The Consolation of Theology
It seems all my colleagues are heading to Asia within the next six months. Their itineraries include huge cities, rural villages and a host of cultural stuff not found in small Albertan towns. None are relocating permanently–as far as they tell me anyway. Some are traveling with students, others fulfilling different professional obligations. Those of us left behind are, well, teaching. And that’s important too . . . at least that’s what I tell myself: “Though shalt not covet your colleague’s travel plans.” Below are a few paragraphs from a piece I wrote on the importance of theological education. It will appear in Christian Week at some point in the near future. Maybe I should have called it “The Consolation of Theology” (with apologies to Boethius):
. . . We faced off, they in the glow and mischief of summer and us, fuzzyheaded and a bit academic. Nobody was sure what to say or who should feel more awkward. The space was ours by right of first discovery but they had nothing to lose. One of my students saw a way forward: “We’re talking about theology, want to join?” Mischief turned to disgust. The boys, fearing they were about to witness some sort of cultic debauchery, retreated through the propped-open door.
. . . Before the Reformation receiving a theological education was thought of as a privilege. It was connected to the high calling of Christian ministry, and it was the knothole through which the wiring of the world was visible. The Reformers changed things. They argued for the dignity of ‘secular’ work, and thankfully so. By 1530, though, some communities faced a surprising problem. Without the motivation of a medieval worldview, parents were taking their children out of school so they could contribute to the family purse. Martin Luther thought of this as the deluding work of the devil. The gospel and the community of disciples would endure, Luther was confident of that. But who would care for them? Certainly animals couldn’t be relied upon, nor could wood or stone–only people would do. Yet with so few pursuing the sort of education that would prepare them for ministry Luther fretted over the future. He let his pen loose, lambasting those who failed to see the importance of education, especially theological education.
Theological education allows us to think and love with the saints. And this is more than just learning history; it’s the process by which we gain the resources and skills for responding in Christ-like fashion to new challenges. Theology and theological education shouldn’t scare us, we shouldn’t think of them as alternatives to biblical faith or warm-hearted piety. In some measure at least, basic theological literacy is a part of apprenticeship in the way of Jesus. It belongs at the center of congregational life and Christian schooling. The notion of theology certainly shouldn’t send us running from the room.