Life of A Grad Student

Last night I finished my last major paper for my last class of my seminary degree. Save for a few loose ends that need to be dealt with this week, cialis I am basically done all of my classes. Next week, I start my internship, and in February I start work on my thesis. Wahoo! I’m on track to graduate in 2014.

So as I was printing off a copy of my paper to do one final round of edits (I am the queen of comma issues), I found the following video in my Twitter feed. Yup. It pretty much sums up the experience of a grad student, be it at a Masters’ or PhD level.

Life of a Grad Student

I sat through the last class of my program this week. Granted I still have mountains of post-course work to do for the three classes I did this semester, ampoule but I’m done sitting in class. Come January, cheap I should be starting my thesis.

This class, treat Pauline Epistles, was a huge blessing. Not only was it academic and challenging, it was also an amazing opportunity for God to work. It felt wonderful to break out in prayer throughout class to give praise to God as a way to give thanks for what we were learning. The professor showed us her heart and hunger for Jesus and demonstrated great pastoral care for each of the students.

It was exactly what a seminary class should be: wholistic; not just about “head knowledge” but about the formation of the whole person. We were shaped, and ministered to, and challenged by the Word and by the Spirit.

I’ve spent the last two days with a “mod” hangover. It’s the hangover that is inevitable after sitting in an academic class for a week. All I’ve wanted to do is sleep, and given the weather (mega-snow), it’s been a perfect weekend to stay holed-up at home in my jammies. Now as the hangover clears, I find myself finally being able to rejoice in this milestone. I’m almost done my degree. By this time next year I should be finishing my thesis and gearing up for graduating. It feels good.

Thank you to everyone who has been praying and encouraging me on this journey. Doing these classes has been blessing and I am thankful for all the professors and students who I have had the privilege to study with.

Now to tackle the mountain of post-course homework. Thesis, here I come!

 

 

 

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Amanda’s 9 Tips for Writing a Term Paper

The college students have hit the middle of the semester. Mid-term exams are in full swing, view so now is the perfect time to talk about those term papers that aren’t due until the end of the semester. Here are my 9 tips for writing a term paper.

1. Start Now. True there are still 6 weeks left in the semester, generic but leaving papers to the last minute is a very bad idea. At the very least, prostate choose a paper topic.

2. Writing a good paper takes more than a weekend. A good rule of thumb: the number of pages the assignment, the number of days required to write it. So, if your professor wants a five page paper, then budget at least five days to write it. If your professor wants a ten page paper, then budget at least ten days to write it.

3. Run your paper topic by your professor. By doing this the professor can tell you if you’re on the right track, and may even be able to point you to research materials you hadn’t considered.

4. Have someone else edit your paper. This is not cheating. Having a friend or fellow student edit your paper is the smart thing to do. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be edited by a person who knows the topic. Even just having someone edit your paper for grammar and spelling will go a long way to improving your grade.

5. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. If there is a point or a sentence that is unclear in your paper and you brush it off saying, “It’s okay my professor will know what I mean”, then that’s a definite sign you need to rewrite the sentence to make it clearer.

6. Step away from your paper for a few days. After you’ve written your first draft, put the paper away for a few days and go work on something else, or even just go and have a nap. Very often, “brilliant” ideas you had in the caffeine-induced haze of writing the paper turn out to be only “mediocre” or “down right terrible” ideas once your head has cleared. Of course, this requires that you write your paper well in advance of the due date (see points 1 and 2).

7. Follow the instructions in the syllabus. The syllabus should be your “bible” for your entire semester. It contains instructions and tips and tools for writing your paper, so don’t ignore it. If the professor writes in the syllabus that she wants you to use Turabian style for your references, don’t just go ahead and use APA style because you like it better. Likewise, if the professor says he wants a ten page paper, don’t hand in a six page paper and think that that will be close enough.

8. Don’t fudge the margins, line-spacing or font size. The professor can always tell. You’re not fooling anybody.

9. Pay attention to the comments that the professor writes on your paper. Don’t just turn to the last page and look at the grade. The professor has invested time and energy to actively engage your paper, and those comments will help you in writing your next term paper.

Embodied Education and Online/Distance Learning — Some Preliminary Questions

James K.A. Smith in his book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, purchase Worldview, cialis and Cultural Formation sets forth an argument for embodied, hospital wholistic Christian education. He argues that the dominant modern understanding of the human person is the human as primarily a “thinking person.” Christian worldview scholars, particularly from within the Reformed tradition, have cast humans as primarily “believing persons.” And while this is an improvement on “thinking person” it still casts the human as a primarily cognitive being. Smith suggests that the more wholistic approach is to adopt an Augustinian anthropology, wherein people are primarily “desiring people.”

In setting forth his case for the “desiring person” understanding of humanity, Smith explores the impact and power of liturgy or practices, be it secular or sacred, and how it impacts not only what we think (or believe), but also what we do and how we do it. Thus, humans are “liturgical animals” oriented by what they love (or desire). Our “thick” practices shape us, often in ways that we don’t consciously realize or acknowledge.

In light of this, Smith argues that Christian education should be primarily about formation, but in actuality, the majority of Christian education is instead merely about information. The result is that graduates from Christian and non-Christian institutions don’t really look all that different from each other. The college grad in North America gets a job, buys a house, gets married and lives their lives, becoming productive cogs in the wheels of the economy. And Christian grads don’t really look any different from their secular counterparts. Smith goes so far as to say that education that is baptized as “Christian” but is the same as secular education could in fact be “a way of domesticating the radicality of the gospel.” (218)

What does it mean to be Christian? Smith’s answer is to point us to the wise words of Stanley Hauerwas:

We are Christians not because of what we believe but because we have been called to be disciples of Jesus. Becoming a disciple is not a matter of a new or changed self-understanding but of becoming part of a different community with a different set of practices. (220)

Smith then offers some examples of what embodied learning could look like in a Christian college that adopted “a liturgically informed pedagogy.” Each of the examples are based on the traditional classroom model, but my question, after reading his examples, is this:

Can a “liturgically informed pedagogy” be used in an online learning environment? How could an online class foster formation of the whole student rather than just being a means of transmitting information?


I’ve taken quite a few online/distance education courses over the years. Some have been fairly low tech: read the required textbooks, do the assignments. Some have been “mid” tech: listen to podcast lectures or watch video lectures, read the books, do the assignments. Others have been highly interactive: required online discussions in a forum setting that promotes dialogue not only between the student and the professor, but also between the student and the rest of the class. But, no matter which format was used, the desired outcome of the course was always, “do you know and understand the course material?”

I can’t really say that any of the online classes I have taken have formed me, or have had an embodied component. If anything, online classes are inherently disembodied. Being in a physical class, on the other hand, has definitely formed not only my thoughts (beliefs) but also my desires and my educational posture.

And yet, there are other areas in which online discussion has had an embodied element. As I continue to blog and to tweet, community is being formed, and the liturgy of the online world shapes my practices. That leads me to think that it is indeed possible for online education to be an embodied practice. I think the key is to not come at online education from the perspective of “technology is the wave of the future, let’s be innovative”, but instead the key is for the educators and developers of online Christian education to keep the question of embodied liturgical pedagogy front and centre. That may mean that each online class will look just a bit different from other online classes. It may mean that a cohort model is employed, like IWU’s online M.Div program, or it may mean that there is an emphasis on collaborative group work (like contributing to a blog or creating an online encyclopedia on the course material). Either way, online Christian education should not simply be an adoption of generic, secular online education models which are then just “baptized” as Christian.

 

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To Thesis or Not to Thesis, That is the Question

In the M.A. program that I am taking, salve students have a choice: they can either do a thesis (9 credit hours) at the end of their program, view or they can do an independent reading project and take two extra elective classes. Now of course there are academic requirements that need to be met to qualify for the thesis track (certain GPA, permission of the program coordinator, etc), but assuming the student qualifies, why would they choose the thesis or non-thesis option?

Usually, the thesis track is chosen if the student wishes to continue on for doctoral or post-graduate studies. Usually, the thesis track is chosen if the student has been tailoring his courses and coursework to fit a specific theme that lays the groundwork for, and builds towards, doing a 100 page thesis on the topic.

There is of course a very pragmatic question that students may consider: which one is more work? True, the thesis is 100-120 pages and a year of study and writing, but sometimes that actually ends up being less work than 6,000 pages of reading for the reading project and two electives, especially if the electives are “new” topics for the student. Sometimes course work is actually more time intensive than a sustained thesis project.

An existential question also needs to be considered: Do I love the topic enough to spend a year writing about it? If nothing else, the thesis project is an exercise in perseverance in which the student has to just have the endurance to make it to the end. Sometimes topics are chosen that just won’t hold the interest of the student for that length of time.

I have one class left this semester, and the plan has always been to start my thesis after Christmas. I’m just now starting to question that plan. For the most part, I still know that the thesis is the track I’m headed toward.

I know I have already put a lot of hours into my subject, and have tried to tailor my papers for my other courses to overlap with my thesis topic.

I know that the sustained writing project of the thesis will be an excellent exercise that will help to improve my writing, both academic and creative. If I can’t write a 100 page thesis, what makes me think I can write and complete a novel?

I know that the thesis track will offer more flexibility in terms of spreading out my workload. Instead of gearing up for “intensive” week-long modular classes, I can pace my thesis to have roughly the same amount of work each week. This will be particularly helpful as I try to re-discover a healthy school-life balance.

I think the biggest thing I’m struggling with is the existential question. I worry that I’ll finish the thesis and never want to read Barth ever again. On the other hand, that might be a good thing, as it will push me to discover new theologians and new theological traditions.

I’m tired.

I’m in the home stretch, but it’s been a long journey.

I’m tired.

Part of me wants to just find the short-cut to the end.

I’m tired.

It’s a good tired.

It’s the satisfied tired of having worked hard and accomplished much.

And even though I’m tired, I am happy. I love theology. I love studying. And even though this year has been my year of chaos, I wouldn’t change it for anything.

I have learned a whole bunch about what I’m actually capable of.

I’ve learned that the project management and time management skills I learned in the secular world have a place and a use in my spiritual and educational life.

I’ve learned that theological reflection and academic study is a valid and important way to praise and worship and glorify Jesus: the Word made Flesh.

Sometimes (A Student Reflection)

Sometimes, discount we learn because of our teachers.

Sometimes, ed tests, papers and assignments accurately demonstrate what we’ve learned.

Sometimes, tests, papers and assignments don’t accurately reflect what we’ve learned.

Sometimes, we learn with our teachers.

Sometimes, the learning comes after the class has finished, once we can get some distance and a chance to process what we’ve learned.

Sometimes, we fail to appreciate what we’ve had to learn.

Sometimes, the learning process is painful as it tears down our preconceptions and shakes our worldview.

Sometimes, the learning process is a healing balm, nourishing our souls, and fertilizing our minds.

Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like it’s worth it.

Sometimes, we don’t want it to ever end.

Sometimes, it’s overwhelming and beautiful and intense.

Sometimes, it’s boring and frustrating and rote.

Sometimes, we learn in spite of our teachers.

Sometimes, the learning comes not in the classroom, but in the community of learning.

For all the sometimes, there is most definitely an always: The learning experience always shapes our character. For good or for bad, we have been changed.

Barth and Chalcedon

I’m giving a lecture on Karl Barth’s Christology today in class. So, capsule I’m posting a section on Barth and Chalcedon that I’ll be talking about today.

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In 451, malady the Council of Chalcedon was called to re-examine the decisions of the Second Council of Ephesus in 449, patient which Pope Leo had called the “Robber’s Synod.” At issue was the question: how is Jesus both human and divine? From Alexandria came the Docetists, who emphasized the deity of Christ over his humanity. There were of course mild and extreme versions of this teaching, from the deity being more important than the humanity, to the extreme that Christ’s humanity was merely an illusion. From Antioch came the Nestorians, who emphasized the humanity of Christ over the deity of Christ. In this understanding, the divine nature of Christ came not from his person but from his relationship to God the Father. In other words, Christ’s divinity was external to his nature.

As the council met, they reaffirmed Tertullian’s teaching that there are two natures in the one person of Christ, and instead of formulating a new creed, which they were reluctant to do , they chose to issue a ‘definition.’ This definition affirmed that Jesus was ‘truly God’ and ‘truly man,’ and that these two natures were to be seen “inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons…”

The Chalcedonian Definition is characterized by two terms, ‘deity’ and ‘humanity,’ and one relationship, ‘unity-in-distinction.’ It is a statement that is intentionally minimalist in nature, allowing for flexibility and diversity of understanding as the Chalcedonian Definition does not actually define the terms or the relationship. As George Hunsinger notes, this suggests that “the Chalcedonian Definition is not determined exclusively by soteriological interests. It is also largely a hermeneutical construct.” In other words, the definition “merely reiterated that Jesus was both God and man, but made no attempt to interpret the formula.” It functions more as a paradigm rather than a rule of faith, as it is unconcerned with the ‘how,’ but instead emphasizes what ‘is.’ This allows, then, for mild forms of Alexandrian and Antiochian theology to both be considered within the boundaries of orthodoxy.

Ultimately the key to Chalcedon is to affirm that the “whole work of Christ is to be attributed to his person and not to the one or the other nature exclusively.” The work of Christ cannot be attributed solely to his deity or his humanity. In his earthly ministry, both the divine and the human were present; it was not merely his human flesh that suffered and died, nor at his resurrection was it just his divine nature that appeared. As Barth says of Christ’s ascension, when “…the New Testament witnesses look to him as the One who sits at the right hand of God and will come again from the heaven to which he has ascended, this does not mean that they have ceased to think of the real man Jesus.” This, of course, raises the question: is one position more correct than the other in this paradigm? Hunsinger suggests that, overall, the Alexandrian tendency is more correct in upholding Chalcedon than the Antiochian tendency. This is because, while the Antiochian position only affirms one term, ‘humanity,’ the Alexandrian position affirms one term, ‘deity,’ and the relationship, ‘unity-in-distinction.’


That Barth affirms Chalcedon is quite evident throughout the Dogmatics. The question becomes, then, whether Barth affirms the Definition of Chalcedon using the language and philosophical and theological definitions used by the council in 451.

Bruce McCormack suggests that Barth’s overall Christology underwent a profound shift after II/2. While Barth may, in CD I, affirm and use the ontological definitions of person and nature as understood in the original formula of Chalcedon, by CD IV, he only continues to uphold Chalcedon by redefining the terms, moving away from the terms person and nature, and instead focusing on the language of ‘history.’ As McCormack summarizes, “The result is that Jesus Christ is still seen as truly God, truly human, and is both in a single Subject. But he is seen to be all of this under quite different ontological conditions.” McCormack’s thesis, then, is that the statement that Barth is Chalcedonian “has far more validity for the Christological material found in CD I/2 than it does for the material found in the later doctrine of reconciliation.” McCormack argues that many Barth scholars made the mistake of reading and understanding Barth’s doctrine of reconciliation (CD IV) through the “lens provided by the Christology of CD I/2.”

On the other hand, George Hunsinger sees Barth affirming Chalcedon fairly uniformly throughout the Dogmatics. One of the ways Barth does this is by referring to ‘nature’ or ‘physis’ through the use of the German word, ‘Wesen’ rather than ‘Natur.’ Paul Dafydd Jones argues that, even as early as I/2, Barth hesitates to blindly accept the Greek metaphysical meaning behind ‘nature.’ “Indeed, the concept of ‘physis’ plays no significant role in the preliminary Christology of §15 which surrounds the excursion question, or, in fact, in any paragraph of the Dogmatics.” In §44, Jesus Man for God, for example, Barth does not shy away, nor does he fully rest on the language of ‘nature.’ But, in answering the question of whether Jesus was truly human, Barth uses ‘Wesen’ repeatedly to talk about the human nature of Christ. When discussing Christ’s being and oneness of being with God the Father, Barth uses the word ‘Sein.’

The question, then, is whether or not Barth shifts in his understanding of Chalcedon. While it is true that the Dogmatics were written over several decades, and there may indeed be a maturing or even a changing of Barth’s theology over the years, there seems to be, even in the early stages of his writings, an understanding of the fluidity of the Chalcedon formula. Patrick Patterson argues that, even as early as 1928, in corresponding with Rudolf Bultmann, Barth demonstrates “conceptual eclecticism,” that is, while appropriating language and creeds and philosophical constructs, Barth was not bound to them. For example, while Barth did indeed use the language and terms of Plato and Aristotle, “his own use of their terminology [does not] imply his having buckled on the armour of a particular philosophy.”

Indeed, Barth’s interaction with and use of Chalcedon, for all its inherent minimalism, is complex. Jones identifies two components to Barth’s use of Chalcedon. First, Barth sets out to use Chalcedon as a way to respond and react to 19th-century Liberal Protestantism. In responding to the likes of Schleirmacher, Harnack and Ritschl, Barth “argues that ‘nature’ has been improperly misunderstood. Early Christian writers used this term to describe the multi-dimensional totality of an entity…encompass[ing] the ‘physical’ and ‘ethical’ dimensions of the human being.”

Second, Barth’s use of Chalcedon is a vehicle to point to the simplicity and complexity of Scripture. Barth’s Christology is based first and foremost on the New Testament, rather than on a later philosophical or theological construction. Thus, Barth adopts Chalcedon as a “hermeneutical construct.” Following the pattern of the New Testament, Barth holds in tension the teaching that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, and that the Son of God is Jesus of Nazareth. As Jones notes, “the unique name of Jesus Christ functions as something akin to a dogmatic synthetic a priori.” For Barth, the Chalcedonian Definition can be summarized by the simple statement: Jesus is “the Word made flesh” (John 1:14).

Coakley’s analysis of the usefulness of the Chalcedonian Definition and the fundamental difference between how the West and East understood the purpose of the formula may be useful here. While she does not directly reference Barth, it appears that in her description of the use of Chalcedon, Barth would embrace a more ‘Eastern’ understanding of the definition. That is, where the West understood the definition primarily as a rule, the East saw “beyond the limit” and turned the definition into something flexible enough to even be used in liturgical prayer. Barth takes an “Eastern” perspective on Chalcedon, exploring its flexibility and using it to go beyond the basic Christological question.

This can be seen in two ways. First, Barth alternates between an Antiochian and Alexandrian voice in his doctrine of Christology. This of course causes problems for scholars who, without reading all the way through Barth’s extended argument, charge Barth with either being Nestorian or Docetic. Because the definition is a paradigm with flexibility and with ambiguity as to the definition of the terms and the relationship between the two natures, Barth explores the boundaries of the paradigm, and indeed seems to be following the biblical pattern of “employing a diversity of idioms.”

Second, by exploring the flexibility of the definition, and by not being tied down to specific ontological terms, Barth is able to reapply the Chalcedonian Definition to construct his doctrine of vocation in IV.3.2. Here, Barth looks as the relationship between God (divine) and the Christian (human) in the calling to be witnesses. Thus, Barth reformulates the Chalcedonian Definition from being strictly Christological to being a vehicle in which to explore the overall relationship between the Divine and the human. Thus the two terms and relationship (divine, human and unity-in-distinction) can be redefined as ‘asymmetry,’ ‘intimacy,’ and ‘integrity.’

So the question then becomes: is the charge against Barth that he is Antiochian in his portrayal of the humanity of Christ accurate? That Barth is charged with Nestorianism (Antiochian tendency) is often the result of the critic’s “failure to appreciate Barth’s dialectical strategy of juxtaposition.” Of course this is easy to do, given that Barth often takes hundreds of pages to get to the other side of his dialectic. At its core, an Antiochian Christology understands Christ’s divinity coming not from his inherent nature, but from his relationship to God. In this position, Jesus’ relationship with God “is fundamentally extrinsic to the constitution of his person.”

Charles Waldrop argues that, while Barth does appear to take an Antiochian voice at various points in his Christology, the Antiochian elements that he embraces ultimately fit into an overall theological framework that is Alexandrian. Waldrop grounds this in Barth’s theology of revelation:

Just as the human words of Scripture and preaching remain creaturely realities although they become the Word of God when God speaks through them, so also the human nature of Jesus Christ becomes the Word of God in the event of revelation…This Antiochian conceptualization, however, is based upon the Alexandrian claim that Jesus is fully and absolutely identical with the Word of God who speaks through the human nature, Scripture, and preaching.


References:

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. Eds. G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance. Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010.

Blocher, Henri. “Karl Barth’s Christocentric Method,” in Engaging with Barth: Contemporary Evangelical Critiques, eds. David Gibson and Daniel Strange, 21-54. New York: T &T Clark, 2008.

Coakley, Sarah. “What Does Chalcedon Solve and What Does it Not? Some Reflections on the Status and Meaning of the Chalcedonian ‘Definition’”, in The Incarnation: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Incarnation of the Son of God, eds. Daniel Kendall, Stephen Davis and Gerald O’Collins, 143-163. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Gonzalez, Justo. The Story of Christianity volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1984.

Hunsinger, George. How to Read Karl Barth: The Shape of His Theology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

________. “Karl Barth’s Christology: Its Basic Chalcedonian Character,” in Disruptive Grace: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth, 131-147. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000.

Jaspert, Bernd, ed. Karl Barth – Rudolph Bultmann: Letters, 1922-1966, trans. and ed. by Geoffrey Bromiley. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1981.

Jones, Paul Dafydd. The Humanity of Christ: Christology in Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. London: T&T Clark, 2008.

McCormack, Bruce. “Karl Barth’s Historicized Christology,” in Orthodox and Modern: Studies in the Theology of Karl Barth, 201-231. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009.

Patterson, Patrick. “Chalcedon’s Apprentice: Karl Barth and the Twentieth-Century Critique of Classical Christology.” Toronto Journal of Theology 16 (2000): 193-216.

Schaff, Philip. The Creeds of Christendom, vol. 1. New York: Harper Brothers, 1878.

Thompson, John. Christ in Perspective: Christological Perspectives in the Theology of Karl Barth. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1978.

Van Til, Cornelius. “Karl Barth on Chalcedon.” Westminster Theological Journal 22 (1960): 147-166.

Waldrop, Charles. “Karl Barth’s Concept of the Divinity of Jesus Christ.” Harvard Theological Review 74 (1981): 241-263.

Gaps In My Education


I am officially at the halfway mark in my year of chaos. (technically, store it’s called something else, capsule something with double hockey sticks, doctor but you get the idea). I have done four classes, and there are only four left. One of the classes is next month, and the rest are in the fall.

Here at the halfway mark, I have stopped to pause and think about areas that I have not studied and would like to study at some point to round out my theological education. Most of the classes that I would like to study are classes that aren’t currently offered at Briercrest.

Hebrew: This is offered at Briercrest, and I’m planning to pick it up in the fall of 2013, when my thesis should be almost done.

Septuagint: I find it interesting that the LXX is neglected in Bible colleges and in Protestantism in general, especially given that the early Church used the LXX and not the Hebrew text for their Old Testament, and saw it as authoritative.

Apocrypha: I’ve only read Maccabees. It would be interesting to learn about the other books of the Apocrypha, their content, historical context, and when and why Protestants chose to not include them in their canon.

Medieval Theology:
I tend to go from Patristics and jump over to the Reformation in my theological and historical studies.

Eastern Orthodox theology: I would like to study this mainly because the western church largely ignores the east, and that’s a shame.

History and Theology of Marriage, Celibacy, and Sexual Ethics: In Patristics class earlier this month, we spent some time looking at how Christian apologists used celibacy as evidence of the power of the Christian faith. Christians could remain celibate, even though it was understood in the larger culture that sex was a primal urge that could not and should not be controlled. As well, my brief study of the rise of the role of the pastor’s wife requires further study.

The Pastoral Balm of Reading the Patristics

Sometimes it takes some time to process what I’ve learned in class, remedy especially when classes are structured as week-long intensives. So this week, diagnosis while on vacation, I spent quite a bit of time thinking through the things that I learned in Patristics.

I think the most useful thing I learned through the Patristics class was not names and dates and theological controversies (though these are all important). Instead, what I learned was that I have found a group of Christians who, though long dead, are able to provide a valuable pastoral ministry to the 21st century Church, a ministry of nourishment and encouragement.

Specifically, The Church Fathers encourage us to think deep and hard, and to recognize that intellectual pursuit is indeed a form of worship. The Church Fathers practiced a faith that was not solely driven by emotion or pragmatics, but a faith that is smart, intellectual, complex and deep. As Robert Louis Wilken notes, “their intellectual work was always in service of praise and adoration of the one God” and, “The intellectual task was a spiritual undertaking.” Or, perhaps even more pointed, is his observation, “There could be no believing without thinking about what was believed.”

Somehow in our North American, seeker-sensitive model, we’ve defined pastoral ministry as reaching the lowest common denominator. And anyone who wishes to think deeply and wrestle with philosophical and theological issues are told that perhaps their calling isn’t to pastoral ministry but is instead to academia. There is a divorcing of intellect and faith occurring in the Church, and the message seems to be “if you want to think deep go somewhere else.” I’ve lived it, I’ve seen it and I’ve had several people suggest that “thinking” disqualifies me from pastoral ministry because it is not compassionate enough.

And so I sat under the Patristics for a week (more like a month if you include all the pre-course reading and preparation) and through them I was fed. It’s not only okay to be a thinking Christian, but thinking Christians who saw their theological education as an act of worship in fact gave us the Church we have today. They wrestled through the hard issues of the natures of Christ, the relationship of the Trinity, and the purpose of Christian worship, and they left us the legacy that we have built our churches on. We seem to forget that, as if the Church just sprang into being fully formed, and we forget that the Holy Spirit was at work through the theological issues, and the political issues, and the ecclesiological issues.

The 21st century Church needs thinkers. It needs thinkers in its pulpits and in pastoral ministry. And every time we shunt them off to academia and tell them that their work is only for the benefit of the “ivory tower” we forsake the valuable giftings that the Holy Spirit has given the Church.