Why Seminaries Need Scientists, Artists, Economists and Athletes on Staff

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If I’m understanding him right theologian and philosopher H. Evan Runner – in his book The Relation of the Bible to Learning (p75-77) - makes the point that one of the ways the antithesis (the opposing force at work against God’s creationally ordained ‘thesis’) works to keep us from engaging the fullness of God’s truth is by separating things. The Word of God, in his thinking, is a unified, integral thing: One. And when we lose sight of this fact, we set ourselves up for idolatry. The Greeks philosophically separated body and soul and a less-than-true dualism resulted. Scientists draw clear lines around their sphere of truth seeking, and in so doing, set themselves up for an idolatrous short fall.

Runner quotes Philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd in this regard, “It is impossible to establish a line of demarcation between philosophy and science in order to emancipate the latter from the former. Science cannot be isolated in such a way as to give it a completely independent sphere of investigation and any attempt to do so cannot withstand serious critique. It would make sense to speak of the autonomy of the special sciences if, and only if, a special science could actually investigate a specific aspect of temporal reality without theoretically considering its coherence with other aspects. No scientific thought, however, is possible in such isolation ‘with closed shutters.’ Scientific thought is constantly confronted with the temporal coherence of meaning among the modal aspects of reality, and cannot escape from following a transcendental Idea of this coherence…Fundamentally, that is the reason that we must have an integral development of both philosophy and all the special sciences out of their common religious starting-point in the Word-revelation of the Truth.” (77)

My University of Alberta emeritus physics prof uncle once told me that if you go back far enough, all physicists are philosophers. Makes total sense if Truth is the author of all truth.

Now I understand that seminaries cannot fully teach all of God’s truth in all of the scientific spheres to their students. It would be an impossible task. But by choosing to focus solely/primarily on just one or two of God’s revelatory spheres – the Bible and church tradition – are they not risking a ‘closed shuttered’ isolationism that could lead to idolatry?

Didn’t the Bible’s Pharisees fall into this exact trap? And didn’t Jesus (the one who surely knew that all things fit together and have one source) nail them on their idolatry when he said, “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.” Jn 5:39-40 MSG

I think Jesus is standing and speaking before us, right now – in the spheres of science, business, the arts, sport, etc… But are we seeing/hearing him? And how can people in the pew learn to see/hear him unless their preachers are looking, listening and preaching accordingly?

Posted in: Pastors; Blog Photo courtesy Research Development and Engineering Command - http://www.flickr.com/photos/rdecom/7336836234/ Image: See Credit

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My former professor H. Evan Runner was not a theologian; in fact he had a certain disdain for theology and was disappointed in me when I chose theology over philosophy, which in the "Reformational" tradition is the de facto "Queen of the Sciences." By the way, the Greeks separated body and soul, but the Hebrews distinguished them and did not fall into the monism or denial of the intermediate state (which is heresy) that Vollenhoven and some of his followers did.

The seminary cannot do all those things; its primary job is to train pastors to preach, teach, lead worship, and provide pastoral care. That's why there are broad PRE-seminary requirements which we had to go through (and at least in my day they were substantial, even burdensome). But I agree that pastors must continue to be learning as much as they can about their parishioners' lives. Pastors must always be learning and experiencing new things in order to practically and relevantly apply what they learn in seminary.
 

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Thanks, John and Randy. CTS is not involved directly in scientific education, of course, but even when I was there about 6 million years ago special lectures were offered on a wide variety of subjects other than theology. One I still recall was a packed astronomy lesson by Howard Van Til before The Fourth Day was published. At that time Van Til was just beginning to speak publicly about his views on the creation based on his studies. Only later did he get into hot water for views about creation and age of earth that didn't really seem all that radical--and certainly not heretical--to most of us or the faculty at that time.

These days I think there is a far greater awareness of the need for inter-disciplinary study and opportunities. I recall that a few years ago CTS received a large grant to promote such work in science and relation to Scripture and theology. Last November I attended very fine one-day symposium sponsored by CTS in Georgetown, ON that presented 3 speakers (one was Rudy Eykelboom who writes for Christian Courier) that explored evolution as dealt with from neuro-science, anthropology (and archaeology) and astronomy. While I said I think there is greater awareness of the need, I must also say that I was disappointed that only 43 people attended and only four were preachers. 

Jim, who has ever heard of Georgetown, ON? That's why we didn't show up. It's a long drive from Neerlandia. :)

But more seriously, I think the Seminary is excelling in this regard: witness the volume that we received, Delight in Creation, put out by the Center for Excellence in Preaching, and Scott Hoezee, whose office happens to be at CTS.

Pastors, moreover, I think also do their best to keep up with all kinds of aspects of everyday life; but we cannot literally be all things to all people, even if the apostle Paul could. Pastors regularly face questions about the relation of their faith to science, work, politics, economics, labor and/or labour, the recent resurgence in aggressive atheism, etc., especially, in my experience, among youth and young adults. When I was in seminary I might have been tempted to think that my courses in philosophical theology and apologetics were a hoop I had to jump through; now with the resurgence in atheism, those courses seem to be exceptionally relevant, and directly connected with pastoral care and discipleship, again, particularly with young adults and college/university students, who are asking, or being asked, tough philosophical and existential questions about God and the Christian faith.

I think John van Sloten's work is a reminder and encouragement for us pastors, not to become scientists, but to remain engaged with our people, for one thing, and secondly, to be lifelong learners, if we expect our parishioners to also continue to learn the ways of Christ (i.e. discipleship). We won't all do it the same way John does, but we don't have to, which is a good thing, because we can't all be as cool as John is (and he really is; I recently watched an interview on YouTube that John did with a young man who is married to one of my former parishioners about online gaming addiction--it was very good). But we all have our strengths and God can use all of us in different ways.

One challenge, I think, is that the pastoral ministry requires us to be extroverts, but it tends to attract introverts. (Also, you should never make generalizations! :) ) But this can be to our advantage, as long as we use that introverted part of ourselves (if that applies) to learning and growing; and then also make the effort to really engage in the lives of the people whom God has entrusted to our pastoral care.

 

A recent review of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity left me struck by what I took to be one of his many insightful observations that I think relevant to this blog. In the section of the book entitled Christian Behavior under the heading of Social Morality, he talks about how the  when people say, “The Church ought to give us a lead, that is true if they mean it in the right way, but false if they mean it in the wrong way. By the Church, they out to mean the whole body of practicing Christians. And when they say that the Church should give us a lead, they ought to mean that some Christians--those who happen to have the right talents--should be economists and statesmen…but most people when they ask for a lead from the Church,  they want the clergy to put out a political programme.”  Lewis objects, saying that “the clergy are those people within the whole Church who have been specially trained and set aside to look after what concerns us as creatures who are going to live for ever…The application of Christian principles, say, to trade unionism or education, must come from Christian trade unionist and Christian schoolmasters: just as Christian literature comes from Christian novelists and dramatists,-not from the bench of bishops getting together and trying to write plays and novels in their spare time.”   Aside from some of Lewis’ references here which reflect how dated, perhaps even obsolete they are  today, the trouble with his view is that seems to simply beg the question: where in fact does a lay church member with expertise say in environmental science received the leadership to do their science “Christianly" or with the biblically-led direction that reformed pastoral leadership could offer. This would require an openness on part of seminary curricula that is unprecedented. However, Lewis’ observations miss the biblical message that eternal life-living people are in  need of participation in a vision for unfolding various political, economic, art-related, psychological contours of life in God’s creation-house with a view toward participation in the Glory presence of God’s Spirit. The biblical lesson is that this is the essence of the message of the Gospel; salvation comes in the context of a integral, many-sided life. And lay church members will need the clerical leadership that is willing to proclaim the Lordship of Christ in the whole of life (ala Dr. Runner and others’ teaching). But can we find the zeal to advocate for the openness that such a perspective demands of the average seminary curricula?  My concern is that this really becomes  a debate about reforming seminary training which will result in a similar quagmire as did earlier debates some of us had in the 80's over the establishment of a Christian view of liberal arts in higher education. 

Presumably, most seminary graduates would have learned most of their world view perspectives and "every square inch belongs to God" before they attended seminary.   Hopefully they would have attended Christian world-view colleges. 

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