After spending a considerable amount of time reading theology and thinking through some of the more serious matters in biblical scholarship, I went to seminary. I was joined by more than a few fellow students who had read little more than Scripture itself and considered it the total of theological evaluation. This reality disheartened me about the future clergy and how they are going to respond to the increasing barrage of questions from parishioners and others. To serve the Church in any way, you have to know how to read and think theologically. There are scarcely any tools focused solely on that missing element in our ministerial training.
The editor’s introduction to Reading Theologically does not state this fact in as dark of terms as I but instead focuses on the positive. Eric D. Barreto writes, “reading theologically is about the formation and cultivation of a particular posture toward texts…(r)eading theologically is not just about building your academic skills, but about your formation as a ministerial leader.” (11). To do this, Barreto has assembled “eight exemplary scholars” who are likewise teachers and theologians. Their essayed voices bring to light different goals and methods for reading while in seminary — goals that should be the intended result of each seminarian. I am more than pleasantly surprised at the inclusion of a variety of voices in this volume.
The eight chapters cover everything one needs to read academically. Seminary is not a Jesus/summer camp (a fellow student believed this). It is an academic institution of higher learning, requiring reading that goes beyond understanding the words on the page. As Melissa Browning says in the first essay, reading is an enterprise whereby one engages with the person writing. She offers several helpful (even out of seminary) strategies to engaging the material — even the material the is uninteresting, or worse, challenging. Of interesting note is Jacob D. Myers’s chapter, “Reading Critically,” which begins with an acknowledgement that authors have ideologies. How often do we see books castoff because the author is “X?” Myers suggests otherwise – admit this, admit we have our own ideology, and then because to read the text. This stance is his ideological criticism (77) and it works well. He writes to encourage us to look at the author, understand their place and our own, and then read the book. The final essay I will call attention to is “Reading Spiritually,” by Shanell T. Smith. After all of the ways to read, after all of the things to read — after all of the confirmation and challenges — there is a need to read for spiritual formation. This method does not exclude the previous ones, but is “intentionally reflective” and “deepens your connection with God as you read.” (126). Her model, S.o. W.h.a.t?, is a very helpful paradigm for the seminary reader who may find they no longer know how to read for a connection with God. This capstone shows the editorial intent of providing a whole reader.
I’ll be blunter than the editor or the essayists. Americans are the poorest readers in the world. Maybe that is a bit much, so don’t read too much into it. However, we take things at face value and apply an “all/or nothing” approach what we intellectually digest. There is little to no engagement across the broad-swath of the reading public. It gets worse in seminary, I believe, because each person becomes protected to challenges, first, by the capitalistic system for paying for the degree and, second, due to the “call of God.” Because God called them into the ministry, and because the denominational requires seminary, they do not need to be challenged. The seminarian never becomes a student, but is always the customer. I believe this is detrimental to our Church(es) and is part of the reason we see a decrease in Christianity in the West today. It comes down to reading. Do you read to learn or to read simply?
If I could, I would commend and command to every seminarian this single-volume and a class on it. I would implore them to take it apart and to eat it up as John was commanded by the Angel in Revelation. The words on these pages should become the theological sojourner’s nutrients. This book, without exaggeration, is a godsend to seminarian students.