This is the first week of Spring quarter. Each week in my theology and church history classes I begin with a reflection, a devotional type writing intended to help focus students. The topics of the week are usually pretty dense and often difficult. But that doesn’t mean the issues we’re discussing are somehow irrelevant. It takes practice and training to swim in deep waters. Worth doing because there’s a beauty to be found, a wonder that is both new and familiar.
This quarter I’m teaching, again, a class on the Holy Spirit. I thought I’d post my reflections each week so you can get a sense of not only the topics of the week but also how I’m providing a pastoral connection.
Theology isn’t separate from pastoral work, nor is it mean to be isolated in stodgy conference rooms or alienating prose. Theology involves learning about who God is and what God has done.
It can be complicated (would one really want a simplistic God?), but it doesn’t have to be alienating. The core message of Christianity is, after all, that God entered into this world and shares with people of all backgrounds, inviting them into a new hope, the depths of new life. Theology should always begin, then, with an invitation, a way for people to find their voice in the conversations.
So, here’s the reflection that begins the first week of my theology classes:
As we enter into this course, it’s worthwhile to consider the task at hand in light of Scripture. Our present task is the study of theology, theo-logos, the words about God. Here at the beginning, consider the words of Colossians 1:3-29:
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow-servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, and he has made known to us your love in the Spirit.
For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.
May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.*
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him—provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel.
I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.
I’ve highlighted some phrases that stood out to me. Green text emphasizes some of what God has done: the content of theology. Red text points to our role, or task, or responsibility, some a gift from God, some a call for us: the tasks of theology.
As we begin this course, I invite you to do two things:
- Consider your own calling, why you’re here in seminary, what your particular task is these days and where you may be in the future. Read this passage again and see if any words or phrases stand out. It may be helpful to write down your thoughts, keeping a journal for these intro musings, so that the academic content stays connected with your sense of purpose and calling in being here at Fuller.
- I encourage you to spend some time praying over the next 11 weeks, and listen to God’s response. Let us begin together by praying for one another, so that the words about God are oriented by words to God and words from God.