According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Friday, June 2, 2017

Matthew Burdette - Reflections on Theological Training

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The presumption that theological education is for some practical end is perhaps
also related to widespread biblical illiteracy and poor catechesis. It is difficult to
prioritize teaching the Christian faith when the implicit assumption is that its
content is inconsequential. - mb

Matthew Burdette
May 15, 2017

This academic year, in preparation for ordained ministry, I have been studying at General Theological Seminary. As I anticipate ordination, I have been reflecting on my experience of formal theological education over the last thirteen years, and thinking what it will come to mean in ministry.

The purpose of theological education is not obvious. While some academic institutions and most churchly ones continue to offer ostensibly theological education, many of the Church’s members and clergy nevertheless do not acknowledge that theology has much of a purpose. A few days ago, a priest whom I had just met congratulated me for studying at GTS, which, she alleged, thankfully prepares “worker priests” rather than “scholar priests.”

In the 20th century especially, theologians were perhaps tacitly acknowledging that theology was soon to be haunted by the specter of obsolescence when so many of them dedicated so much attention to theology’s starting point and method, often spelled out in lengthy prolegomena. The only real consensus that emerged was that nothing is pre- or non- theological (including the opinion that theology is a pointless academic exercise). No matter where you start, or where you claim theology is going, or what theology is for, you are already making a theological choice — and you could reasonably have chosen otherwise. But particularly, Christian theology is not [in] such an infinite range of choices, and to choose otherwise than what the Christian faith warrants is to transgress the boundaries of what the Church is about — to commit heresy (hairesis, “choice”).

What interests me is the contested purpose of theology and theological education, in juxtaposition with the concept of heresy. The explicit language of heresy and orthodoxy need not be deployed in debates about theological education for the concepts to be fully operative. For a few decades, theological education has increasingly moved towards the “practical” and the ethical, and away from the doctrinal and the abstract. What is implicitly said is that what matters is that ministers can offer pastoral care and lead communities in improving society. In this landscape, “theological theology” — to use John Webster’s helpful and polemical slogan — is, by its very nature, outside the bounds of this orthodoxy.

A useful illustration of this dynamic is the centrality given to pastoral care, the current conception of which is a 20th-century innovation. Prior to this time, pastoral ministry was generally conceived of in moral and sacramental terms, rather than in therapeutic (and therefore medical) terms, which is currently dominant. It has become a widespread requirement for ministers of different faiths to undergo the training of Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE, usually in the context of hospital chaplaincy. One of the stretching and beneficial characteristics of CPE is that ministers work with ministers of other faiths, as well as offer pastoral care to people of other faiths. Beneficial as interfaith learning is, a question does loom over the whole process: If I can offer the same pastoral care to a patient as the imam, and if I think that pastoral care is at the center of ministry, then what is the significance of those doctrinal matters that separate me from the imam?

The question is a serious one, and my own suspicion is that there is a correlation between the pervasive focus on this model of pastoral care and the implicit Unitarianism espoused by many clergy in mainline Protestantism. The same question emerges from the focus on social justice. When a parish’s or cleric’s social vision is indistinguishable from a party platform, and when the Church’s message is said to find its telos in that social vision, one must wonder why anyone should bother with the religious baggage. Again and more pointedly: When pastoral care or social action are assumed to be the goal of theological education, then the particular matters of doctrine that are the content of the Christian faith become irrelevant and distracting; focusing on them deters from what theology or ministry is allegedly about.

I do not intend to say that pastoral care or ecclesial social action do not matter. Of course they do. The question is how they matter. When such things become the very goals of ministry, such that theology is in the service of these goals, what we face is, by the actual norms set out in the Church’s tradition, operant — if not espoused — heresy. In other words, if every Church practice conveys a certain implicit or operant theology, then surely certain modes of practice imply a heretical theology. Theology as a means to some other practical end necessarily puts the Creator in the service of creatures, and treats creation as a self-existing and self-justifying project, rather than, with Christian orthodoxy, conveying the creation’s obligation to utter dependence on God. Nor is this a theologically conservative observation. For a somewhat random example, Paul Tillich’s work represents exemplary liberal theology, committedly interested in matters of justice; yet even for the politically-radical Tillich, politics was not of ultimate concern, because the polis is not that which concerns us ultimately. (Tillich might be accused of other heresies, of course.)

The presumption that theological education is for some practical end is perhaps also related to widespread biblical illiteracy and poor catechesis. It is difficult to prioritize teaching the Christian faith when the implicit assumption is that its content is inconsequential.

As I anticipate life in ministry, I consider these things in the awareness that my theological education, which was largely philosophical and doctrinal, sets me up in some ways as a “heretic” of the ecclesial culture in which I will work. In my limited experience serving in parishes, I have found that the Church’s members desperately crave to learn the faith, even when it is abstract and not obviously applicable to their lives. The Christian faith claims to introduce them to the true God, their Creator and their End. The knowledge of him is its own end, which cannot be wielded for some other purpose.

Theological educators and those who administrate theological education ought to deal seriously and explicitly with this dissonance between “theological theology” and the culture of ministry, with its implicit theological assumptions. Either the theology - or the culture - ought to be identified with orthodoxy, the other as heresy.

- mb

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