Friday, 5 February 2010

Theological education: what is it for?

A while back, I was asked to write a few paragraphs on theological education for some church magazine. So I wrote the following:

Last semester I taught a class on the doctrine of the Trinity: a notoriously difficult and challenging topic! Later in the year, I heard one of the students from that class leading prayer in our morning chapel service. I was really struck by his prayer: it was a kind of meditation on the things we’d been discussing all semester in class. It was an outpouring of thanksgiving to the God who is made known to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

For me, this summed up the whole purpose of theological education: not simply to make students cleverer, but to help them learn better ways to speak to God in prayer, and to one another in witness.

Who is this God who comes to us and meets us in Jesus Christ? That is the basic theological question. Answering this question requires broad knowledge, sharp thinking, scholarly discipline, and a good dose of intellectual creativity. But it also demands much more than that: if we’re really to grapple with the significance of God’s self-witness in Christ, we’ll also need to respond to that witness.

In this way, scholarly discipline becomes a form of discipleship; theology becomes an exercise in prayer. When we think – really think – of all that God has done for us in Christ, our talk about God gives way to thanksgiving, while thanksgiving likewise issues in a joyful witness to others about God’s grace and goodness.

For me, this is why theological education is so exciting and so promising – and why it’s an urgent priority for the church today. What the church really needs is not cleverer or more relevant or more professional ministers, but women and men who know how to pray and how to bear witness. Nothing could be simpler; nothing more demanding. For true prayer and witness spring only from a life that has been formed in the way of discipleship – the way of Jesus Christ.

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