A Lament on the Distance Between the Pew and the Desk Chairs of Seminarian’s: A Christian’s Grievance

There continues to be a disconnect between pew and pulpit, pulpit and lectern; this is my concern. For the rest of this very brief post we will reflect on my concern.

Seventeenth century pews, Church of St Bridget, Chelvey

Seventeenth century pews, Church of St Bridget, Chelvey

My concern is this: I have been drinking deeply and regularly from the deep wells of Christian reality and teaching for many years now (both formally and informally). I have become accustomed to theological jargon, and traditional Christian lexical reality and the concepts they signify through habituation. As a result I have gained access to and depth understanding of realities about God as Triune and God Incarnate in Jesus Christ that otherwise I would have no access to nor understanding of.

I have been personally edified in so many ways that it seems a crime to keep it all to myself. But this is where the concern arises: When trying to share these deep born experiences I have had with God in Christ, as a result of drinking deeply from the aforementioned theological fountains, it becomes exceedingly difficult to do so; and this for multitudinous reasons. 1) Folks who do not have the formal theological and biblical training, but who are Christians, find it very difficult to dive in head first into the “deep end” so to speak. 2) Many Christians don’t even realize that there is a whole other universe just parallel to them provided for by Christ for His Church through His provision of teachers (through the centuries and millennia of the Church); as a result Christians when confronted with vocabulary and concepts from this other universe believe it to be an alien life form and thus not worthy of further pursuit. 3) Etc.

The consequence of all of this, as I see it, is that theologians simply give up, as do the laity, and each pushes deeper into their own comfort zones (whether that be academic theology or populace church theology). Personally, the impact this has on me is to feel like academic theology is really a form of Gnosticism which the ‘elect’ only have access to, this special and deep ‘knowledge’ of God while the laity simply must live on the bread-crumbs if that (and that is usually a willful choice on their part, but as I noted, based upon a false mis-perception of things which has often been fostered by academic theologians and their entrenchment in the specialized universe of theological lineage).

There appears to be a movement towards what is called the ‘pastor-theologian’, of which Kevin Vanhoozer is a big part, but even that, as you read Vanhoozer’s 51 theses on the trajectory, sounds out of touch in many ways. It just sounds like another academic move made for academics (whether that be comprised of professional theologians and/or pastors, or both). My concern though is more visceral than this; I am simply concerned about people missing out on what I have access to on a daily basis. And I am lamenting the fact that most people in the body of Christ today will never experience the depth dimension of Christian reality that is actually available to them and for them.

What I wouldn’t want anyone to conclude from what I just wrote is that I think Christian reality can be reduced to a brute type of intellectualism; that couldn’t be further from what I am attempting to sketch here—just the opposite in fact! My desire is that people, whether academic or not, would begin to partake of the riches available for them, and that they wouldn’t just say “oh, I’m not wired like that, I could never understand that.” My desire is that the Fundamentalism and correlating anti-intellectualism attendant to that, and the inherent laziness associated with that would be repented of to the point that evangelical Christians will throw off the hubris they have grown accustomed to in their sub-culture and realize that the reality of Holy Scripture (Jesus Christ!) is tied into a whole lineage and tradition provided for directly by Jesus Christ. That church history didn’t start in 1962 among the Jesus People, but that it started at Pentecost and continues to press forward full of the gifts and riches that Christ continues to provide for its edification through providing teachers and pastors, evangelists, and apostles with the goal of pressing us deeper into the ecumenical unity of the one faith delivered once and for all to the saints. Hopefully you can catch my heart here.

Further Reading

See this complementing type of post I once wrote and just stumbled upon as I wrote this one: Uncle Karl.

And this one: Wrestling With God.

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14 thoughts on “A Lament on the Distance Between the Pew and the Desk Chairs of Seminarian’s: A Christian’s Grievance

  1. Thank you for your blogs. I always love to read them. I agree and also carry grief for wanting so much more for people. My husband is presently endeavoring to teach our multi cultural church a way of thinking that comes from understanding Scripture theologically. Difficult but rewarding 🙂

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  2. For a lay person like me, a big problem is that a lot of those books are pretty pricey, and a lay person like me simply has no access to a theological library. So for me it’s either book discounts, used books, or whatever my pastor has (he has a decent collection though, at least from my perspective).

    There’s also the problem of deciding where to start. While I am slowly making my way through systematic theology, I still have no idea where to start for historical theology.

    On a personal note, The Mediation of Christ finally came in the mail. I’ll get around to reading it once I’m done studying Classical Calvinism (I want to understand them so I can understand what exactly Torrance is going against). I’m still saving up money for Incarnation and Atonement.

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  3. BTW, may you describe in more detail how the pastor-theologian movement just sounds like another academic move to you? I’ve heard the name, but I don’t know much about it personally.

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  4. Hey Ivan,

    But do you have a theological library in your area? Do you have a seminary or bible college close by? If so you can always (usually anyway) purchase a library card for that particular library. Usually if a non-student the price for the card can be a little spendy (like $50 a year or something … or less), but it is worth when you consider the kinds of books you can get throughout the year!

    Another option though is to start a blog merely for the purpose of writing book reviews … I know people who have started blogs for that reason alone. Then you can ask publishers for review copies of books and get them for free that way (you just have to pay the price of writing a short book review). I’ve done this with many books that my library does not have.

    Or, you can get a kindle and get scores and scores of theological books for very affordable prices. Or, you can also get a Scribd.com account for $8 a month and gain access to lots and lots of theological books (and recently published ones at that!). I’ve done all of the above, and then of course my alma mater’s library is nearby so that helps too.

    That is a good practice: i.e. to understand classical calvinism better prior to reading TFT. But at the same time TFT’s stuff isn’t really just a critique of classical calvinism he offers way more constructive and positive theology. The Mediation of Christ does not explicitly critique classical calvinism for example.

    The pastor-theologian movement sounds academic to me because the way it is framed is that it is for theologian-pastors; which presupposes that these guys/gals (depending on your view there) have some type of formal training. I think it is great to raise a level of consciousness about all of that and I’m not against it in principle; I was only highlighting that as a foil or contrast to what I was hoping to communicate through this post. Like I noted: What I am reflecting on in the post is visceral or more concerned simply with the issue of lay Christians having the opportunity and wherewithal to go deeper and to press on that way. Not to be academics, but to be growing disciples of Jesus Christ.

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  5. Do a web search for Christian book distributors, they are a good source for theological books such as the church fathers, the institutes, and Barth’s dogmatic. Many more resources plus contemporary mush. You would be surprised how affordable these resources are. If you are hungry, enjoy.

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  6. FREE theology articles! FREE theology books!

    That’s not just old-fashioned SEO for Bobby’s blog 😉 There actually are a few reliable sources of recent FREE stuff for inquiring minds who pray 😀

    Articles

    Several ambitious classmates who were too busy to master the proprietary search capabilities of our world-class research library did surprisingly well with Google Scholar.

    http://scholar.google.com/

    A few social networks of scholars have copies of uploaded papers. Of these, the most important is Academia.

    https://www.academia.edu/

    Controversial evangelical theologians are nearly always published in (or published about) in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.

    http://www.etsjets.org/JETS_Online_Archive

    The UK’s Biblicalstudies website has curated lists of starter articles on several broad topics.

    http://biblicalstudies.org.uk/

    Books

    Obviously, Internet Archive, Google Books, and the Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

    Some also report rare finds in the Theological Commons at Princeton Theological Seminary.

    http://diglib.ptsem.edu/

    Dissertations

    Wildly expensive theological books often began life as a dissertation. Surprisingly often, that dissertation remains a free download at the university where it was defended.

    For a global list of links–

    http://www.ndltd.org/resources/find-etds

    For most UK universities–

    http://ethos.bl.uk/Home.do

    For a select few–

    https://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/library/resources/collections/theses/

    http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/view/departments/DDD32.html

    http://diglib.ptsem.edu/

    http://dukespace.lib.duke.edu/dspace/handle/10161/410

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  7. Now at 66, I am seeing the great need to blend good theology, biblical and systematic with Judeo-Christianity, i.e. the OT Covenant with the New, this surely was St. Paul’s way, as too (to some degree) with the Johannine account. I am convinced of the Jewish Hellenism here in both, and of course the Greco-Roman certainly of Paul! The Gospel speaks frequently of Christ’s hour. The fact that ‘His hour was not yet come’ is given as a reason determining both the actions of Christ himself and also the failure of his enemies to arrest him. This expression comes not only in the explanations of the Evangelists (Gospel’s) but also from the lips of Christ! The Gospel requires an interpretation along determinist lines. My thoughts anyway, and of course I am a Neo-Calvinist! 🙂

    Rock on “theolog’s”! 🙂

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  8. Bobby, much of the best of EC belongs in the *preface* of the eucharistic liturgy. For most mortals, thought this dense has to be experienced doxologically before it can be processed dialectically. And anyway, if we want to insist on a biblical reality that supervenes our own, we must sooner or later acknowledge it, step into it, and stay in it for a while. If it’s real, why wouldn’t we? Worship is learning a foreign language by the immersion method.

    So, we exchange a sign of peace and forgiveness. Then the sursum corda–

    The Lord be with you/ And with your spirit.
    Lift up your hearts!/ We lift them up to the Lord!
    Let us give thanks to the Lord our God!/ It is right to give Him thanks and praise!

    The preface of the feast–

    All glory be to You, Heavenly Father,
    for You… [love us so utterly and completely
    that You have given yourself for us in your beloved Son, Jesus Christ,
    and have thereby pledged your very being as God for our salvation.

    In Jesus Christ,
    You have actualised your unconditional love
    for us
    in our human nature
    in such a once-for-all way,
    that you cannot go back upon it
    without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross
    and thereby denying yourself.

    Your Son died for us
    precisely because we are sinful and utterly unworthy of him,
    making us his own
    before and apart from our ever believing in him.

    He has bound us to himself by his love.
    He will never let us go,
    For even if we refuse him and damn ourselves in hell
    his love for us will never cease.]

    The sanctus and benedictus–

    Therefore we praise You, joining our voices with angels and archangels and with all the glorious company of heaven [with Mary, your mother; with the holy apostles, Peter and Paul; with the holy evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; with martyrs, fathers, and doctors of ages past; with teachers of our own day, Karl Barth and Thomas Forsyth Torrance; and with patriarchs, judges, prophets, and kings who have looked to you in hope] now forever singing this hymn to the glory of your Name–

    Holy, holy, holy: Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory! Hosanna in the highest!

    Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

    And then, the words of Institution and the communion.

    The Lamb of God has taken away the sins of the world.
    Happy are we who are called to his Supper.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaphora_(liturgy)

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  9. The best of historical Anglicanism has always been liturgical, from the Low Church evangelicals to the more High Church catholics liturgy has been central. And of course here has been the blessing of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer! And it is here too that some Anglicans have been also friendly with the Eastern Orthodox, thinking of Bishop F.C. Nugent Hicks, D.D. (onetime Bishop of Lincoln), and his now classic book: The Fullness Of Sacrifice, An Essay In Reconciliation, (First Edition, May 1930). (I have myself, the 1946/1953 reprinted by S.P.C.K. edition). As John Douglas wrote in his Forward To The Third Edition, “That Orthodox theologians should say that this book might have been written by one of themselves is not surprising; for, as it were congenitally, Nugent Hicks shared their mystical categories. That it was welcomed with equal and impressive gratitude, as he himself describes most modestly in his second preface to it, by Protestant Evangelical theologians of every Church and kind was patent to all who took part in the Edinburgh Faith and Order Conference of 1937… December 24, 1944)

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