Friday, March 1, 2013

"The Consolation of Theology: Or Why We Need Scholar Priests"

Fr. Robert Hendrickson has written a wonderful essay about this issue as it relates to the Episcopal Church; we've been talking about it here (and elsewhere), too, for awhile now.  I'm fairly sure that anybody who reads this blog would certainly have his in their feed reader, too - but if not, please definitely do go read.

Here's an excerpt:
There is a general anti-intellectualism in American life. Of course, in the Episcopal Church, we pride ourselves on being exempt from such a thing. We are all too happy to talk about not having to “check your mind at the door” when you come to our churches. Yet it seems that you better be ready to do just that if you want to enter the ordination process in some of our dioceses.

We scoff at those who read Scripture literally. Yet we are going to create a Church where the only fundamentalism we embrace is that of individual feelings.

Doctrine – and sound training in doctrine – is essential for priestly ministry. It is part of what differentiates us from the spiritual but not religious. I think poor training in doctrine is at the root of why so many are now calling themselves spiritual but not religious. We need a generation of clergy ably trained in doctrine who can articulate what it is about our particular faith tradition that is unique and life-giving. Moreover, this cannot be done in isolation from training in other fields like psychology, philosophy, the arts, science, and more.

We simply cannot offer any answer worth hearing if we do not have priests trained to think theologically and who can delve into our tradition in creative ways to answer complicated questions and profound doubt.

How do we answer questions of life and death with no grounding in eschatology? How do we talk about our understanding of ordination and ministry without preparation in ecclesiology and sacramental theology? How do we defend our view of baptismal ecclesiology without adequate training in incarnational theology? How do we talk of Body and Blood without using all of our gifts of history and theology to articulate where we stand as Anglicans?

These are not esoteric questions being asked only on the close or the quad at our seminaries. These questions are at the heart of pastoral ministry.

When someone asks you, “What happens when my mother dies?” When someone asks you, “Why is this happening?” When someone asks you, “Why should I baptize my child?” When someone asks you, “Am I a bad person for seeking a divorce?” from an abusive spouse. When someone asks you, “Why all this sacrificial language?”

There are innumerable questions and there are those hard stories we all hear that challenge our faith.

And another:
Doctrine is not about right answers – it is about right relationships. Doctrine is that which encodes our relationship with the Triune God and with one another. It is our ultimate guarantee of dignity for it lays out our compact as the beloved of God. Sound doctrine defends and defines the fullness of human nature and worth. Without it, we only have human perception to rely upon which too quickly turns to manipulation and capitulation.

We need priests passionate about asking deep questions about doctrine and dignity. We need academic priests.

Especially in a time when we are wrestling with just how many parishes can afford a full-time priest – we are almost deranged to turn away those who might have a gainful way to support themselves while at the same time enriching the lives of their faith communities by their learning. We need many other kinds of priests as well but we are doing serious harm to our Church’s future and our ability to have any kind of relevant voice in the theological questions of the future without raising up a generation of scholar-priests who are faithful, curious, and spiritually grounded.

We should be seeking out faithful academics to call into priestly ministry and supporting priests who might have an academic vocation in every way possible. We cannot afford to have an academy divorced from the day-in and day-out practice of ministry and we cannot afford to have priests who are not devoted to faithful inquiry.

As the bumper sticker says, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

I've been in the doldrums lately, and have realized I'm not doing very well; nothing terribly serious, but I'm in a slump and have started to isolate again (a typical problem for me).  I started praying about this recently and all of a sudden I've started to become more alive and involved with other people and with the world.   Just today I met an acquaintance from church at the market, and we agreed to get together on a social basis sometime soon.  (Interesting how these things happen this way, I'm always surprised to note!)  

I'm thinking it's time to begin to get active about some of these ideas, including:
  • My lay society dedicated to prayer, study, and discussion.  I still haven't come to any conclusions about its "patron" or about how it would actually work, but I shouldn't let that stop me; we need to be talking to and praying for one another.  (And actually I think a "service" aspect of this is going to be necessary as well.)  And then also, to begin working on
  • The Catechism Project


aredstatemystic said...

I, too, have been in the doldrums lately. My SAD is particularly virulent through most of January and February. This is why I haven't written anything in sometime. I'm glad you're on the mend. (And I am, too)

I'm still in, by the way, in the formation of a lay society. But, either way, I'll be praying for you today.

bls said...

Thanks, RSM. Likewise....

bls said...

Hmmmm. Maybe "The William Stringfellow Society"? (Since we'll be lay theologians, that is....)