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Oct242011

Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology

Purves-Reconstructing-Pastoral Amazon.com

Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology: A Christological Foundation. Westminster John Knox Press, 2004.

Referenced in: Pastoral Theology

LifeandLeadership.com Summary

Andrew Purves is one of the most widely read “pastoral” theologians today. In this volume, he discusses the overarching principle behind all his works. Some of the content is repackaged in The Crucifixion of Ministry (2007), but there is considerable unique content here. It covers many of the same insights as Crucifixion, but places them into a more academic framework, especially in showing how his work contributes to the literature of the field.

Purves makes a key distinction between his and most other pastoral theologies which reflect a “clinical, psychotherapeutic, or, more generally, social-scientific direction rather than a theological or doctrinal direction.” He believes that with all the contributions of this approach, it has negatively resulted not only in the loss of theological grounding but also in the domination of “secular goals and techniques of care.” Thus he raises the question: What makes pastoral work Christian?” (xiv)

He says:

“Pastoral theology, I believe, must be developed specifically as Christian pastoral theology, rooted explicitly and actually within, arising out of, and accountable to the doctrinal or dogmatic content of Christian faith. God, as the principle subject matter, is to be apprehended from within the event – past, present, and coming – of Jesus Christ. …Christian pastoral theology…must be developed in a way that is at once Trinitarian, insofar as we must speak concerning God, and Christological, soteriological, and eschatological, insofar as we must speak concerning God with us and for us in the flesh of Jesus, son of Mary, Lord of all. In this way, pastoral theology is understood properly first of all as a theology of the care of God for us in, through, and as Jesus Christ; as such it is an expression of the gospel of revelation and reconciliation.” (xviii)

In following this theological route, he is not treading new ground. He is reviving the classic tradition that stems as far back as the Greek fathers through the Reformation to the Puritan age. In an earlier volume, Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition (2001), he showed how this theological orientation was maintained until it faded beginning in the 1920s with the modern pastoral care movement.

Without this theological understanding, Purves believes three tendencies emerge:

  1. The telos or goal of pastoral care becomes human wholeness and competent functioning, a kind of ethical anthropology. To this Purves says that ethics, properly understood, must be preceded by christology, soteriology, and eschatology.
  2. Pastoral work becomes shaped by psychological categories regarding human experience, led by “questions of meaning rather than truth, acceptable functioning rather than discipleship, and a concern for self-actualization and self-realization rather than salvation. This synthesis entails the loss of transcendence, objectivity, and reality of God, and especially the loss of a Christological and soteriological clarity, and the insistence today that talk of God is to be assigned to the realm of myth and meaning.” (xix-xx)
  3. Pastoral work comes to be understood largely in functional terms, the “how to” of what the minister does. Purves responds by saying pastoral work must first be understood not merely as the faithful completion of tasks but as a living out of God’s ministry in Jesus Christ as empowered by the Spirit. For example, he is careful to distinguish between “pastoral theology” and “theology of pastoral care,” as if pastoral care was the focus.

The book unfolds this theological emphasis. First, he defines the theological nature of ministry: “Through our union with Christ we share in the ministry of Jesus Christ with, to, and for us, through the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God the Father.” (xxiii) The remaining two sections of the book look at the two doctrines that are essential to his argument, the Mission of God, and Union With Christ

Part One, Jesus Christ, the Mission of God. Here he lays out the Trinitarian nature of God’s ministry, Christ as the “apostle and high priest of our confession,” the believer’s spiritual union with Christ, the continuing and heavenly priesthood of Christ, and eschatology and ministry. One quote is especially representative:

While, loosely speaking, pastoral work is what pastors do, this is true only derivatively. Pastors do what they do because of who God is and what God does. Or more precisely, before it is the church’s ministry all ministry is first of all God’s ministry in, through and as Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. (3)

Part Two, Ministry in Union With Christ. Here Purves discusses the kind of pastoral work that grows out of these theological roots. An example is this statement regarding preaching:

The sermon has personal divine authority. Or, to put it more startlingly: through our union with Christ, whereby we share in the life of Jesus Christ, the sermon becomes a present form of the incarnation, an enfleshment in speech today of the once historical and always eternal and living one Word of God. The sermon is the Word of God … .a theological act in the true sense … It is God’s personal and actual Word of address to the people gathered through the voice of the minister. (157)

Those who have read other works by Purves should not expect the same lucid style. This book is more dense and technical, but no less inspiring provided one has the theological background to appreciate it. He also is deeply reflective of a Reformed understanding of ministry in terms of Word and sacrament, but can be appreciated by evangelicals as well.

From the Publisher

Arguing that pastoral theology and care have long ignored Scripture and Christian doctrine and become secularized in both method and goal, Andrew Purves presents a Christological basis for ministry and pastoral theology. Purves reconstructs the discipline of pastoral theology by identifying two primary theological categories for pastoral work: Christology, in which Jesus is both the Word and act of God addressing us and the word and act of humankind addressing God and Calvin’s doctrine of our union with Christ, which informs us that by the work of the Holy Spirit we are joined to Christ’s mission from God to share in his ministry. In the second half of the book, Purves examines pastoral care in terms of our union with Christ and his ministry. He discusses the nature and authority of preaching, forgiveness of sins as the ministry of grace, the nature of God’s presence as comfort, and the relationship between hope and social action.

About the Author

Andrew Purves is the Hugh Thomson Kerr Professor of Pastoral Theology at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.


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