The fall semester is well underway at Central, and “syllabus shock” is prompting good industry already. The mission of our school is to prepare creative leaders for diverse ministry contexts, which is a sacred trust from God.
Rebecca Chopp describes theological education as “saving work.” By this she means that something redemptive goes on in the formation of ministers. She offers this definition: “It represents . . . a process of spiritual and ecclesial formation that is focused in and through theological wisdom.”
From the lectionary readings, we hear fragments of wisdom that guide our vocation as theological educators. We must be formed ourselves in order to shape the lives of those in our care as fellow learners.
The reading from Jeremiah 2:4-13 upbraids those who forget the source of their lives, the Lord God, and begin to pursue “things that do not profit.” Forsaking God is to forsake wisdom. Lack of memory of the redeeming One precludes a hopeful present, not to mention a future hope—one of the great themes of Jeremiah. Saving work is predicated on remembering God. It is important that we speak of God in our midst as we teach and learn.
The second lesson (Psalm 81:1, 10-16) warns of the consequences of failing to listen to God. When Israel did not listen, God “gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels” (v. 12). The practice of listening to God empowers us to listen to our students as they begin to re-write their lives. Discovering that they are graced and gifted occurs as we mirror what the Spirit is doing to fashion them after the likeness of Christ. We must “hear them into speech” as Nell Morton wrote, so that we might ask and learn what is going on for them in theological education.
The Gospel lesson (Luke 14:1, 7-14) recounts Jesus’ parable about those who chose the best places to sit at the wedding banquet rather than practicing humility. Self-exaltation reduces space for others; a humble approach allows others to find voice and perspective. This matters greatly in the classroom.
I remember observing this from a senior faculty member when I was a fledgling professor. A student had not made a good presentation of Barth, and his words hung awkwardly in the air. Professor Mueller (a world-class Barthian scholar) began to ask perceptive questions that allowed the student to find his way in the dense literature. Rather than denouncing his presentation or strutting his superior knowledge, Mueller probed gently so that what he did know could surface.
He modeled the last of this parable: he made room for the other, welcoming a student who was very different in his theological inclinations than he, yet granted him dignity. His humility spoke to me about theological education as saving work.
Our texts provide critical guidance for our practice as faculty members:
- Remembering God in all things
· - Listening for God in the lives of our students
· - Practicing Humility; Practicing Welcome
I am anticipating a good academic year as God continues to call us to chart new horizons in theological education.
Molly T. Marshall
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