This much-needed book fully integrates principles of pastoral care, leadership, and theology to restore to ministers a clearly defined pastoral identity. Moving from a critique of inadequate models for ministry -- from community organizer to T. V. evangelist -- Oden develops a more classical model, rich in its references to the past and compatible both with Christian faith and theology through the ages and with current needs.
Reconciling classical tradition with practice, Pastoral Theology will be a standard resource and reference in the field. Oden distills the best ideas of the two millennia of ecumenical Christian thinking concerning what pastors are and do. Pastoral Theology provides the foundational knowledge of the pastoral office requisite to the practice of ministry. It will be of interest to persons preparing for ordination in its review of key issues; at the same time, Pastoral Theology will appeal to all those who have considered entering the ministry, those who want to know more about what clergy do and why, and those ministers who want to review their ongoing work in the light of a systematic reflection on the pastoral gifts and tasks.
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About the Author
Thomas C. Oden is the Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University and the author of more than twenty widely read books, including Pastoral Theology, Agenda for Theology, and Kerygma and Counseling. He is also the general editor of the pioneering series The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.
Read an Excerpt
The Discovery of Pastoral Identity
Movies and television show us faded stereotypes of the dissipated pasto-ral office, often either a deceptive, money-grabbing, cornball funda-mentalist bigot in a white suit or a hip, chic superliberal frantic toaccommodate to pop culture. The media minister is often portrayed marrying couples parachuting out of planes or smoking grass to thehushed beat of tom-toms or reciting a mantra on a nude beach. This hungry anxiety to accommodate to modernity is a major clue to the loss of clarity about ministry in our time. Another stereotype is of a benign cipher, nice but incompetent. None of these reveals much about the actual pastors we meet and know.
A Centered Ministry
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 and through us, embodied in distortable ways through our language, through the work of our hands, and quietly through our bodily presence.
A major part of the task ahead is to sharpen anew the needed distinction between clergy and laity, while at the same time respecting a continued stress on the general ministry of the laity but not so as to deny or accidentally misplace the ministry of the clergy. This will be a recurring theme rehearsed in almost every chapter ahead.
We are searching for a unifying, centered view of ministry. Regrettably, the disciplines serving themodern pastoral office have become segmented into wandering, at times prodigal, subspecializations. Although we have produced an abundance of literature on pastoral counseling, the question remains as to what is "pastoral" (distinctively pastoral) about much so-called pastoral counseling. Sermons abound, and sermonic aids superabound, but few operate out of an integrated conception of the pastoral office that melds liturgical, catechetical, counseling, and equipping ministries. Having borrowed heavily from pragmatic management procedures while forgetting much of their traditional rootage, church administration has become an orphan discipline vaguely wondering about its true parentage. The loss of centered identity in ministry is mirrored in the excessive drive toward specialization of the disciplines intended to serve and unify ministry. This is why the need has arisen for a renewal of the discipline of pastoral theology, which has always viewed its task precisely as the search for this unity.
This loss of pastoral identity breaks in upon us in amusing ways. Pastors are asked to bless football games, but never ice hockey, and no one knows why. Ministers visit newcomers, but sometimes wonder how they differ from town "boosters." Clergy have ministries to scout troops, fire departments, peace initiatives, and veterans' groups, and often pray in a given week for intensely conflicting causes. Matrimony remains a Christian doctrine, the guardianship of which is directly accountable to the pastoral teaching office, yet in some weddings, what the photographer does seems far more central and essential than what the minister does.
The most astonishing example of this confusion of pastoral identity is in modern pastoral counseling, in which extensive professionalization has been attempted under the confusing rubric of pastor. The shingle of the therapist has been borrowed and put up, often with radical loss of anything resembling historical pastoral identity. The resulting irony is an attempt at a new profession that names itself by a name ("pastoral" counselor) whose meaning has been curiously forgotten. Later I will show how pastoral counseling stands ready to be reincorporated into a richer historic pastoral identity. But much pastoral counseling as popularly conceived today has little awareness of classical models of the care of souls. It is time for pastors to repudiate flatly much that recently flies under the name of "pastoral counselor." So preoccupied has "liberated" pastoral counseling been with obtaining credentials acceptable to the hospital team or the psychological accreditation board that it has systematically forgotten what every pastor in the seventeenth century knew quite obviously: that pastoral counsel expresses and embodies a clear pastoral identity based on ordination which stands deliberately and self-consciously under Christ's commission, melding integrally with the work of pastor as teacher, liturgist, and helper of the sick and poor.
For those who may be confused by fee-basis pastoral counseling (offering pastoral empathy only on the basis of a contracted direct fee), theclassical pastoral tradition roundly opposed the idea that fees can be properly accepted as a direct money exchange for a specific pastoral service (Apostolic Constitutions, ANF, vol. 7, pp. 433 ff.; Council of Chalcedon, 451, NPNF 2nd, vol. 14, pp. 269 ff.): There is a simple theological reason for this: acts of ministry are not directly contingent on money. Rather, church support for ministry is premised on an entirely different basis: freely bestowed gifts from concerned laity to care for the troubled as Christ has cared for us in our troubles. Ministry does not offer a bedside prayer for a fee, as bedside medical services are offered.
Ordinary working pastors have a clear right and strong historicalprecedent actively to reclaim the term pastoral counselor for their daily work and not let it be borrowed or loaned or drained away to secularized, hedonically oriented fee-basis "pastoral psychotherapists" who may or may not be committed to the ministry of word and sacrament. Tentmaking ministries are commended, but while they are making tents or money they should take care in using the term pastoral. Whether sewing and marketing tents or psychotherapeutic services, the making of a living or entrepreneurial interests should not be accidentally confused with the practice of ministry itself as proclamation of the word, celebration of the sacraments, and equipping of the laity. If services are directly contingent upon fees, they are best not confused with the church's ministry, whether of counsel, sacrament, or preaching, which is properly offered openly to all without strings or monthly billings.