Monday, March 07, 2011

The need for theological education

We had a nice Harvest Co-op meeting tonight about the development of variegated co-ops in our local community (or at least the parts I got to hear -- various duties call). One aspect of building local community that has struck me as necessary, and particularly neglected, is theological education for youth. I don't mean theoretical or philosophical/speculative theology (whether Trinitarian or over heady matters like 'free will/predestination' that our youth tend to love), but rather building wise, mature Christian men and women able to effectively join their ecclesial neighborhoods (or, in that wonderful old way of speaking, parishes). Due partly to ecclesial communities that only recognize the authority/worth of ontologically ordained members ("priests") or that relegate the eldership to bureaucratic matters, the Church produces either sycophantic yes-men or dependent moochers (obviously, these are extreme categories): Christians that either tow the party line in an obnoxious, arrogant way or those that can never seem to be freed from some besetting sin, even though they have been united with the Spirit for years, or even decades (I speak here, in both cases, from experience).

Part of the difficulty of this, at least in traditional Protestant circles, is that we have no idea what we are training our children to be. We want them to join the Eucharistic fellowship (assuming here that most are not paedo-communion sorts), but don't have any adequate means of explaining why that is important. We don't think, also, of the ecclesial of being the fundamental social category of existence: we are the Body of the risen Christ primarily, with all other categories (race, gender, nationality, job/vocation, etc.) coming out of that primary mode of being. So, we don't know how to teach our youth the importance of God's Word and the absolute claim to obedience that God makes on all of life, nor do we know why.

My proposal, then, is to reinvigorate this primary Christian education. It needs to be straight-forwardly Biblical, with an emphasis on the text as we have received (and we are supposed to be guarding) it. That is, we cannot let our students get lost in the morass of historical-critical ways of thinking (this is not, by the way, to minimize the importance of historical study of the text -- it is important, but it is not primary for developing wise citizens of God's Kingdom). Instead, the text must be allowed to stand as it is, warts and also (and what glorious, Chalcedonian warts they are!), especially since it is often the text in itself that points (and re-points, and re-points) us to God in Christ. From experience, I have seen that students are intrigued by, for example, the coat-and-goat theme of Genesis. But deeper than that (since that is largely a surface level literary facet), we see what we are supposed to do -- in the here and now -- through the text: we are to be guardians (Adam, the priests, etc.) of the Bride (Eve, Israel, the Church) for the world (east of Eden, the Gentiles, those outside the Church). The text, if read with an eye of faith that is attuned to the reading of faith seeking understanding, sees these things. Then, the Law is about -- not salvation in the limited sense of final destination -- but guarding the gifts that God has given me and requires at our hands. The Wisdom books (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc.) teach us how to navigate this world that God has given us and will more fully give us. And the list could go on.

Obviously, this is just a start. Wisdom as a goal (rather than sin-management) requires discipline, which requires some sort of binding authority structure. Are we willing to grant such things to our elders (and, in the image pattern of God, require it at their hands) and live by them? Are we willing to become lay-elders, training our children and the children of our neighbors, if the formal eldership is asleep at the wheel? Are we willing to submit to God in His Word, or shall we continue to have the State teach our children what it means to be citizens -- what it means to be wise administrators of what we have?

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