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AN ANNOTATED ANALYSIS OF PASTORAL THEOLOGY IN THE CLASSICAL TRADITION

An Annotated Analysis
Submitted to Dr. Mike Miller
of the
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Seminar
PREA9412: Studies in Classical and Contemporary Pastoral Theology
in the Research Doctoral Program in Preaching

Joshua Peeler
B.A., University of North Carolina at Charlotte, 2003
M.A., University of Oklahoma, 2011
M.Div., New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 2014
January 29, 2015

Purves, Andrew. Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition. Louisville: John Knox Press,
2001.
Summary
In his book, Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition, Andrew Purves argues that
contemporary pastoral theology has been overly influenced by secular psychology and
counseling. Purves writes that the modern pastoral care movement is more concerned with
psychological categories regarding human experience, than emphasizing the transcendent
objectivity of God (3). The authors unique solution is to provide a theological framework for
readers to understand pastoral ministry through examples from Christian history. Purves
accomplishes this by providing excerpts of pastoral theology from classical writers. He defines
classical in terms of the lasting impact that each author had on the historical development of
pastoral ministry (7). The author chose theologians who shaped in enduring ways, minds and
practices of pastors (7). The book is organized into five different sections, for each of the
classical theologians that are examined. Each chapter contains an introduction to the classical
pastoral author, a summary of the major themes in their theology, and the authors pastoral
theology. In addition, Purves interspersed contemporary pastoral work throughout each chapter
(7). The author includes chapters on Gregory of Nazianzus, John Chrysostom, Gregory the Great,
Martin Bucer, and Richard Baxter. Chapter five contains a conclusion where the author
summarized and synthesized the writings of the classical pastoral theologians. This section also
provides examples of contemporary pastoral work influenced by the classical theologians. Purves
ends the book with an ordination sermon to illustrate how he is personally influenced by the
writing of pastoral theology in the classical tradition.
Strengths
This work traces the historical development of pastoral theology and argues for practical action
in ministry. This strategy is extremely successful for several reasons. First, by providing an
opportunity to study the major historical developments of classical pastoral theology, the reader
can better understand the reasons for each successive development in theology. As students better
understand the developments of classical pastoral theology, they are able to appreciate the subtle
differences between each theologian and how they implemented pastoral theology in their
context. This is not to say that pastors strive to emulate the actual practice of the classical
theologians, but that critically thinking about these issues is an important first step. Students
who consider why specific practices were important in a specific time may enable them to better
recognize what practices are best suited for their particular context. Second, students are
encouraged to discover the various similarities and differences between theologian. As a result,
the reader is able to maintain active engagement with the practical and theologian content.
Therefore, readers who actively engage this material are in a better position to establish their own
personal theology of ministry, accomplishing the ultimate goal to personalize these concepts.
Third, an emphasis on practical action in pastoral ministry reminds the reader to seek
opportunities for application. This in turn allows the reader to determine the significance of each
application and apply them when it is appropriate. This work provides an excellent starting place
for the development of an individuals pastoral theology.

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Both Purves choices of classical theologians and the works chosen to represent them strengthen
his thesis. Each of the theologians, which were selected for this work are considered to be
significant for their contribution to theology in general. In addition, all of the individuals chosen
demand study because of their historical importance to the overall history of Christianity. For
instance, John Chrysostom, and Gregory the Great, are both known for critical contributions in
Christian history. The works chosen by the author were selected for their influence and ability to
represent their authors. This strengthens Purves argument that classical theologians ought to be
considered in contemporary pastoral theology, because many of the works themselves are taught
in Christian history classes. Another reason the theologians and their works are considered
strengths of this book is that the reader can follow the trajectory of each theologian as they
impact the next one selected for this work. This allows students to trace the influence of pastoral
theology, appreciating the historical location and overall importance of each author for
contemporary pastoral ministry.
Purves masterfully describes the terms and content from each theologians work. As a result, the
reader is provided with the necessary historical and theological context to correctly identify each
theologians contribution to pastoral theology. A secondary benefit of this process is that the
reader better understands the overall themes of each theologians work. One great example of that
is found in Purves writings on John Chrysostom. In this section, the author explains the
importance of personal piety and shepherding as themes of his theology (43-51). This mind-set
communicated via the writings of Chrysostom returns the role of the pastor to an exalted
position. Purves description of pastoral piety is particularly striking, because it is linked to
pastoral success in preaching (51-53). The importance of personal holiness is extremely valuable
and humbling for contemporary pastors.
Weaknesses
Perhaps the greatest weakness of this book is the lack of complete copies of the selected works
from each theologian. As a result, the reader is forced to rely on the authors explanation of each
theologians work. Although Purves encourages the reader to seek out translations of the various
works cited his inability to provide these copies negatively impacts the readers ability to
understand each theologian. By not making the text of the classics available directly to the
reader, the author weakens the clarity of this work. Unfortunately, Purves use of Bucers On the
True Pastoral Care comes from his private unpublished collection of translations (130-131).
The use of an inaccessible translation works at cross purposes with the authors stated intention
to make the works of the classical theologians, more accessible. This also negatively impacts the
critical thinking, because it removes the readers ability to investigate the authors accuracy
quoting and applying classical theology. Students cannot analyze whether or not an author is
inappropriately applying a text if they do not have the original text to compare it. Not having the
original text also makes following Purves arguments much more difficult. Readers may be
required to reread whole sections in order to better understand the overall point that the author is
attempting to make. This confusion would be greatly reduced by simply adding several
appendices to the book. Incorparating the full text of the classics would far outweigh the
negatives of additional cost from increasing the size of this work.

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Another weakness of this work is found in the conclusion. This section of the book does not
provide enough practical application for contemporary pastoral ministry. Although the stated
purpose of the book is to provide an opportunity for critical thinking from classical pastoral
theology, the resulting application is disappointing. Throughout the book, the author does an
excellent job describing and applying contemporary pastoral theology when it is appropriate.
However, he fails to clearly synthesize these concepts in the conclusion. If the author simply
took some of the information from these sections throughout the book and applied them in the
conclusion, it would be a much stronger section of the book. Another reason that this section is
disappointing is that there is very little explanation for applying these concepts. For example, a
brief examination of the chapter on Baxter demonstrates the importance of visitation in his
pastoral ministry. The author missed a perfect opportunity to discuss contemporary issues related
to pastoral visitation. For example, pastors are often working while their congregation is off on
the weekends-should this be the time for regular visitation? Contemporary pastors must critically
think through these issues in order to better serve and love their people.
Contemporary Applications and Implication
Much of the application for contemporary pastoral ministry is left to the discretion of the reader.
Fortunately, the theological works discussed are rich with possible applications for today. Purves
use of Martin Bucers ideas concerning pastoral ministry as a discipline contain several
applications. First, pastors ought to consistently seek the healing of wounded parishioners.
Purves articulates Bucers concept stating that attempts to bind up and heal the wounds caused
by sin should continue for as long as a sinner accepts the voice of the pastor (91).
Contemporary pastors are often told to meet once or twice with individuals, and to stop meeting
with them if they do not quickly repent. In fact, many pastors advise their parishioners to seek
outside counseling rather than dedicating the time, energy, and effort to meeting with them.
Evangelical pastors would do well to remember the importance of seeking emotional healing for
the people in their community.
Another voice from classical theology that has a tremendous impact in pastoral ministry is
Richard Baxter. This infamous pastor once remarked that Flocks must ordinarily be no greater
than we are capable of overseeing. (111). This directly impacts contemporary pastors at large
churches, since many would be unable to effectively meet the pastoral demands of their flock.
Baxters concept also challenges contemporary pastors who broadcast their sermons to multiple
locations, outsourcing local pastoral ministry to a campus pastor. Baxter goes on to say that
...if the pastoral office consists in overseeing all the flock, then surely the number of souls under
the care of each pastor must not be greater than he is able to take such heed to as is here
required. (111). Contemporary pastors must determine whether the most important position of
their office is preaching or pastoral ministry. If the size of their congregation is too large to allow
for them to pastor their flock, then by this definition they are no longer the pastor of the church;
they are preachers, but not pastors. Each pastor must balance the needs of the congregation
against the weekly requirement to provide congregational sustenance through preaching. Purves
challenges pastors with the life and writing of classical theologians to encourage critical thinking
and reliance on the Holy Spirit; the goal is to ensure that contemporary priorities are timeless.