Thanks to ED for permission to post this.
David F. Watson writes,
If we are utterly dependent upon the power and presence of God for our life in the Church, what should we be training our ministers to do in seminaries? It follows that the primary task of a seminary should be to teach ministers about the various means handed on to us by the Church of knowing God…Theology courses should be intellectual and prayerful engagement with God’s self-revelation as disclosed in Christ, Scripture, and tradition.
This post is more about theological education. I don’t disagree with Watson but I am going to use this post as a jumping off point for something that has been in the back of my mind for a bit.
Often times I read of the West’s descent into a secular society. I don’t see that. Perhaps I am more optimistic than most, but I see rather a pluralistic society where we will begin to see people opening yearning for something more divine in their lives. In the end of Christendom, I see the beginning of Christianity. To that end, I would like to see seminaries teach ministers, and sometimes reteach ministers, to speak to the theology latent in the ongoing tradition — our culture.
As a Christian, I believe the Holy Spirit charts our course. As a Wesleyan, I believe the Spirit is latent in society, leading us all towards God and to a greater truth in God (John 16). This is why atheism doesn’t worry me — not nearly as much as fundamentalism. Because this, I think, is our course correction, especially in the West. To this, I add that our culture is not as secular, because of the guiding of the Spirit, we’d like to believe (especially when bad things happen).1 I believe our society is seeking their own conversation with God and about God.2
This is why we see the rise of “pop culture and theology” books (Dr. Who and Theology, etc…). Because theology and philosophy is in the culture. Cultural theology is the language our society uses to seek God. The same was true in Clement of Alexandria and Irenaeus’s day when they began to reach out to the society they were a part of to draft again the narrative of Christ. They used the language, and places of worship, of the pagans and others to teach Rome about Jesus. This is, speaking as a Christian, why we have John 1.1– 18. The Logos, as Justin Martyr puts it, was present long before the Incarnation and is what draws all truth seekers to God. Knowing our society and culture, our times and seasons, is a way Christians since the very beginning have come to know God and invited others along the way to experience the divine they partially knew in the fulness of Christ. God is not just found in Scripture and Tradition, but so too the natural world.
I have found more theology in pop songs than most contemporary Christian songs. For instance, the group fun. displays a wonderful concept of God:
I’ve tried to nail down the exact lyrics of Some Nights but cannot. Some read it as “But I still wake up, I still see your ghost/Oh, Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for” while others read it as “But I still wake up, I still see your gospel/Oh, Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for.”
But, then there is this one:
I happen to stumble upon a chapel last night.
And I can’t help but back up when I think of what happens inside.
I got friends locked in boxes (That’s no way to live).
What you’re callin’ a sin isn’t up to them.
After all (after all), I thought we were all your children.
You and I both know what that particular “sin” is and we also know what the boxes refer to. Those boxes are for both of us, by the way. There are more songs. In The Script’s Hall of Fame being a “preacher” is recommended. We seem to stumble over such a recommendation in the Church.
Science Fiction, of all places, is riddled with the hope of something beyond us. Perhaps this is just our social myths and the way they are used to attract viewers. In that attraction, however, I believe there is a message of hope, that religion is not dead, that faith is not absurd, that God is very much a force wrestling still yet with our society and our times wrestling with God.
I agree with Watson when he writes, “Theology courses should be intellectual and prayerful engagement with God’s self-revelation as disclosed in Christ, Scripture, and tradition.” However, I think theological education should make practical use of philosophy as well. The Logos, after all, is a heady philosophical concept. When we understand not just what we the Church has said in the past, but learn to hear the longing in our society today, through their language — and we learn to hear that language without condemnation — then we may see the Church once more serve society. This does not require us to change our foundation, only to rediscover again how our ancient forebearers theologized. They didn’t simply do it with the voices of the past, but so too the voices they heard around them.
Finally, from my friend St. Augustine,
For as he is better off who knows how to possess a tree, and return thanks to Thee for the use thereof, although he know not how many cubits high it is, or how wide it spreads, than he that can measure it, and count all its boughs, and neither owns it, nor knows or loves its Creator. 3
With better theological education, and a better understanding of the theology in our society and culture, we can help others grow their trees.
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- Liberation Theology: a Cancer in our Clergy (chasvoice.blogspot.com)
- GRACE: The Ultimate Liberation Theology (regenerationandrepentance.wordpress.com)
- An Unconditionally Conditional Faith (gentlereformation.org)
- What Should a Theologian Talk about First? (marccortez.com)
- A Dialectic Dance: Scripture, Tradition, and Mike Bird (inchristus.wordpress.com)
- I don’t believe we can either “close” or “open” anything God. Either God is or God is not. I bristle and the dilettantes who believe we can kick God out of anything. ↩
- One of the classic understandings of theology ↩
- Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo and E. B. Pusey, The Confessions of St. Augustine (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996). ↩
This is really a great article:
However, I’m not sure I would characterize the stories as the author did.
- How Abraham was an idol worshiper and God loved him and pursued him;
- How Joseph was a narcissistic boy and God loved him and pursued him;
- How David was a murdering adulterer and God loved him and pursued him;
- How Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved her and pursued her.
Abraham was an idol worshiper, but God still used him. Abraham was a feckless idgit too, who had no problem selling his women to keep his life, among other things, even after God “pursued him.” For some reason, I like the Abraham character as seen in Year One.
God didn’t just pursue David. God punished David greatly. Is this really grace?
To sum up Esther as simply a story about sex outside of marriage is to still remain within the realm of children’s curriculum. Esther was part of the King’s haraam. She did more than have sex outside of marriage. She used her body to save her people when there was no God to be found. That’s right. God is not mentioned in the (Hebrew) Esther. When God is not found, people do what they have to do to survive. (Like Jesus on the Cross in Mark’s Gospel.)
To sum up the stories as the author did is still doing an injustice to them.
I’m not really for telling school children David possibly married his sister among other women, cheated on his wives, had a soldier killed to keep it quiet, and then was punished relentlessly by God first with the death of the child and then with the census of the people. Nor would I want to tell them when David was too old to have sex any more, he could no longer be king.
Nor would I really want to tell school children about Esther or Ruth.
So, do we bleach these stories of any supposed moral stain? Do we use them?
What do we do to teach children the proper way to read Scripture, think and yet still believe?
on another note, if we take the entirety of these stories, which is the story of Israel, then we find Grace. Not so much in these individual stories, but only in the story of Israel as a whole.
Because of reading several polls on why people are leaving the Church, I’ve maintained for a while part of the issue is the lack of grounded intellectual discourse. While congregational members may have questions, often times, they are discouraged from asking them. At seminary, I met one pastoral student who loudly railed against questions and easily stated he would deny congregational questions their validity. This is measured out accordingly into our curriculums and often times in the sermons. Please, for the love of God, don’t ask questions. And this is admittedly my current bent.
It was Calvin who began the tradition of wearing academic robes in the Church. Why? Because Church was supposed to a place of learning. This is why the catechisms were taught to children early — because it taught doctrines, writings, and the such. Now we seem content with a poor study set with a focus meant to do what?
Anyway, when someone on Fb posted this last night, two remarks met my immediate notice and agreement.
Because the people who teach me and who ask me hard questions and who I want to live like and learn from are outside of my church.
Because I am not expected to contribute to the intellectual climate of the church community, and I am not expected to work hard at the practical things, although being young and available I am the most able to work hard and being hungry intellectually I also have the most need to contribute.
Let us not deceive ourselves — since the Sunday School industry started in the 1940’s, along with changing views of the role of the Church and the life of the Christian, we have seen a remarkable decrease in the intellectual Christian and church attendance. Frankly, instead of Spurgeon, Hodge, and Lewis, we have Todd Bentley, Joel Osteen, and anyone who picks up a bible calling himself a preacher. I don’t have to agree with Charles Hodge to appreciate his intellectual prowess.
I understand and sort of appreciate that Sunday sermons with an intellectual content, small groups, and other educational venues at Church are not everyone’s cup of tea, yet we seem to strive for the lowest common denominator. Are we really afraid to teach? Why can’t we teach a bit more about King David? Or Jesus? Or Judges? Why can’t we teach people, starting small, to grapple with their faith and to question it?
How much better would we be if we had taught questioning our faith instead of absolute intellectual surrender when the New Atheists and Ken Ham arrived?
I am not saying that the current trend is the same as the anti-intellectualism of fundamentalism, although passively, it is rather similar. We have a strong intellectual tradition in the Mainlines. Let’s return to it.
as a side note, anything said here about my current church would seem like a platitude.
- Intellectual Understanding, or Emotional Integrity? (greatmiracleshare.wordpress.com)
- Should Christians use a church congregation SOLELY as a place to meet and marry? (innocentbystandersblog.wordpress.com)
- Gathering as Church: Reflections on the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). (bobcornwall.com)
Geoff said this on Facebook:
I’d be happy if they got one year of formal education.. it would be a start. Hell, we have to go to school for at least 12 years in NZ before we’re considered educated enough to live in the secular world.. we give Christians a 20 min sermon on a sunday that most of them never listen to and then they wonder why people think they are a joke. For most of them its like a preschooler having a discussion with stephen hawking on theoretical physics.
Submitted without comment.
Only a question: What should Christians learn?