Today I had intended to write a post on seminary education using these quotes but somehow lost the thread I was using to tie them all together. If you can find a way to make it happen write the essay yourself but here is what I was going to work with:
As a young professor at Calvin, I was involved in curricular studies. About two years after I got there, I proposed that the entire curriculum should be revised. I’m astonished to this day that the senior people didn’t just silence this brash newcomer. Instead I became head of a curricular revision committee. It became important for me to figure out what holds a curriculum together. You’ve got sciences and arts and my own passion, justice. What holds it all together? It eventually became clear to me that there is a biblical category of flourishing, of shalom. [It is] “peace” in the New Testament, but eirene in Greek is a pretty weak translation of what the Old Testament means by shalom. It means flourishing…At Yale, as at most theological institutions, they have a four-fold division of academic areas. Area 4 is where they do the practical things like teaching, preaching and liturgy. It became clear to me immediately that there was a pecking order. Area 4 was at the bottom. In the other three areas — Bible, theology and church history — you learn the important things and in Area 4 you merely apply them. This just irritated me.Then I read a book by a Belgian monk, Jean Leclercq, “The Love of Learning and Desire for God,” about learning in medieval monasteries. I knew medieval philosophy but nothing about the monastic tradition. It occurred to me that this was an alternative theological tradition. Call it “formation theology:” theology shaped by the need to give guidance and formation to a certain community, the monastic community in Bernard of Clairvaux’s case. But once you open yourself up to this notion of formation, then you see that the church fathers were in good measure doing this. Calvin was. He never had a university position but he’s dealing with this unruly city of refugees in Geneva. Gustavo Gutierrez in Lima, Peru, is doing formation theology. He doesn’t teach in a university but he’s got these poor people in Lima he’s responsible for. There’s a long, rich theological tradition here, an alternative one to most options on offer.It would be really interesting for seminaries to explore calling this “application” material “formation theology.” We’ll read what Bernard said to his monks and what Calvin said to Genevans and what Gutierrez says to Limans. And we’ll ask ourselves how we can appropriate what we’ve learned to leading a city, leading a congregation in downtown Chicago, and the formation of the entire community. It would be really interesting for some seminary somewhere to see whether this goes anywhere.
I’m learning to consent not only to the work of God in my own soul, but to what seems to be God’s pace of service. The grace of consent moves my prayers away from demands on God, to a peaceful faith in God that there is a better way.The more I make contemplative prayer practices a central part of my spiritual formation, the more able I seem to face the 100 fastballs of pain, suffering, loss and violence in our world. It often feels undramatic, and of course it goes unnoticed, but discovering the contemplative basis for activism has given us the gift of a muscle memory that produces peace and facilitates a spirituality of consent.
They often come to seminary or divinity school in a process of self-discovery, which is fine. Most of us did that to one degree or another. I recall from seminary that the ones who knew they wanted to be a minster since the age of six were best avoided, and probably needed therapy.
Now seminary is a good place to learn many useful things, like that David didn’t write all (or perhaps any) of the Psalms, that the Scriptures are thick and have a literary history, and that the heresies we see around us are as old as the church. If one is lucky, you’ll find a mentor or two, and be able to intern in a healthy church who will love you and teach you what it means to be the church.
What seminaries are not good at (because its not really their job) is forming men and women into Christians, much less teach them how to be faithful pastors. Christian formation is primarily the church’s job, not the schools, although they can help out.
And so I find myself with strange, haunting, ridiculous thoughts, upon which I’ll never act: that maybe the space for "education" now lies outside the institutions that bear its name; that a tiny band committed to this vision would be better "educated" outside the mechanisms of accreditation and certification; that even Christian higher education finds itself in a "monastic" moment, calling for strategic and intentional abstinence and reorientation because of our collusion with University, Inc.; that perhaps we–professors and students alike–are called outside the safety of our institutions into experiments we have not yet imagined; that perhaps the fate of University, Inc. need not be confused with the "end" of education.
Christians today often think of their world in the vocabularies of contemporary politics or popular culture. But the Bible offers us an alternative. Those poor folk across town are not just "welfare recipients" or even "fellow citizens"; they’re "neighbors." That action wasn’t just "inappropriate behavior" or even "crime"; it was "sin." When we use such a vocabulary, we find ourselves thinking about the world in different ways—and sometimes, at least, we may find common ground with other Christians from whom we were divided when our only language was that of contemporary politics. To trust the Bible, to let it define our world and provide a language for thinking about the world, can transform our lives.