Walking Through the Library to the Chapel
There is a spirituality not consciously based on academic work and it deserves our respect. How can we look down on Francis of Assisi, Thomas A Kempis or even some of our own students who will have read less than us but are closer to the Lord?
However, one important job of the theological educator is to provide a solid theological and biblical basis for the spirituality of ourselves and our students. Why?
- It lays a reliable basis for the Christian life. The myths, evangelical mantras and simple untruths by which so many of us have tried to live as Christians need exposure by careful study. The publishing trade seems to work on the basis that only good scholars can write commentaries on scripture but anyone can write a book on the Christian life.
- The study of theology, especially historical theology and church history, locates the Christian in the great sweep of historical thinking and variety of the Church. It provides a sense of belonging to all of God’s people. It gives us a richness as we learn godliness from those different from ourselves but equally committed to God in Christ.
- Broad and deep knowledge of scripture and theology creates balance. For instance, to those bought up on a surfeit of guilt as the most important Christian emotion, it comes as a blessed relief to see that the Bible and the history of its interpretation has as much to say to the Christian about love, comfort and joy.
- It is the basis for rich worship. Initially, a loving marriage is high on emotion and low on knowledge. As the years go by, the knowledge of the other person increases and can make the love richer and deeper. Knowledge of God enriches and deepens love to God. Of course, there are some who know a great deal but love little. They have just missed a wonderful opportunity.
- Study gives perspective. Christians are so often encouraged to concentrate on “the sins of the times” and “the issues of the day”. Unfortunately this is sometimes to the neglect of the great eternal issues of Christ, the Gospel, the mission of God, faith and love. Indeed sometimes we get so carried away with responding to the current issues that we do so in a way that damages the eternal ones. Study restores a biblical and historical perspective.
- Learning opens up scripture. “What does this passage say to me?” is the second question. The first question is “What does this passage say?” And with some passages, that is not at all easy to determine without knowledge of the culture of the time, the whole pattern of scripture and sometimes a reasonable knowledge of the original languages. How can you dig up treasure without a spade? How can you expound all scripture without the tools?
To engage in deep and effective academic study of bible, theology and related disciplines is not an alternative to spirituality, it is the best basis for spirituality. Our students will need to lay this foundation for others in their ministry. We need to lay this foundation for them.
Take them for a walk through the library on the way to the chapel.
PS. This post is coming early to allow me to take a much looked for holiday before the new academic year begins.