Things I’ve Gleaned from Owen Strachan’s Books
I hate book reviews, but I wanted to get the word out about these four books in particular. Somehow I ended up with four books from Strachan, three of which I got for free. I felt compelled to write something about them (after all, Strachan went to all that effort of writing the books…a blog post is the least I could do in return!). I would encourage you to read them on your own to reap the entirety of their many benefits. Strachan’s contributions are insightful, culturally engaging, and unwaveringly biblical. I feel like we all owe him (hence the cheesy title), so in hopes of eliciting a desire to read his books, here are a few brief thoughts on the four books I’ve read in October thus far.
The Colson Way
I got an advanced copy of this book via a book review site for bloggers. It wasn’t my first choice of books that they had available, but Strachan had recently been hired by my school, so I felt a sense of obligation to read it (it’s free, right?).
The Colson Way was worth every second of my time. I had assumed that it would predominantly be a narrative of Colson’s life, touching on tidbits of his spiritual thought. Instead, Strachan brings Colson to life and displays his convictions in a way that appeals to a new generation of evangelicals. He is unashamed to admit the underlying tone of the book. In the introduction alone, he lets us know:
“As a millennial, I for one am tired of being told that my capitulation to secular culture is a foregone conclusion…The public square is the center of society in which all American citizens ask the great political and cultural questions of life and compete to give the most winsome and effective answers…This will mean, like Christ himself, that you must not expect applause for your witness, but that you be ready to sacrifice everything you have for the glory of God and the good of your neighbor.”
This kind of definitive tone follows throughout the book. In one of The Colson Way’s strongest chapters, titled “Roots,” Strachan traces Colson’s convictional foundations through the lenses of Abraham Kuyper, William Wilberforce, R.C. Sproul, Carl Henry, and Francis Schaeffer. One cannot finish the chapter without giving heavy consideration to their own convictions.
I found The Colson Way exceeded my expectations and encouraged me to stand firm on biblical principles in a way that “works” in our culture today. It affirmed a healthy desire to be winsome but founded, and it showed a sliver of the history that shapes contemporary convictional thought. This is a must-read, particularly for college students who need an example of how a public witness should live. The Colson Way gives a functional language to a generation familiar with being told they cannot stand on truth.
Awakening the Evangelical Mind
In Awakening the Evangelical Mind, Strachan traces the neo-evangelical movement in America throughout the 20th Century. For such a relatively narrow topic (and to be a dissertation!), I found the book to be easy to get through. To be quite frank, I knew little about most of these guys (save Carl Henry and the small part Machen plays in the book). According to Strachan, this is because their rich history has largely been forgotten, even a mere generation out. In Awakening the Evangelical Mind, Strachan provides fresh perspectives on the rise of neo-evangelicalism and the faces behind the movement, citing never-before-seen research and sources.
I don’t want to rehash the stories here because I would rather you own up to the responsibility of reading the book. I will say that Awakening the Evangelical Mind forced me to consider where I fit into the grander scheme of evangelicalism. As I adjust to life at a seminary, it is stories like Ockenga’s, Carnell’s, Ladd’s and Henry’s that encourage me. These stories help create a narrative that I have the chance to continue, refuting the claim that, “an intelligent and serious philosopher couldn’t possibly be a Christian.” Though I can’t be sure of where I will end up, Awakening the Evangelical Mind, at least for the time being, has amped me up in hopes of carrying the evangelical torch. It made me consider my identity (or lack thereof) in relation to evangelicalism as a whole, and for that I am grateful to Strachan.
The Pastor as Scholar & The Scholar as Pastor
Strachan didn’t technically write this book. He’s listed as an editor and wrote the introduction. Though I’m not sure how big of a hand Strachan had in the final product, he puts forth a functioning understanding of pastoral scholarship in both the history and the future of the church in his introduction. The work, as a whole, packs punches where it counts — the ways scholarship can serve the local church. I recommend those unfamiliar with Strachan’s thinking on pastoral ministry to visit this little book first. It acclimates the reader to a meaty theology of the pastorate in helpful ways. This is not Strachan’s fullest treatment of the relationship between scholarship and pastoral ministry; it is insightful nonetheless. I walked away thankful that Piper and Carson were the men chosen for the main chapters, and I was left fine-tuning my (insufficient) theology of the pastorate.
And for all you cheapskates, DesiringGod offers a free PDF of the book here, giving you no excuse to ignore it.
The Pastor as Public Theologian
Of Strachan’s books I have read so far, this one has been the most edifying. It has shifted my thinking on the pastorate (in no small capacity, might I add) and stretched me in a way that I did not see coming (thanks, Dr. Strachan and Dr. Vanhoozer!).
For a long time, my thought towards the pastorate had been moving in a direction shaped more heavily by pastoral care than theological sharpness. We can debate where the balance lies, but The Pastor as Public Theologian settles the fact that having both angles is indicative of a healthy pastoral ministry. Strachan and Vanhoozer are careful to make an argument that is wholly biblical—one part historical and one part practical.
One thing that makes The Pastor as Public Theologian effective is the addition of several “Pastoral Perspectives” interspersed among the main chapters. These short pieces add a functional plane for Strachan and Vanhoozer’s public theologian to navigate. The idea of the public theologian weaves together beautifully with the life of the local church, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to one day put these ideas in motion. These “Pastoral Perspectives” offer steps to implement the role of public theologian in a congregation, with special attention given to churches that do not already have this kind of leader in their church.
The Pastor as Public Theologian is a great service to the church, and I hope that many, many pastors will be shaped by the approach Strachan and Vanhoozer take towards the pastorate. The book is intellectually engaging, yes, but it is helpful for even the non-academic pastor. The pastor must engage publicly, and for public engagement there’s no better name in the game than Owen Strachan.
These are brief gleanings. Though I did not do the service of a full review for each of these works here, I have many more things to say about each of these books. Strachan has put big-picture questions in my head, and I’m thankful for his sincere writing style. These four books were thought-provoking in different ways, and I never felt bored even though they run in the same arena. I can’t wait to see what Strachan has up his sleeve in the years to come. And if I can brag, I’m honored to have him as a professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.