coverLinda Cannell’s article closes Part IV of Life in the Spirit (IVP, 2010) with, “Theology, Spiritual Formation and Theological Education.” Her essay has some interesting connections to the arguments James Smith makes in Desiring the Kingdom, esp his closing chapter, “A Christian University is for Lovers.” (Or more recently his boiled down version “We Are What We Love”)

In the second part of her article Linda notes four factors that constitute a threat matrix to holistic theological schooling. Taken together they have profound implications for the future of the seminary and the church. There are four, and she spends one or two pages on each. I’ll list them here then provided an extended quote from the fourth.

* The Rise of institutions
* The Rise of academic theology and academic rationalism
* The Rise of professionalism in higher education
* How the church and academy have understood and fostered the desire to know God

“How the church and academy have understood.. the desire for God”

Linda writes,

“Discussions of the loss of a suitable understanding of theology in relation to theological schooling, or the loss of what it means to know God, typically reference Edward Farley’s Theologia. He positions the meaning of theologia within three major historical periods: From the patristic era through most of the medieval period theologia was understood as the knowledge of God — that is, a divine illumination of the intellect. From the twelfth to seventeenth centuries, theologia became a cognitively oriented “state and disposition of the soul which has the character of knowledge.” Finally, from the Enlightenment to the present, theologia is seen as “the practical know-how necessary to ministerial work.” (Interesting to hold this progression up to the taxonomy Webber offers to sort evangelicals in The Younger Evangelicals in 2005, see the REVIEW here.)

“Theology in this period became “one technical and specialized scholarly undertaking among others; in other words, as systematic theology.” He asserts that the meaning of theologia found in the first two periods has largely disappeared in the academy, and clearly identifies the Enlightenment understanding as the source of most of the current problems in theological education. He argues, “in this period the two genres of theology continue but undergo such radical transformation that the original senses of theology as knowledge (wisdom) and as discipline [not in the sense of structured academic specialization] virtually disappear from theological schools.

“Farley favors a notion of theologia informed by the mysticism of the patristic era but shaped ultimately by the later medieval period through the Renaissance. The important distinction he makes between the patristic era and the later period is that, though the notion of divine illumination persisted, it was conceived in the later period as related to the emerging universities and was regarded as a habit — a habitus. That is, it could be “promoted, deepened, and extended by human study and argument.” Based on his interpretation of patterns in history, Farley concludes that theologia is best understood as the ecclesial counterpart of paideia. The loss of this understanding in the current era, he asserts, has made theological schooling the “grasping of the methods and contents of a plurality of regions of scholarship.” For Farley, theologia is best depicted as a mode of understanding — a process — rather than as a science; and like paideia, it is a preparation for life. Properly understood, theologia cannot be taught, but it can be the unifying principle for theological study and the orienting philosophy of the curriculum.” (236-37.)

I like that. Theologia cannot be taught, but it can be a unifying principle for theological study. Who can “teach” us into love? No, we can only hold up the beauty and virtue of an object and then people are drawn – or repelled – by it. As Smith has pointed out (through Augustine) we are affectional and relational beings, and the heart is the heart of the matter. In the medieval era, commenting on the Song of Songs, Bernard of Clairvaux framed it like this: Lex immaculata caritas est. “The divine law is love.” Ultimately, this is fateful because we become what we adore. Theological education should ultimately lead to worship.

See also “Models of Spiritual Formation” and “The Scope of Our Art” (Jones and Paulsell, 2001) Of this last Parker Palmer writes in the introduction,

“Over the past decade a growing number of college and university professors have been reclaiming teaching as a vocation, but seminary faculty have been strangely silent on the subject. The Scope of Our Art breaks that silence with eloquence and power. I believe it will be regarded as a landmark book for years to come. This superb set of essays by some of our finest theological educators should spark a life-giving conversation about teaching and learning in the seminaries — where vocation as embodied by the faculty of today helps give shape to the vocation of ministry in the church of tomorrow.”