Jerusalem and Geneva

My formal theological education in theology began in Athens and carried on in Berlin. Not the actual cities, the framework cities of theological pedagogy. Wheaton, with its highly intentional integration of faith and learning in a liberal arts setting, sought to form the whole person. In looking back, the model of the ideal Christian was itself of a certain sort. If you fit into this mold, Wheaton was a place to thrive. If you didn’t, well, Wheaton was a place of shaping and sharpening, if not thriving. I never felt at home at Wheaton the place, even if I took as advantage of the intellectual offerings as much as possible. I found important mentors, though in my books not in person. I felt spiritual deepened and spiritual emptied in successive waves. Then instead of law school I went to Fuller, where the Berlin model was emphasized. But southern California was home, and I had my family, friends, my home church to provide a measure of grounding and community. But when church dysfunction started slashing and burning my ecclesial life, and continued life issues tugged at me from almost every direction, I didn’t have the resources to navigate my frustrations or my successes. Neither Athens nor Berlin were particularly contextualized for me, shaping and forming, but in general ways that didn’t give me a continued map in my calling.

These aren’t the only cities in a theology of theological education. Scholars have added a few more stops on this journey.

In a 2005 article titled “The Theology of Theological Education,” Brian Edgar adds Geneva as a model. In “Geneva,” theological training takes place in a confessional setting. Confessional means a context where a specific ecclesial tradition, liturgy, interpretation helps orient the seminary student in the life of this tradition. 50537Teaching involves including the student in a developed narrative, one filled with heroes, and conflicts, and priorities. As Edgar puts it, “Formation occurs through in-formation about the tradition and en-culturation within it.” The city of Geneva was the setting for Calvin’s great work and became a center for Reformed thought and practice. Life was not segmented into isolated fragments, rather every part of life was thought to be included in a new vision of ecclesial transformation. Edgar notes that theological education in Geneva is understood through contrasts. The context of theological education is a confessional seminary rather than a broader academic institution, where the training takes on the priorities and methods of this university. The goal in Geneva is for students to know God through the context of the confessional tradition. It is not about training the mind or the transformation of one’s own self. It may include these, but these are not the core values.

I can’t say that I’ve ever visited Geneva, either the real city or the theological model. My theological tradition is fairly diverse, rather than established in a set tradition. I consider myself a Wesleyan Pentecostal or a Pentecostal Wesleyan, as these form the bulk of my own ecclesial influences. My parents come from a Conservative Baptist background, Fundamentalist and Evangelical. It might even be said that my family religious tradition is emerging movements, as discontent with establishment leads towards embracing new patterns of devotion and community. We’re pioneers who made our way westward in geography and Christianity. I’m a Californian Theologian more than anything else, really.

In an American context, we can see the Geneva model expressed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. My family tradition has tended to play the part of Roger Williams in that story, valued participants who are either kicked out or happily leave for better soil. This family tendency really does resonate in my own life and thought, but I can’t imagine shaping a seminary after it. Of course, the fact that I’m very interested in exploring new models of theological education is likely driven by this in-formation and en-culturation.

A fourth city to consider is Jerusalem. Proposed by Robert Banks in his book Revisioning Theological Education, Jerusalem emphasizes a missional priority, where education takes place in the midst of outreach and praxis, seeing the reflection and expression going hand in hand in developed informed practitioners. While we had significant ministry opportunities at Wheaton, most were not embedded in a context, rather Wheaton was certainly more of a bubble (or rather a “citadel” as I’ll discuss in a later post). Fuller was much the same way for me. peter-preaching2Ministry was a secondary act, rather than a coordinating experience. That said, part of the tension I had with both Wheaton and Fuller was my own missional instincts. I am certainly not an evangelist, but I do have a drive to have an integration of my faith and life within the context of a community. My home church after high school had a very strong missional impetus, and I was radically shaped by the emerging/missional conversations that happened in the late nineties and then onward. Indeed, my dissertation, later book, argues for a transformative church that draws personal, communal, and contextual formation. That said, or maybe because of these experiences, I am not sure this is the best model for foundational theological and ministry training.

These settings are often very demanding and immediately pragmatic, about getting things done rather than developing as a whole person who can then contribute with discernment in a context. I know Banks doesn’t see this as necessarily the case, but in my experiences the busyness of missional life leaves integrated formation a distant goal. That is why so many missional communities tend to shine bright and burn out quickly, or have a high turnover rate, as people embrace but then wander elsewhere. Indeed, I’m not sure missional models are intended as theological formation. Paul the Apostle, for instance, was sent out as a missionary after spending many years in learning and reflection. Being grounded in an understanding of the faith and of one’s own self is key to persistence and deep transformation. We have to be grounded in order to not get co-opted by the many narratives of the context or established pragmatic patterns.

I have a couple more “cities” in my next post: The city of “Azusa,” as proposed by Jackie David Johns, and “Skete,” which is a city I’m adding to the list.

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