Three Blogs I like and Why I Like Them

Like my blog itself my Blogroll of favorites is pretty eclectic. I have some heavy-hitting theology blogs, such as Jason Goroncy’s magisterial Per Crucem ad Lucem. Jason teaches theology in New Zealand and started this blog when he was a graduate student at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where I did one of my sabbaticals. He is also a P.T. Forsyth scholar and has done the world a great service by making that great man’s corpus available on the web. I have described this as a theology site on steroids. Jason posts almost every day, has a faithful cadre of insightful commentors, and for theologs and ministers it is well worth visiting.

To go from the sublime to the ridiculous, I just love Princess Lolly (aka Keely Flynn Schoeny)’s eccentric Lollgag Blog, whose sub-head wisely asks “Is this truly the best use of your time?”

In the interest of full disclosure I have known Keely since she was a young girl. I baptized and confirmed her. She is one of four very sharp and talented sisters, but Keely was always the really funny one. She is now a nanny, sometimes actor, and aspiring screen writer in Chicago, and about to have her first baby any day now. Her adventures as a newlywed, with pregnancy and looming motherhood are a hoot. Her class observations about some of the other mothers’ attitudes toward her as a nanny are poignant, but she finds humor even there. Imagine a younger, hipper, Erma Bombeck.
Finally Janet Batchler, the gal who brought you the Church History in Four Minutes video, which I recently posted, has a very cool blog called Quoth the Maven (echoes of William Safire.) I discovered her by way of the church history video, and knew that the quality of that work indicated some professional expertise. Sure enough, she teaches film writing at USC. She is also a churchperson and a mom, and, like Keely, mines the quotidian for humor and insight. Check out this post on her son missing the bus for his school retreat and her driving all day to get him there. Talk about going the extra mile.
In any case these are just three of my favorites, and I will feature others from time to time.


Bridging Two Worlds: the Church and the Academy

As I have written before, my favorite theology blog is Jason Goroncy’s Per Crucem ad Lucem. On his blog today, On the relation between the pulpit and the academy, he has a terrific quote from Charles Partee:

‘[I]f God speaks, and if God speaks in the church, then on some subjects sermons are not popularized products of more basic scholarly reflection. Rather scholarly reflection is an academized product of the more basic proclamation of the gospel … Thus, for the Christian community, sermons are a first-order, not a second-order, activity … As worship is more fundamental in the church than theology, so kerygmatic proclamation is more basic and often more pertinent than scholarly reflection’. – Charles Partee, The Theology of John Calvin (Louisville/London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 46.

I couldn’t agree with this more. I have always had one foot in the local church and one foot in the academy. I served two congregations adjacent to seminaries, and we always had a number of faculty members in the pews. In my church in Bangor I was also the chaplain and sat with the faculty.

I did three term-long research fellowships during sabbaticals at Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews Universities. I tried to stay current with the leading theology and biblical journals and wrote articles and reviews for several of them. I participated in the Pastor-Theologian Program at the Center for Theological Inquiry in Princeton.

I am comfortable in both worlds, at a lecture hall at Christ Church College, Oxford or at a planning meeting for Vacation Bible School. But my comfort is more that I am, by analogy, bilingual than that they speak the same language. They don’t.

The Partee quote gets at one of the problems that plagues theological education. Once upon a time, seminarians were trained by ministers who were also scholars, but had spent some time serving congregations. Their commitment was to the church and its ministries and they believed in a learned ministry as the means. They were bilingual in being able to speak both church and academic.

There are still wonderful teachers who share these commitments, but sadly, the secular academy is now the model that must be considered, with its emphasis on tenure and publishing. And, at least in America, members of the Academy who represent the theological disciplines are often viewed as quant relics of a bygone day. They don’t get big research grants like their more robust colleagues in the sciences.

This inferiority complex makes them strive harder to be like the cool kids, and the art of theology is then betrayed by a series of niche disciplines dominated by identity politics and other “happy little hyphens” to use Karl Barth’s term of derision.

What is worse is that there seeps into theological education the conceit that what happens in the academy is more important that what happens in the church, and students then become ministers who are ashamed of what should be their life’s joyful vocation.

I can tell you from experience there is a lot of apologizing going on in our pulpits. Instead of hearing the bracing Good News about Jesus Christ and his holy love one often gets an attack on the tradition or an exhortation to do and be better. Sin and death are not the enemy, Christianity itself is, at least the kind practiced by our benighted forbearers who didn’t get straightened out by three years at a divinity school.

And if a commitment to a learned ministry went along with this critical posture there might be something to be said for it. But often, it is the worst of both worlds, a distain for the local church and a laxity about keeping up with the genuine insights of the academy. So no wonder the laity often think of the academy as obscurantist, while at the same time the academy views the faithful as naive. The result is many a pastor who feels, not at home in two worlds, but like a stranger and exile in both.

I have suggested in the past that theological education be removed from the secular academy, but there are drawbacks to this, and it just isn’t going to happen. And there would be much lost if students were deprived of having interlocutors from other disciplines.

I wish I knew how to bridge the gap. I have known many great teachers who did it, such a Gabriel Fackre, Gerald Cragg, Colin Gunton, Alan P.F. Sell, N.T. Wright, George Hunsinger, and Brown Barr, to name but a few.

My New Testament Professor, Krister Stendahl, at Harvard, was a first-rate scholar and a Lutheran bishop. There is a story told about him in one of his preaching classes. One of his students climbed into the pulpit, and before delivering her sermon said, “The text for today comes from the Deutero-Pauline corpus.” Stendahl looked over the top of his glasses, as he was wont to do, and gently said, “The people have come to be fed. Do not give them the recipe!”

He knew that preaching was a first-order activity!