• Bonhoeffer, professionalism and the future

    Behind the books and assignments, lectures and discussions, theological education is supposed to help students see and oppose things that are toxic to the flourishing of communities. This is not at all straightforward, though, when those leading these ventures, academics like myself, are simultaneously ‘professionals.’ Being a professional means that we dress the part, that we worry about our reputations, and, more essentially, that our vocation is overlaid with careerism. Over the last several years I’ve been co-writing a book on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s approach to violence. . . .Despite the Tea Party’s helpful demonstration of why it is idiotic to compare anything to Nazism, I’ve come to think Bonhoeffer’s resistance work as a theologian can be instructive in the context of the divided loyalties theological education now faces.

    Bonhoeffer’s example is liberating in the sense that it demonstrates theological education can hold its institutional character loosely. The willingness of the Confessing Church and many of its ministry candidates to subordinate their professional reputations to spiritual integrity is striking. . . .Surely rigorous theological education is valuable for those who preach and those who don’t, for those who believe and for those who aren’t so sure. Professionalization is a problem because it splits the community of faith between those who have the time and finances to pursue degrees and those who don’t. Traditional Sunday School and evangelical Bible study groups are too narcissistic and not sufficiently rigorous or socially engaged to question cultural givens. Some traditional institutions recognize this and have tried to make theological education more accessible through the neo-gnostic means of e-learning, but this simply isn’t holistic or local enough . . . .

    For more see my short essay in Geez magazine, issue 30, The Redoing Schooling Issue.