Gleanings from Readings – You are a Theologian!

Did you know that you are a theologian?  Whenever you think or hear or read or say anything about God, you are doing theology.

When I started Calvin Seminary as a student, I was asked to read a short book by Helmut Thielicke entitled A Little Exercise for Young Theologians.  This classic was written in 1959 and was translated into English in 1962.  This little book was meant to help new students begin to grasp the shape of the terrain of theological study.

Theological study is under attack and some of the attacks come from those who attended seminary.  Too many pastors have concluded that seminary was a “spiritual desert” for them and continue to critique the seminary of today because of their past experience.  I believe that such a critique needs to be re-examined.  Calvin Seminary and other seminaries have been changing to address the concerns raised and are now focusing upon whole person formation for ministry.

I was reminded about my beginning at seminary and the critique of seminaries when I picked up a new little book.  A Little Book for New Theologians by Kelly M. Kapic attempts to do for this generation what Thieleke did over half a century ago.  This is a good book and one that I recommend to anyone who deals with the questions – “Why and How to Study Theology?”

Two short sections of the book help show the depth of insight and the desire to help students navigate the terrain.

In the section on Tradition and Community, Kapic quotes the insights of Jaroslav Pelikan on tradition and traditionalism.

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.  Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide.  Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.”  (p. 100)

Gleaning Question:  What part of what I experience is tradition and what is traditionalism? 

A little later in the book, Kapic highlights the learnings of firefighters who were battling fires in the Santa Barbara area.  Experienced firefighters followed the guidance of the command center because they trusted them, knowing that the leaders themselves had felt the flames and inhaled the smoke from fighting previous fires.

This illustration became an analogy of the relationship between professional theologians and those engaged in ministry from another author by the name of Ray Anderson.

Anderson summarizes, “Those who claim to be theologians …but do not allow their theology to be reviewed and corrected by those who experience God in burning bush and tongues of fire are like those who train firefighters to polish the truck but never to fight a fire.  This is not an appeal to revise the gospel to match the whims of culture, but rather an appeal to hear the wisdom of Christian believers who daily wage the fight of faith.”  (p. 102-103)

Gleaning Question:  How do I keep the “scent of fire” alive for myself and others? 

Whenever we think or hear or read or say anything about God, we are doing theology.  May we do it well – together!

Read Professor Mary VandenBerg’s recent review of the same book here.

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