Thursday, December 4, 2008

Finis Incepti

The beginning is over. Just had my last class in my first long term at Princeton. A lot has happened in the last three months (my stars, has it really only been three months?). Since this post is, at least in part, for the benefit of my session, it'll be fairly full, but now's the time for good review. While it's still, y'know. Fresh.

On all of my class evaluations, they asked what the most important single thing you learned from the class was. I thought it was a great question, so I'm going to spend some time elaborating on the answers here, and hoping that that answers any questions you may have about the classes.

Systematic Theology: "Theology is a science of mysterious tensions." I wrote that on this blog a while back, and it keeps rattling around in my head. Theology - an argument or study of God. Science - a system of knowledge. Mysterious - as opposed to logos, impenetrable truth; knowledge that surpasses rational understanding. Tensions - a dynamic state existing between two bodies, in this case, two facts. A couple of quotations and thoughts to illustrate this point:

"God is light, but God is unlike any light that we know." - Irenaeus

" and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, recognized in two natures, without confusion, without change, without division, without separation..." - Definition of the Council of Chalcedon

And the like. Over and over. To understand truly the doctrines of the early church, we must hold in dynamic tension many of the fundamentals of our faith. God is three. God is one. Yes.

Pastorally, I think this will show up in the moments when it's needed. In times when someone is considering an ill choice, it may be best to talk about human free will. In the passing of a loved one, it may be best to discuss God's providential plan. It sounds ludicrous, but it's how we must live our faith, in the space between the truths that God has revealed to us.

Theology of John Calvin: "Context matters - especially for theologians." I talked about this, too, in a previous post. Calvin's current context deeply affected his theology - predestination, the eucharist, church structure, all were set up in reaction against the excesses (perceived and real) of Rome. (Increasingly, by the way, I'd like to sit down with some Catholic friends of mine again and dig into why we disagree). So, how does my context as a theologian affect my theology? I'm very conscious of my American-ness when I talk to the Korean and Malawian fellows in my Calvin precept. Their theology has been shaped by their contexts - so has mine. How? How as a pastor can I faithfully respond to my own background in the proclamation of the gospel?

Introduction to the Old Testament: "Scripture is changed profoundly by the lens through which we look at it, and is itself our own lens for looking at the world." Disclaimer: I believe that the Holy Scriptures, as they are received and affirmed by the councils of the church and the great reformers, are the divinely inspired and authoritative Word of God. However, I also believe that humans are weak and error-prone vessels, whose understanding of the scriptures will always be imperfect, not because of any fault of scripture, but because of the faults of finite beings. We all bring preconceptions and assumptions to our readings of the Bible that we cannot escape. But, through careful study, consideration, deliberation, and prayer, we can come to an understanding of the positions of other wise interpreters, both modern and ancient, and to some sort of consensus about how Scripture must be read.

Introduction to Speech/Communication: "God has given you gifts - be sure you keep working on them. Don't let the important ones slide." Not too much more to say on that one. It's a really fun class - I'm looking forward, always, to more guidance about how to be an effective speaker.

So - that's the academic story. For the more personal side of life...well...come back tomorrow. I have to leave work quite soon.

PS -

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