives recommendations to pastors to be more theological and to theologians to be more pastoral! This is not the kind of stuff you usually find in the writings of mainline theologians. But he does it.

Doing Pastoral-Theology Like Paul

Hays makes three suggestions for how we might appropriate Paul’s style as a pastoral theologian in our day:

  1. Paul writes as a hermeneutical theologian. Paul was deeply concerned about teaching the gentiles how to read scripture. In order to do this he had to draw them deep into the story of the death and resurrection of Christ. As these new Christians learned to live the story they would need to learn how to constantly return to the study of scripture or else they wouldn’t know the story they were living in.
  2. Paul is not afraid to think big. Without a doubt Paul faced a lot of controversies during his apostolic ministry. Nevertheless, “he does not appeal to custom or convention or to opinion polls. Instead, he retells the gospel story and thinks about the problem in radical terms… Our knee-jerk tendency, by contrast, is to fiddle with adjustments and compromises… Paul might dare us to think bigger about fundamental questions.” (Kindle Loc. 4637)
  3. Paul is not afraid of polemic. “Galatians reminds us that there are times when the truth of the gospel really is at stake, when we must yield submission even for a moment to forces that would compromise or undermine the liberating message of Jesus. (Kindle Loc. 4646)

These are certainly wise words from a wise man on how to do pastoral-theology like Paul.


Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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