When I was a student at college, I was a young man in love. I lost my heart to a beautiful woman, to theology and to the Lord and His cause. There had been pale reflections of those loves before but this was the time of full blossom, reality.

We have to guard against the hyper-rationalisation of theological education. It is not just about thinking. It is about feeling and committing as well, it is about love.

So where does love come into theological education? Speaking in more general terms, are not the three great loves of the theological teacher; people, subject and God?

If we do not love students, we should not be in the job. For sure, you can deliver information from the front, even make them think, but it is unlikely that the connection between you and the students will be made if you do not love, and it is that connection which promotes real learning.

If we do not love our subject, we are teaching in the wrong area. Theology, Bible, Church History, Mission and so on, need to be landscapes we enjoy wandering in, workshops we enjoy creating things in, areas we want to show to our students so they will love them too.

If we do not love the God we serve, what is the point of it all? Without this as the main reason for teaching, our job becomes a selfish exercise, or at least a bit of benevolence to poor empty students.

Now, of what use is this little meditation on love to a hard working theological educator?

  1. It asks the question as to whether, amid all the administration, marking of papers, faculty meetings and emails, we have lost our first love – the emotion and commitment to our students, our subject and our God.
  2. It helps us assess applications from those who wish to teach in our institutions. It suggests that we do not only ask what they know but also what they love.
  3. It guides our staff development programmes. They have to be targeted towards the restoring and developing of love as well as knowledge. Principals and academic deans have a responsibility in this area.
  4. It gives a new perspective on the concept of integration in theological education. We seek an emotional integration as well as a conceptual integration We each only have one heart. Our loves cannot be kept entirely separate. We love students for God’s sake, we love our subject because it is rich in God-issues, guides and prompts to discipleship. We love our students and our study as an outlet for our love to God.
  5. It helps to define our objectives – helping our students to love others, the truth and God with an un-divided heart.

So can we say with the Beatles “Love is all you need”? Not quite, but theological education would be a miserable calling without it.

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5 Comments on “Love”

  1. PAUL COOKEY Says:

    Thanks Graham for reminding us again of ‘love’ in this sector as theological educators. Yet our love for student, subject and God need not be sentimental or merely emotional. Are we not to love with ‘our, heart, soul, strength, and mind’ (Luke 10:27 NASB)? So much of ‘anti-intellectual’ theological subjectivism have been confused with genuine love for the God of Truth. Your point is well taken. Shalom!

  2. harknessa Says:

    Ditto to Paul’s comment, Graham. A timely reminder. I love it! (-:

  3. perryshaw Says:

    Thanks Graham. May I suggest a fourth love: a love of teaching. I know a lot of people in theological education who definitely love their students, love their subject, and love God, but who use the same minimalist toolbox of teaching methodologies (usually lecture, whole class discussion, and research paper), often feeling that this is all they need to know how to do. Their lack of a love for teaching detrimentally impacts all we are trying to accomplish.

  4. Drew Says:

    Clearly our teaching should inspire our students to love also. I’d go as far as to say that, if it does not, then we are in danger of inviting students to become hypocrites. Of course a problem arises when we think of this in the context of a secular university. Some might say that we can only teach that which is objective; we have no right to look for a subjective, ‘faith’ response. I disagree. In order to understand Christian theology, we must understand it as an affair of the heart. While we cannot make a ‘heart response’ something to be assessed, we must make sure that students understand that such a response is an integral part of understanding Christian theology.

  5. PatrickM Says:

    Thought provoking as ever Graham, thanks. If love by definition is relational, it reminds us of how theological education (and all of church life) is corporate and relational. The teacher functions within a community of students whom he / she is to love, but also of colleagues who together make the running of an institution possible. So I’d want to include the essential place of love in the broader context. Students are to see love in action not only from the teacher but in and through the life and relationships of the educational institution as a whole. And it’s that sort of community, I think, that is most powerfully transformative because it is a place where the Spirit is evidently at work. (again I think the same principle applies to church life).

    On Drew’s point about Christian theology being an affair of the heart, but one that cannot be assessed – it would be fascinating to discuss this a bit more. Do we have examples and experiences of trying to integrate the two and how have they worked?

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