Friday, July 20, 2012

What Should a Student of Theology Do Today?

Yesterday evening, I sat down to read Bonhoeffer's essay "What Should a Student of Theology Do Today?" after it came highly recommended from a friend. I wasn't quite sure what to expect since I usually prefer to read and re-read Barth's Evangelical Theology for advice and reinforcement when thinking about the nature, task, and challenges of studying theology. But Bonhoeffer's short essay was a really great read:

"One should not think it necessary to wait for particular experiences of 'being called' to ministry. A student who is simply gripped by the subject matter of theology and cannot turn away from it can consider that a calling. But certainly, it must be what theology is really about that enthralls the student - a real readiness to think about God, the Word, and the will of God, a 'delight in the law of the LORD' and readiness to meditate on it 'day and night'; a real willingness to work seriously, to study, and to think. It is not the experience of a call but the determination to do sober, earnest, and responsible theology work that is the gateway to the study of theology.

One may bring to theological studies one's own passions, one's philosophical, ethical, pedagogical, patriotic, or social zeal. These belong to the student as a whole person, and one must truly enter into theology with one's whole self. The person who is not driven to theological study at least in part by these passions will certainly be a poor theologian. But theological students must then learn and know that the driving force in their lives and thinking, as theologians, can only come from the passion of Jesus Christ, our crucified Lord. The study of theology cannot be conquered by the overflowing vitality of one's own passion; rather, the real study of theologia sacra begins when, in the midst of questioning and seeking, human beings encounter the cross; when they recognize the endpoint of all their own passions in the suffering of God at the hands of humankind, and realize that their entire vitality stands under judgment. This is the great turnaround, which for the course of study means the turn toward theological objectivity. Theological study no long means revealing the passions of one's ego; it is no longer a monologue, no longer religious self-fulfillment. Rather, it is about responsible study and listening, becoming attentive to the Word of God, which has been revealed right here in this world; it is toning down one's self in the face of what is far an away the most important matter.

...Finally, one should know as a true theologian that, even where our knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its truth and purity keeps us away from false doctrines, we stand beside our brethen who have wandered and been misled, sharing their guilt, interceding and praying for them, knowing that our own life depends, not on our better knowledge or being on the right side, but on forgiveness."

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Berlin: 1932-1933, 432-433, 435.


Anonymous said...

It is at once a vocational encouragement and a challenge.

I can't wait to read the essay in its entirety.

Thank you for sharing.

Daniel said...

Thanks for sharing this, I especially appreciated the last paragraph, “...we stand beside our brethren who have wandered and been misled, sharing their guilt, interceding and praying for them, knowing that our own life depends, not on our better knowledge or being on the right side, but on forgiveness." I’m not a theologian but so many theological discussions I follow (but not here though!) seem to be rancorous, ego-driven contests between folks that are way too sure that they got some new interpretation or theory all figured out. Of course, as you know, when one actually starts sharing ones life in the hard and suffering places of this world, theories and theologizing tend to become less speculative. At St.Thomas seminary they used to tell an old joke about Revelations chapter 8:1, “And when He had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.” We figured that half hour was for everyone to edit and correct all their thesis and dissertations! Then again, maybe my anxiousness over so much remonstration is because, as the saying goes, ‘true believers battle over the slightest shade of doctrine, but the doubter battles only with himself.‘ Keep up the great work, blessings and obliged.

Rod said...

thanks for posting this - it's given me a lot to reflect on.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing these great words.

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