Lewis on modern academic theology pt.3

This is my concluding reflection on Lewis' essay, "Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism," delivered to Anglican students and scholars at Cambridge in 1959. You can read the full essay in Christian Reflections. Here is how Lewis finishes out his essay:

"Such are the reactions of one bleating layman to Modern Theology. It is right you should hear them. You will perhaps not hear them very often again. Your parishoners will not often speak to you quite frankly. Once the layman was anxious to hide the fact that he believed so much less than the Vicar: he now tends to hide the fact that he believes so much more. Missionary to the priests of one's own church is an embarrasing role; though I have a horrid feeling that if such mission work is not soon undertaken the future history of the Church of England is likely to be short."

Lewis' quip about the layfolk hiding how much they do believe from the 'Reverends' reminds me of the opening of Luke Timothy Johnson's book, The Creed:

"Many Christians know that deadly moment at a party when their friends realize they actually believe something everyone has merrily been belittling. They recall their own stammered reassurances, their tortured reinterpretations, their relief when the conversation moves on, their self-contempt. They may never have heard of Nietzsche, may not be able to define Modernity, and may think of the Enlightenment as a chapter in a first-year college textbook. But their embarrassment at being seen as believers reveals them to be Christians whose view of the world has been shaped less by the Christian creed than by its cultured despisers."

What happens if the culture or the atmosphere of the theological seminary inculcates a deep unease with actual faith, so that the seminary trained clergy shift uncomfortably in their seats when the people of Christ begin speaking of actual moves of the Spirit in their lives, or actual miracles that have occured in response to prayer, or of their deep commitment to submit themselves to "living under" the words of some passage of Sacred Scripture?
Having attended a fine seminary of an historic Protestant church, I do believe that there is a degree to which the viewpoint and fundamental assumptions of "the cultured despisers" is very present, alongside a deep Christian faithfulness.

That is probably unavoidable to some extent; could it even be strangely helpful if it causes some students or faculty to attempt to recover the art of apologetics?

Still, I think the seminaries would do well to make abundantly clear that they exist for the faith and the life of church, to explore and pass along the faith of the church at the highest intellectual levels, and train clergy to do the same in the local setting. However, as I've said before, I believe one shortcoming of our seminary system in recent decades has been a focus on the intellectual dimensions of clergy training to the neglect of training in prayer, discipline, discernment, and other spiritual matters.

Thankfully, in recent years most of our seminaries have greatly improved in this area, adding spiritual formation groups and putting greater emphasis on the spiritual life. My hope and prayer is that the day will come when our seminary communities have a more monastic character, in that the students are all engaged in rhythms of prayer, work, and study together on a daily basis. I believe Nahotah House, the Episcopal Church's most Anglo-Catholic seminary, follows a similar model.
Surely, such a deep communal devotional life will radically "re-contextualize" the intellectual work, so that the same conversations or discussions, within this broader life of prayer and service, have a more obvious spiritual connection (or are more obviously useless and speculative). I'm happy to report that, from what I hear, there are neo-monastic houses now connected with our seminaries at Southern Methodist University and at Duke; though this is not yet part of the normal seminary experience, we are perhaps making strides in the right direction.

Labels: , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home