Paul Martin has been working through an excellent series of posts on the individuals he sees as the voices in the coming (currently happening?) revolution in youth ministry. This week he mentions theological voices.

I find the inclusion of an entire post devoted to those who are thinking about youth ministry from a theological perspective to be extremely refreshing. Perhaps more refreshing still is that most of these individuals have theological background. They could write a paper for an academic journal. Ten years ago, when I was in college, I remember being disappointed that there were not more voices from theological and biblical studies that were speaking into youth ministry. In hindsight there were voices, I just wasn’t aware of them yet (Kenda Creasy Dean, for instance). But there has certainly been an increase in recent years.

I still find it disappointing that we don’t have biblical studies people speaking into youth ministry. I realize that some will say that biblical studies is an extremely specialized field, whereas practical theology necessarily recommends itself to these kinds of interactions. However, without biblical studies speaking into youth ministry our curriculum will continue to be less than it might otherwise be. We will continue to be comfortable with whatever gets us by in terms of our knowledge of the Bible, instead of challenging ourselves to go the distance. In the 90s no one would have believed that youth ministry would experience a theological renewal, and itself be pushing other ministries of the church to think theologically and have greater depth, but that is exactly what is happening. Maybe youth ministry can be the place where we start engaging Scripture in much more depth than we typically do. In another fifteen years, maybe youth ministry will be leading the charge and encouraging pastoral staff to use the tools they learned in seminary. Maybe youth ministry can be a place where Christians are challenged to acknowledge Scripture for what it is, really wrestle with the difficulties this presents, own it as our story, and allow it to form our lives.


From the Archives: Systematic Theology

I guess I know have enough posts on my blog to have an archive. Regardless, Jay over at mu-pad-da, posted some days ago and, as an aside, mentioned his feelings about systematic theology. This got me thinking, and I searched through my archived posts to find one that I had done over two years ago. My thoughts remain largely unchanged when it comes to systematic theology.

Systematic Theology vs. Theology

The End of Another Semester

This is my obligatory end of semester post. I realize every student blogger out there is posting something similar, and it pains me to be part of the herd (flock?) of lemmings in this case, but I like reflecting on a semester after it has concluded.

In this case, the semester isn’t quite over yet. I have two finals next week (Aramaic and Greek) and a take-home final (Theology of the Pentatuech) that I need to sit down and actually complete at some point. Either way, classes are over and that’s good enough for me.

Greek II – I have completed my first year of Greek–for the second time. I can’t express how happy I am that I decided to not attempt to test out of Greek I and II. Retaking the first year of Greek was certainly what I needed. I feel like I actually have a good chance of retaining the information this time. I’m looking forward to Intermediate Greek this summer. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve enjoyed the experience and as a result I’ll have a much easier time reviewing and keeping up with my Greek.

Aramaic – The first half of the semester was not my idea of fun. It actually wasn’t my idea of learning a language either (learning paradigms != learning a language). However, the second half of the semester, in which we simply translated Biblical Aramaic and even got into a different pointing system and some unpointed Imperial Aramaic was much, much better. In fact, I really enjoyed the second portion of the course, and I learned a ton. It is somewhat odd; I’m the least anxious for this final. I think this is primarily because the final involves parsing and translation. I know I can do this. There are no paradigms to reproduce, which means all I need to do is show that I know the language as well as any first year Aramaic student could be expected to know it.

Spiritual Formation for Ministry – I took this class as a Semlink, and I’m glad I did. I still have several months to finish it, but I’m hoping to complete it by June (earlier, if I can manage it). This is a course that could be extremely helpful and useful, but has proven to be neither. The lectures have been mediocre, and the readings are the same. I’m glad I took it as a Semlink.

Theology of the Pentateuch – This was the most disappointing course this semester. Actually, it is currently running neck and neck with my Systematic Theology courses from undergrad as the most unhelpful course I have ever taken. I don’t want to have this post descend into negativity at the end, so I will content myself with saying that it would have made a decent Biblical theology course. As a Theology of the Pentateuch course it was unfruitful at best. The problems generally revolve around using categories from systematic theology (instead of simply working through the text) and in having as our corpus the entirety of the Christian Bible (yes, including the NT) instead of restricting our searching to the Pentateuch (or even the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament).

So, two classes where I learned a ton, one that was mediocre, and one that was a complete disappointment. I suppose it could have been worse. All in all though, this semester has not been the worst I’ve ever had, and Greek and Aramaic thoroughly redeem it. So, onward to next Wednesday and my Greek and Aramaic finals.

Theology, Presuppositions and Evangelism

Two of my friends have excellent posts on their blogs. So, I humbly suggest you take a look at them. I also have some comments of my own to make regarding them that seem a bit more substantive than would normally go into a comment.

Hermeneutics and Theological Systems
by Adam – Adam brings up some excellent points in this post. Perhaps the most important is that no one comes to the Bible with a blank slate. We all have presuppositions. Even I, who despises systematic theology, come to the text with presuppositions which color my reading of the text. This is simply reality. In this post, Adam also manages to point out some of the very bad things about theological systems when it comes to hermeneutics. He also points out some of the good that a theological system can bring. I actually agree with some of his points here, largely because of recent conversations with Earl, who has convinced me that at least some systemic theology is necessary for us to go about life.

I will take issue with one thing that Adam says. I’ll quote him below, in case anyone is too lazy to click on the above link.

Suppose one comes to a text that has several viable and somewhat equally substantiated interpretive options. What makes one choice better than another choice? I think one chooses the interpretive option that fits one’s theological system best (supposing that every available option is equally viable). By adopting such an approach it gives the reader a way to deal with the material in a positive way, instead of ignoring a passage as if it does not matter or is insignificant.

I see where Adam is coming from here, and he’s making sense. I would, however, like to propose that a far better way to handle multiple interpretive options would be to hold loosely to all of them. I understand that sometimes two interpretations of a given passage are mutually exclusive. But there are many, many ways of looking at a variety texts that are not mutually exclusive. This is actually something I might place under “The Bad” of systematic theology because, although it may keep people from ignoring a passage they don’t understand, it ultimately limits the interpretation of a passage. I’d like to leave open as many options as possible, while recognizing that we all have certain options to which we gravitate and still allowing that sometimes options are not equally valid and so should be discarded.

Does Evangelism HAVE to mean converting the unconverted by Earl – I have linked to part 2. You can read part 1 here. As always, Earl is being provocative. Nevertheless, he brings up some good points in both of the above posts. I’m not sure if Earl is aware, but this is a discussion that has been at least touched on in youth ministry circles in recent years. This probably stems from it being discussed in emerging/Emergent circles. Regardless of where the conversation began, it is an important one. Before anyone runs off and calls me a heretic I’m not about to argue that God is not a personal God, nor am I going to go against anything the creeds say in affirming that Jesus, the Christ, is the son of God and the object of our faith and hope. However, I don’t see a whole lot in the Bible, as Earl has pointed out in his first post, that speaks of a “personal relationship with Jesus” like we see today.

As a result of this I see “salvation” as much more a process than an event. Certainly there is a moment in which one crosses from “death to life” as St. Paul (or St. John) might say. But that moment is, I believe, neigh on impossible to discern. It is a moment that God most certainly knows, but of which we may be woefully ignorant. So, I’m very interested to see where the conversation at Earl’s blog leads, and I encourage everyone to take part. Of course, Earl is speaking more broadly that what I’ve touched on here, but that is all the more reason to visit his blog and take a look.

The end of another semester

This semester is quickly coming to a close. It’s always amazing to me, as I sit at the end of a semester, that another three(ish) months have rushed by. I will be honest, this semester was much easier than last semester. I still have a Semlink course to finish up, but that is pretty much some reading, finishing the lecture mp3s, and then writing two short papers. For my actual resident courses I’m finished aside from finals and a few articles that I still need to read for Theology of the Pentateuch. Some of my reflections from this semester follow:

Greek II – I’m amazed at how fun Greek has been this year. Greek I was excellent, and Greek II was equally so. I’m feeling very confident in my knowledge of the language. I realize I’m only at a very basic level, but I think I have the basics down well. I’m actually really looking forward to taking Intermediate Greek in a summer module.

Theology of the Pentateuch – This class has been beyond disappointing. The reading has been next to worthless. The class sessions themselves have been more about systematic theology and proof texting (and not even limiting the proof-texts to the Pentateuch!) then about anything else. I don’t want to descend into complaining. I’ll simply say that the class is not what I had hoped for or expected. I’m still trying to figure out how what I’ve received fits with the course name or description.

Aramaic – Many will remember that this class had me panicking at the beginning of the semester. Not so anymore. I have very much enjoyed the second half of the semester. The primary reason for this is that I haven’t had to worry about memorizing paradigms during the second half of the semester. Dr. Stuart has required that we translate all every word of Aramaic in the Bible, and now we’re working on a targum of Genesis 1 (with Babylonian pointings!) and an unpointed text from Elephantine. I’m actually enjoying the course immensely now. Not as much as Hebrew, or even as much as Greek, but quite a bit nonetheless.

As for the future, I’m still working out what next semester is going to look like, but I do know that I’m taking Intermediate Greek this summer, as I mentioned above. I’ll actually have another post with a few questions related to that sometime this weekend.

Quid Est Veritas…again

Many moons ago I posted on the concept of truth, and specifically on Focus on the Family’s “Truth Project.” Now Earl has gone and brought up the subject again, albeit from a different angle. Keep in mind that he is writing to the evangelical community with which he has experience. He and I are good friends. Now I’m going to take a few moments and point out why I think Earl’s three absolutes of truth are not, in fact, absolute. Keep in mind that, for the most part, I agree with what Earl is getting at (that is, Christians ought to stop assuming that the world should work according to what the Bible defines as right. Now, how Christians should act is a completely different matter). Onto the three absolutes of truth.

1. Truth is self-evident.
A line right out of the Declaration of Independance – so unlike you Earl! I’d like to believe that all truth is self-evident, but I’m unable to really get on board with that. I think it works – to a point. I realize that you’re working specifically within the frame work of religion and philosophy, but if I can bring in science for a moment I think I’ll make my point quite clearly. The way in which bacteria evolve is not self-evident. To be sure, you could observe it with a microscope, but without some kind of education you would not understand what you are seeing. You couldn’t pluck up a peasant from 1456 and plop him down in front of a microscope and expect him to understand what he was seeing. Yet, clearly, bacteria exist and evolve. Bringing it back around to religion, the idea of a single-God may seem self-evident to us today in the West (as evidenced by the three major religions), but is hardly as self-evident in other circles, or in the past. So, I think ultimately that some truth’s are self-evident (Murder is bad, for instance) but others are less self-evident (how many gods? A God at all?).

2. Truth is self-manifesting
I’m not really sure I understand your point with this one.

3. Truth is indisputable
To be honest, I’m surprised this was your third one. People all over the place dispute all kinds of things that are “true.” Take the fact that, basically, the entire conservative Christian community disputes evolution. Now, it might be nice to think that things are indisputable, but that isn’t always the case. We might say that evolution isn’t actually disputed, and that those who do dispute it are silly, but what about another example? What about the person who says that stealing in all circumstances is wrong. But then I person comes along and says that stealing from the rich to help the poor is fine. A third person comes along and says that neither of those are quite right, its only okay to steal to save someone’s life. Which truth is true? The fact that truth is disputable is why we have multiple religions, and multiple factions within those religions. There may be a bare minimum, a lowest common denominator, of truth that is shared across all religions, but that’s certainly not shared or at least not shared without disputation between religious people and non-religious people.

In the end, I think that we may be talking about something entirely different from truth. I’d like to say we’re talking about right and wrong. But I don’t know if those three things really apply to those either. So, I guess ultimately I’m not convinced that Earl’s three absolutes hold water.

Theological Diversity

One of the topics that came up several times in History of Liturgy this semester is how, as a theology of the sacraments developed, there are a corresponding movement, at least in the Western Church, to stamp out diversity in their practice and theology. I am not speaking of heresy here. Certainly there were issues with the Gnostics and what not, but once we move forward in time we are dealing with people who would affirm the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds. Yet this is, apparently, not enough. I mean, people are arguing and having to recant ideas under duress for issues dealing with the way in which Christ is present in the Eucharist. I’m not saying that this is an unimportant issue. At the same time, why is it that certain diverse theological beliefs cannot exist side-by-side? From time to time they are able to (Radbertus and Ratrumnus, for example), but over the long-term conformity is the rule within Christendom. Of course this has a long history, and we could blame it all on Constantine and state religion. But doing such a thing seems to be dodging the issue. It still takes place today, even in secular America. It takes place even among “reformed” Protestants.

I hope that, in my youth ministry and church, we are willing to tolerate, and even celebrate, diversity within the bounds of the Christian faith. I’m also interested to hear what others think on this issue. Am I being too idealistic? Is theological diversity within the Body of Christ actually an evil and destructive thing?