Friday, September 14, 2007

"Theology begins with God"

Thoughts on theology (in the midst of musings about moving) from the Rev. Richard Kew at the Kew Continuum:

. . . Very early on I realized that not only did many leaders not really know the Scriptures very well, or be particularly interested in growing in their Scriptures, but they did not see that as a problem. Added to that was a very limited understanding of those generations of Christian shoulders on which we as people of this time stand.

It was when I started traveling around the church that I got to visit the seminaries that I started to discover how they functioned and what they perceived their role to be. Also, for a decade I happened to be officed in a seminaries so could see what happened there first hand. Gradually it dawned on me that my understanding of the nature of theological education was not what was going on in most of these places. There was little laying a firm foundation in Scripture, classic theology, philosophy, church history, and so forth, thereby equipping the next generation of ordained leaders for pastoral and missional ministry, but was more about propagandizing the student body into seeing life, ministry, and God in a particular culturally-conditioned kind of way.

In these seminary settings some students rebel, a few are capable of cutting their theological and intellectual teeth in a constructive manner, but significant numbers swallowed the bait hook, line, and sinker, and in the process often seemed to lose their first rich passionate love of the Lord Jesus Christ. A significant element of this prevailing seminary process is that it is predicated upon a hermeneutic of suspicion when handling the Scriptures, coupled with a sense of disdain for the wisdom of those who have journeyed the Christian way before us, and the notion that we now know better. When coupled with the desperate shortcomings of the Commission on Ministry system in most dioceses it is not difficult to see why leaders cannot lead, and the faith is not growing and blossoming as it ought.

Today's theological confusion is the end product of decades of such conditioning. Perhaps the classic example of our church's theological vacuity was the statement that came out of the House of Bishops in March: a mishmash of inadequate theology coupled with such a spin being put on history that the facts could not sustain. It was a classic example of wanting things to go a particular way, and so tinkering with events, movements, and theology so that it was possible to justify what was desired by the majority.

Theology is not meant for this. Theology begins with God. Theology for us starts with worship of this omnipotent God. Theology goes awry if we do not set out by prostrating ourselves before the living God in awe at his glory, grieving because of our sin, amazed at his grace, and willing to give our all to serve him. Theology begins, like prayer, in the heart of God, and the Lord Almighty then seeks by his love to form us into the people that he yearns for us to be. Theology requires that we work hard to engage God's self and God's revelation with the minds that have been given to us.

Yes, we should read, discuss, debate, perhaps even disagree, but in the presence of God and for the good of the church, not because we are cherishing a certain issue or agenda. It is a long time since such an approach to theology has prevailed in North American Anglicanism. My prayer is not only that the Episcopal Church and the rest of North American Anglicanism allows itself to rediscover God's glory, but that we allow ourselves to be rediscovered by this God of glory. . .

Read it all.


Judith L said...

I mark the beginning of my awakening from pure pew potato to an article published in The Atlantic in Dec. 1990: The Hands That Would Shape Our Souls. It contained a detailed description of seminary training in all mainline denominations. I believe the first example was Episcopal--of course. I tried to interest a clergy friend in the article. He shrugged it off. And he was fairly orthodox.

Jeff said...

One of the difficulties with Western Theology is its tendency to be an intellectual exercise. Although the Eastern Churches will speak of such things as "mystical theology" or "dogmatic theology," theology properly understood is really (as the word means) a knowledge of God, that can only be achieved through prayer, fasting (and the ascetical struggle), and the worship of the Church.

Therefore, theology not only begins with God, it ends with God.