In my youth, I knew a girl who wore peppermint flavoured lipstick. Now, once I had said this to my theology class, there were two types of knowing in the room; their knowing which was purely theoretical and my knowing which was both theoretical and experiential!
I think you already know where I am going on this. We live in an academic environment which promotes non-experiential theology, a sort of knowing that can be at arm’s length, that can pass exams and get high grades without the experience of the God who is known about. As theological educators we must promote by our teaching both types of knowing. Very few of us disagree with that.
Let us take this a stage further. What of those (admittedly foolish) male students who begin with the theoretical knowledge of the peppermint lipstick and then go on to ask their wives and girlfriends to wear it so they can experience what they know in theory? They have started with the theory and now want the experience (whether their wives and girlfriends will play along with this is, of course doubtful).
Surely it is our job to enable this transition in theology, to see that our lectures which introduce all sorts of theoretical ideas about God, also lead the student beyond the ideas and into a real experience of those ideas. So, for instance, the doctrine of the trinity as we teach it, is background theory to experience true prayer, saying “our Father” in the name of the Son and with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Or, what of my own case, having experienced the peppermint lipstick, I am now analysing it and thinking the experience through, even for the benefit of others! So, our task in theology is also to provide the link in the other direction, from experience to theory.
Perhaps this is the biggest task of all for theological educators. Our students come into college or seminary with an experience of God in Christ already, but it is not a considered experience, it needs to be thought through. What is the purpose of theology and biblical studies except to provide the explanatory framework for their experience? Faith seeking understanding?
So, if you want a good definition of what we do, it is to develop the relationship between theoretical knowledge and experiential knowledge of God in our students. All for the purpose of enabling them to do the same for others.
Of course, I could have used a much less interesting analogy than peppermint lipstick, but maybe then you would not have read this blog.