Tag Archives: seminary

Part 1 – Intellectual and Existential Crises of Faith

If one were to survey the landscape of evangelical colleges, universities, and seminaries, and even churches, one might (just might) discover the phenomenon of many of the students having very serious intellectual and existential crises of faith. This phenomenon may occur in some institutions more than others. It will likely occur more often in an institution that is multi-denominational, with a great diversity of students from all sorts of theological (Christian or not) backgrounds. It will also likely occur more often in an institution that invites theological rigor and creativity in thought, especially in classroom discussions and in paper topics.

An intellectual existential crisis of faith is intellectual in that the theological presuppositions of the student begin to fall away or apart. The student begins to deconstruct his or her theology in the face of a developing one. This can be an especially painful time, for the very foundations or coherencies of one’s faith and theology is questioned. From this, the crisis becomes existential. In the wake of one’s theological worldview, paradigm, or system crashing down, one is left alone wondering the very purpose of life and one’s existence, for what else remains but oneself? This is a very lonely and hurting place for the young theologian whose questions have taken her or him “too far.”

But are crises of faith necessarily a bad thing? Could it be that intellectual and existential crises of faith are the steps towards a more robust faith and theology? Even though the process of questioning and answering may hurt, on the other end is the hope of a faith and theology that is integrative, holistic, and corresponds to reality better than before. The hope of a robust faith that emerges out of a challenging time of questioning can be found in Paul Tillich’s existentialist theology, his works and sermons, and in his own personal journey of developing the courage and faith throughout all of life’s many questions.

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Whence we begin? Non-negotiables and theologizing.

What arguing over non-negotiables looks like.

In one of my seminary classes last week, we were assigned in-class to name our top five non-negotiables when it comes to our faith and theology.  A non-negotiable, for those keeping score at home, is a tenet of belief that we hold on to uncompromisingly. It is something that we find to be so necessarily true that we cannot deviate from it.  It is an axiom from which we build upon all our other assumptions, and several other comparative sentences.

In class I wrote my list fairly quickly, for I have been thinking about these things for quite some time.  They are as follows, and then I will explain them afterwards:

1. The equanimity, balance, and holism of all life.

2. The Love of God.

3. A relationship with God and a relationship with others as an emanation of a relationship with God.

4. The reality and ethic of the resurrection of Christ.

5. The equality of humanity.

After looking at this, I felt that I had immediately pegged myself as the intellectual mystic of the class!  However, you may look at this list and see something different.  Allow me to explain my tenets, albeit briefly:

1. There is a natural balance in life that we all seek to experience.  We all strive for inner and outer peace, or, peace within ourselves and peace within our world and with others.  We recognize the intimate interconnectedness of life and respond to it.

2.  #1 points us in the direction that there is a God who loves and is love.  We recognize that God is for peace, for balance, and for relationship, yet all of this is but a small aspect of what we mean when we say that God is love or when we describe the love of God.  The love of God is more than what we can understand as love, but we can understand God, albeit incompletely, through our human understanding of love.

3. #1 and #2 then point to how God relates to us and how we relate to God.  Our God is a God of love made known through creation, and through creation God enters into relationship with creation (what I call the relational creation principle).  Thus, we are able to know and love God, and along with being commanded to love one another, our love for one another is an emanation of our love for God.  If we love God, we will love others.

4. Now we finally get to something explicitly Christian (winky face)! #1, #2, and #3 all are made fully known in the life of Christ.  We see it in Christ’s life of ministry, in his death, and especially in his resurrection.  Christ’s conquering of death, sin, and evil made the way to eternal communion with God, and established an ethic for living in that reality.  Christ’s resurrection both establishes a real change in human history and inaugurates a new age of living in communion with God and creation.

5. Finally, in light of all the previous points, the work of Christ has recreated and reconstituted humanity around Christ-self.  In this Christ has saved humanity from itself and affirms all as equal not only before God but before one another.  We are all children of God through Christ, and we live in that reality on earth in relationship with one another and in expectancy of its fulfillment of our ultimate union with God.

I could only explain these “non-negotiables” hilariously briefly here, but they set up a train-of-theologizing.  Each tenet picks up on a major area of theology that is necessary in discussion.

1 – Prolegomena, or, First Things.  How do we know what we know.  What do we know. What is the reality at hand?

2 – Theology Proper: The Godhead.  Who is God?  What is God?

3- Theology Proper: The Work of God. What does God do?  How and why?

4- Christology. Who is Christ.  What did Christ do?

5- Ecclesiology. Who and what is the church?  What and what are we as the people of God?

After I gave my non-negotiables I listened to my peers give theirs, and it was fascinating.  There were people who held non-negotiables that I would never hold.  There were people who held explicitly Calvinist beliefs as non-negotiable, others who held explicitly Arminian beliefs.  There were those who listed broad assumptions (like mine) and there were those who listed very specific dogma as non-negotiable (e.g. Scripture as divinely inspired, the divinity and humanity of Christ, the Trinity).  Like I said, it was fascinating.

It was fascinating to see what people held to, and even though I agree with most of them, in my theology they were not expressed so specifically or systematically.  Sure, I believe Christ was fully God and fully human; sure, I believe that the Bible is inspired by God, and sure, I believe God is Trinity (please don’t get me wrong!). But what I learned from this exercise is that we all come from multiple perspectives, backgrounds, and histories, and these greatly influence the beliefs that each of us believe to be absolutely essential. Not only so, but from our backgrounds and personalities we understand what tenets we emphasize over others.

Next week’s post will look more at this phenomenon of multiple views and voices and the humility we need in encounter others who may disagree with us, or at least, look like they disagree with us.

What are some of your non-negotiables?  I’d be interested to hear!

Published locally at Spyhouse Coffee Shop: Nicollet Avenue.

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Theological Explanations

What does one title their first “official” blog post, the one where they will set out to explain what their blog is all about?  As the title came to me, I turned around in my chair to look at my bookcase, and there, near the bottom, was a book titled “Philosophical Explanations” by Robert Nozick. I have only managed to skim through this tome, but the title inspired me.

In this blog, do I want to set out an explanation of everything theology?  Do I want to this to be the beginning of a who-knows-how-long systematic theology?  To be honest, that would be “fairly neat.” Imagine if the great systematic theologians like Pannenberg, Tillich, and Barth had blogs where they wrote notes to themselves about what they intended to write in their massive anthologies?  Well, I’m sure they did something of the sort, whether in stacks upon piles of notes in their offices or in letters to loved ones, all due to the fact of the nonexistence of the world-wide-int(er/ra)(web/net).

Now wait a minute, that idea of stacks of notes and letters to loved ones is compelling, along with the idea of developing a systematic theology.  So, what is the purpose of this blog?  I have a couple of purposes, actually.

One, I do want this to be a place where I can work on my craft of theologizing.  I want this place to be such where I can write out my thoughts and beliefs on issues in theology and have people respond to them (or remain isolated in the confines of digital space). I want to develop my theology in the contexts of the seminary student, the church leader, the community participant, the son, the brother, the friend, the stranger, and the guy sitting behind his desk in his room.

Two, I want my theologizing to not just be about presenting “explanations” of what I think and believe, but I want this to be more, oh, qu’est-ce que c’est…for lack of better and less mainstream words: relational, organic, storied, and the like.  I want to crush the ivoried embankments between the theologian and the rest of humanity.  I want what I think and believe to be shared, experienced, lived out in my interactions with you, my beloved readers, through this vehicle of WordPress.  I want my life of theologizing to be more life as theology than theology as life.

So, instead of an “explanation,” this blog is an “exploration.”  It is an “enterprise” in that I seek to accomplish something, namely that I develop my own theology.  It is a “meditation” or a “contemplation” in that it is a deep and personal reflection on what I think and believe in my own language, style, and spirituality.  Finally, it is a “communication” in that it involves all with ears to hear (and even those who don’t).

So, I hope you come along with me on this enterprise. Here’s a sneak peek of what I have planned:

I recently taught a class at my church, the Salvage Yard, on theology (in fact, the title of the class is shared with the title of this blog).  In it, we went through all the main areas of systematic theology (prolegomena, theology proper, bibliology, anthropology, hamartiology, Christology, soteriology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, and eschatology).  In my humble opinion, it was an incredible experience for me and the students.  So, here I want to make available my notes and discussions from that class.

I will also be posting selections of scholarly work that I have written for seminary.

Finally, I will be writing as topics as they emerge from wherever.

Thank you for your attention.  I greatly appreciate and anticipate your interactions.

Hmm, this post would make a fine “about” description.  Looks like I’m about to commit my first recycling job from this blog!  The system works after all…

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