I was blessed to be part of an interviewed conversation today among theologians to discuss the meaning of ‘doing theology’ in a seminary setting, and how it differs from doing theology in a strictly academic environment. It was thrilling and near-miraculous to be with brilliant theologians who had no egos, and who truly were in love with what is called the diakonia of truth, ‘the service of truth.’ I felt like a midget among giants.
The question at the core of our conversation was what role the spiritual practice called lectio divina, ‘divine reading,’ should play in the work of a theology teacher and a theology student in a seminary context. Lectio, recall, is a strategy for reading a sacred text (e.g. Scripture) that begins with the presumption of faith, i.e. that this particular sacred text reveals and makes really present the very God who inspired it.
Much was said in the course of our conversation, but the gist of it was this — so much of academic theology today is dominated by a detached, dispassionate and scientific approach to revealed truth (e.g. the doctrine of the Trinity, salvation in Jesus Christ) that privileges critical reason and ‘objectivity’ over a ‘subjective’ personal engagement by the theologian in the content of Christian faith. Simply put, it is the case often enough that in reading the work of a contemporary theologian one cannot tell whether they believe any of it is indeed true; or even if such a question has any value at all.
I will spare you the arguments we made, but suffice to say that we all agreed that in a seminary theology must be done in a way that allows the seminary-theologian not only to apply the analytical powers of the mind to the data of God’s self-revelation (e.g. Scripture) and master his field of inquiry, but must also be willing to allow the Revealing God to master the seminarian-inquirer and draw him into a transforming communion with the Great High Priest.
Put another way, the study of theology must also be an affair of the heart captured by divine love.
And here is what I have found at IPF — the men here hunger for an intelligent faith that is sunk deep into a believing heart, and they want theology profs who strive to model this in their own methodology and in their own persons. And may I add, it is what I have found thus far at Notre Dame seminary as well, Deo gratias.
Imagine, as we four theologians completed our four hours of conversation…we prayed.
Cantare amantis est
So, as I reflected on all of this I penned a brief poem, in my usual esoteric style, that captures for me the struggle to engage, lectio-style, academic rigor with a living faith as a theologian now privileged to teach in a seminary…
My mind alive, robust and ready
To take a text in hand, calm-steady
And parse, piece both jot and tittle
To leave left not mystery, not riddle:
Like a corpse drained to bloodless pale.
But ah! this Text seemed to breathe
With life, roiling Fires did it seethe, and
I, wholly undone in my doing, all-aflame
Uncovered a Face, a Word-voicing Name;
And I drank deep of his crimson Grail.