Hope Beyond Theological Relativism: In Christ

I just want to talk briefly about theological relativism. If you ever attend Bible College or Seminary (or both), one of the dangers that students are inevitably exposed to is becoming a theological relativist. Here’s how it sciencehappens: You start out as a wet behind the ears incoming freshman, you proceed through your Biblical Studies classes and Theology classes. Given the shared material, and its attendant overlap, students are invariably exposed to conflicting interpretations of the same material; whether that be direct exegesis of particular passages of Scripture, or whether that be similar topics dealt with in Systematic Theology. What begins to happen is any confidence the student had before entering this situation (i.e. confidence in what they believe), starts to go through an erosion process; some of this is good, it creates space for the student to begin to think more self-critically about their own beliefs, and the beliefs offered by other Christians in the past and present—so the learning process has started. Nevertheless, the inherent danger that attends this process is that students, as I already highlighted, are not given critical space, but there is also a tendency for the student to become confused, and and confidence or conviction of belief is eroded to the point of theological agnosticism and/or relativism. In other words, the student (and I heard this retort very often!) starts to take the attitude that says: “Well, this professor says this about this passage of Scripture, and this other professor says that, and then another professors says this plus that; so what am I supposed to believe, I mean they have their PhDs, and I’m just a lowly college or seminary student (some of this starts to fade—hopefully—by seminary, but I am finding it really doesn’t for most), so how can I ever come to a conviction of belief, if these brainiacks can’t even come to agreement?” So this is how it goes, and this attitude becomes absolutized for many a graduating student; who then gives up on engaging in any further academic or critical approach to the Bible or Theology, because they have adopted a defeatist attitude from an early formative stage (and then they teach this attitude to whomever they have contact with in the church context).

This is a sad situation! If we take a critical or theological realist approach, we won’t adopt this defeatist attitude. We will move forward with the conviction that there is something or someOne to know, and He has the capacity in Himself to more than adequately explain and Reveal fundamental things about the most important thing; i.e. “Who is God?” After this question is dealt with (at a basic level), then all other theologizing, subsequent to this, has a good orientation; one that finds its “absolute” orientation as an open-structured one as we continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. It is the objective reality of God’s own life revealed in Jesus Christ that gives us hope, and provides a way past the impasse of theological relativism and agnosticism.

Like I said, this is a short one; I need to say more.

PS. I will respond to the good comments made by Cal, Jerome, and Steve, hopefully, tomorrow (in re. to the post before this one).

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On Theological Education: Does It Need to Be Reconstructed?

Kyle Strobel recently wrote this post at his blog on Theological Education. This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart as well; and one that I have given considerable reflection to. In Kyle’s post, he is highlighting Mike Breen’s vision-casting for the reformulation of theological education. Strobel, in his post, is simply reflecting on what he thinks could be some problems with Breen’s vision. In other words, Kyle is simply trying to be “critical” of Breen’s approach, as Strobel understands it. All that I have done is read the abstract of the paper that Kyle is referring to in his post, and the one that Breen has up at his blog, here. At the end of the post from Breen he offers a video that provides a snapshot of what he and his ministry are working through in relation to their desire to recalibrate theological education within Christendom. In fact ‘recalibrate’ may be the wrong word for Breen (that would be my word of choice); Breen’s desire, it seems, is to totally reconstruct theological education within our post-Christendom situation. Why don’t you watch the video below, and then I’ll follow with a tiny reflection of my own (my reflection dovetails with Kyle’s concerns, and I will also point you to a source of theological education that I believe reflects a way forward that would satisfy Breen’s and Kyle’s concerns … it is a source that I am personally related to, indirectly).

Along with Kyle, I don’t think we need to start over. Instead, I think we can build, constructively, upon the good that is already present within theological education; and hopefully move forward in a way that better equips men and women to accomplish the ‘mission’ of edifying the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of the faith. I still don’t understand exactly all the aims that Breen & co. have envisioned (I’ll need to research that more in days to come), but something that I am aware of —something that is happening right now—is the ministry of Cor Deo. Cor Deo is a ministry and theological educational directive founded by a former seminary class mate (Dr. Peter Mead), and a former prof (and continued) mentor, Dr. Ron Frost. They too have seen the problems associated with traditional ‘Evangelical’ theological education (both of them being a part of it), and have established Cor Deo with the goal of cultivating leadership for the Christian church (international) that seeks to form folks in a relational way that integrates the false dichotomy of heart and mind (whereas traditional theological education usually does just focus on the mind). The kind of training that Cor Deo does, involves traditional academic and intellectual training; but it provides for this in a context that is necessarily small (no more than 10 to 12 students allowed at a time), and one that operates from a network of support provided by actual churches (in the region that Cor Deo currently takes place, the UK—and also with reach into international church associations through the make-up of the student body at Cor Deo itself). These students, at Cor Deo, live together, eat together, learn together, and minister together. I think Cor Deo represents, a radical, and new way of doing theological education (although this is not really new, just think of The Spiritual Brethren or other groups like that throughout church history) for the Christian church in the 21st century. So I want to lift them up as an exemplar to both Breen and Strobel.

One point of critique: one thing that potentially could be a danger, with even a Cor Deo, is that the group itself could become too isolated. The important thing, I think, for theological education like this to flourish—and it is one of the things that Cor Deo has in place already—is that as a centerpiece, the education must be tied to concrete (as Breen wrote praxeological) actions of ministry amongst real life people. This way the goal of mission is in fact what shapes even the ‘academic’ piece of the overall theological education. This is an ideal that traditional seminaries (in the Evangelical movement) have sought to employ, but, I think, because of too much overhead (and corporate style shape—or ultimately, impersonal), etc., traditional education models have ultimately failed (true, the Lord can and does still use traditional models of theological education, but I would suggest that that is usually an exception, and I mean personally [not Providentially], and not the rule to trad theo education).

Ultimately, the point that both Strobel and Breen are highlighting , is one that I am on board with as well; there needs to be a shift in Christian theological education. I should note, I do think that trad seminaries and bible colleges still have their place. But I think there needs to be some serious thought put in place wherein traditional theological education can better situate itself in a way that fosters both meaningful spiritual formation (i.e. not just a class you take for credit, or something), and continues what they are most strong at; ‘academic’ theological education. I think what I take away from this, is that there is work to be done; and that we need to be more vigilant about this, than we are passive-aggressive.

What do you think?

Bible College and Seminary, Financial Responsibilities …

I spent exorbitant amounts of money to attend Bible College and Seminary. I was rather young when I began (18 the first time, and then 24 thru 30 the second time), and at that point, given the culture, it just seemed like an investment to pay for a good solid theological education. Of course my goal was to get into the ministry and/or to teach at the college/seminary level (which I have done a little of both in the past), and over time (my lifetime) I would pay off my student loans. Of course, I got married to a beautiful woman who also had some student loans from her undergrad at Bible College too — so our student debt compounded.

My question is, I wonder if you think that Bible Colleges and Seminaries, as good stewards, have a responsibility to research the relationship between the degrees they are charging exorbitant amounts for and the actual vocational benefit that said degree is ideally providing? In other words, do you think that Bible Colleges and Seminaries should be knowledgeable about such things; so that when they are counseling prospective students, they can do so in a way that provides these young students (and their parents) with an informed basis and expectation about what they are getting into financially? It almost seems like if Bible Colleges and Seminaries don’t do this that they create an appearance that looks like they are “in-it” for the money (at an ulterior, and maybe even unconscious level).

I know that statistically this isn’t just Bible Colleges and Seminaries, it is all academic degrees; there is a very poor correlation between actual program of study and degree, and future vocational realities. In other words, usually, as I’ve heard, degree of study does not correlate or equal what someone ends up doing vocationally. So then I wonder if the marketing used to get people into undergrad and grad programs is misleading, in general? And I wonder if Christian Bible Colleges and Seminaries are simply following the lead of this culture in particular? That is, I wonder if Bible College’s and Seminaries’ public relations and marketing campaigns are misleading? With all the right intentions of course!