In Bible study this Sunday we were reading Psalm 37. One of the points of discussion was what I labeled Christian formation. Psalm 37:3-4 were the original jumping off point with the question being what comes first: delight in the Lord or receiving the desires of the heart? There is some formation of proper desires taking place. The psalmist continues occasionally with that subtle theme like Psalm 37:16 which urges us to think what is true abundance. Christians here are primarily concerned with trying to see with the eyes of faith. The psalmist doesn’t deny that it might look like the wicked prosper, but encourages new eyes. Eyes focused on the action of the Lord and not our efforts, eyes tuned to peace and the abundance of the land, eyes focused on the promise of the Kingdom and its abundance. All things that those who plot against the righteous (Psalm 37:12), or who prospers in his way (Psalm 37:7), can’t actually have because what they posses is transitory at best. Like the glory of the pastures they vanish – like smoke they vanish away. (Psalm 37:20)
Sometimes when I read things like this I usually figure it was written by the onion. A seminary, or a divinity school, is a place of formation. In fact, it is supposed to be a “seed bed”. A dean of such a school is to be about teaching things that should ground and guide for an entire career. In Lutheran thought that might be “rightly dividing law and gospel” or the felt conflict between the hidden God and the revealed God. I could see a good Baptist formation being in preaching and clean living. I could see a good presbyterian formation being in wrestling with election (God’s choosing) and elections (how to govern a session). A good Catholic formation being monastic in nature with a heavy emphasis on living a life that is being poured out sacrificially (2 Tim 4:6). Now some of those descriptions might be poor expressions for someone who is deep in those traditions, but reading this description from the new Vanderbilt Divinity Dean, I have a hard time imagining where this finds its place in the formation of pastors.
I’m a social ethicist who uses womanist ethics to do my work—meaning I look at race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and so forth to figure out what we should do to create just worldviews. When working with committees, I would break down the issue as I would a social problem, looking at the context, the history, who has been and has not been involved, how they talk about it, what we hope for, and what are the other options.
What I always want to do, both in the classroom and as an administrator, is be in conversation, give people a sense that there’s more than one way to talk about religion, and help the school move into the world in a more active and public way than it is already doing.
I would not want to put down the active role of mercy in the life of a Christian, but that calling is always derivative of the seeking and wrestling with God first. The Dean’s description sounds fine for a social work curriculum or even a non-profit MBA type curriculum. But for formation of those who theoretically have a divine call to the Word of God that is completely off. The Lord favored Mary over Martha (Luke 10:41-42). If we want to correct our churches maybe we should return to our first love (Rev 2:4). Which might include Deans who like to talk about religion in specific ways as truth (as compared to ‘more than one way’) and can parse the Greek of the Word of God as well as parsing the race, gender, class, sexual orientation and so forth.
But what do I know, call me crazy. Even within the LC-MS, the only pressure on seminary heads is for better practical training. Martha is popular…she just tends to burn out and confuse how the Kingdom actually comes. (Hint, it is not by our efforts.)