This past weekend I had the chance to spend New Years with one of my closest friends and her husband. As three academics, we spent most of the time talking about the academy and our respective goals, current research interests, and all of that. It was a relief to be with those who are not only the closest of friends, but who also understand my life so well.
Both of my friends are studying literature (broadly speaking). They love what they do. It is refreshing to find any academic who studies what they do because they simply love the subject matter. The conversation takes a different tone, and you actually learn from these sorts of academics.
We eventually got to the part in the conversation where we starting lamenting the state of the academy. Everything is about playing the game -- getting to the next phase, getting the recommendation, trying to prove you aren't a fraud (and spiraling into paranoia every few weeks that you know absolutely nothing about nothing and the fact that you even made it this far is some crazy stroke of luck that will never be explained!), trying to figure out what you want to write about for the next five years, hopefully finding enough adjunct positions to avoid living in a box with a change cup, and then hoping that someday, after all this toil, you might actually have the chance of getting tenure. Maybe by the time you are 45? This becomes all the more complicated to whatever extent when you are a woman -- when is the best time to get married? Have children? Thinking about this entire game for too long is enough to send you straight to your couch and drown in netflix instant streaming for a few hours to avoid the torturous thought of it all.
There came a point in the conversation where my friend disappointingly admitted that you just have to jump through all the hoops to get to where you want to be. I immediately wondered what this means specifically for theology. If I understand anything about my discipline correctly, it is that the object of theology's inquiry is God. As Christian theology, our discipline is particularly informed by Jesus Christ. He is the God-man who came to be one of us, and was murdered for our redemption and liberation, and conquered death through His resurrection. As a Christian and one who is interested in studying theology, my goal is to faithfully order my speech, thoughts, and actions after this Gospel of Jesus Christ.
With all of that said, what does that mean for why anyone studies theology and hopes to someday become a theologian? Do the rules and procedures change when the object of inquiry is God? What are we doing here if they don't? What does it mean that the object of inquiry is one that summons us to obedience, faithfulness, and worship? When the object is actually our Lord? My questions are not rooted in some desire to be pious. Please don't misunderstand me here. However, if the individual doesn't have an existential commitment to the object of theology, what is the point? And if one does have such an existential commitment to the object of theology, can one really find benefit (or purpose?) in ordering their speech, thoughts, and words after the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the academy specifically? Is the academy the best way to become a theologian? Is there a better way? Is it sheer romantic naivete to think one can study theology in the academy because they simply want to be a faithful witness to the Gospel?
I guess I've come to the conclusion that these questions really aren't to be shunned. If this whole theological enterprise has any meaning, I must ask these questions. And I need help in answering them.