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). ↩