This is my idea in generalisations:
Conservative (by which I mean fundamentalist and/or evangelical) seminaries should require their students to take at least six month internships at liberal (by which I mean mainline and/or progressive) churches, and liberal seminaries should require their students to take at least six month internships at conservative churches.
Once upon a time, I used to be afraid.
Okay, heck. I’m still afraid of lots of stuff, probably, but in this case I mean I was afraid of Bad Theology.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I study theology. I love theology, and I think it’s super important. (Thus, you know, Theology Thursday.) So naturally I believe there is both bad and good theology. But if church-people across the spectrum of Christian thought are honest with themselves, I think they might admit that the Church in general is struggling, at least in the United States of America. And I think Fear of Bad Theology just might be one of the sticking points.
Now I’m a theological mostly-conservative working at a theologically mostly-liberal church and I think the experience has been good for me–and hopefully for Now Church, too. I feel like I believe my own beliefs better and with more certainty than I used to, and that maybe because of that I’m either more willing to let other people believe theirs they way they do, or more assured of the Process through which God brings individual people as we each get to know Him. I feel fortunate. I didn’t ask for this, but not everybody gets this kind of experience and perspective, and I’m glad to have it.
But I get the Fear. I do. I used to be afraid of some sort of theological contamination, in an almost superstitious fashion, as if hearing the Wrong Thing would automatically make me think the Wrong Thing and somehow impinge on my salvation or something. And I guess something like that can happen, though not superstitiously–I mean I guess people can be gradually persuaded into a different point of view if they’re exposed to it enough, and I do think some things are truer than others and it matters–but I also guess I think we’re all heretics on some level, and God loves us more than we sometimes think, and will “guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus” though I suspect it helps if we want Him to.
Anyway, I just think there’s a lot of fear between different branches of the Church, and it mostly comes from a skepticism that the people in the other branch aren’t “real Christians,” and that maybe that somehow Not-Real Christianity is contagious like ebola.
But I suspect that if we stopped worrying about whether or not other people were Real Christians (or however our tradition talks about it), and just worked on where we ourselves are in relation to God, and then tried to love each other in light of that, we might discover more commonality in Christ than we thought, or if we didn’t, at least more freedom in Him to interact with each other and serve Him anyway.
As for seminaries and internships . . . well, from my experience, I hear all kinds of liberal theology from my conservative classes, but no matter how open-minded my truly exceptional professors may be, I wouldn’t understand that theology in the way that I can when I encounter it from real people who actually believe it at Now Church. And I don’t think that RevCD, for example, can understand the conservative theology she’s heard about in her liberal seminary training until she encounters it in people like me.
It’s possible to know something about what “the other side” believes, but I think it’s tough to know how they believe it until we’re immersed in it, at least for a little while, and that immersion, I think, gives us a better capacity to decide what we really believe about, say, the Trinity, or the gender of God, or the Bible, or sin and salvation and atonement, for example, than if we only get trained up in what we already think we believe and know. And . . .
maybe more importantly . . . we might get a better glimpse of Jesus’ love for the Church, His Bride, and be better equipped to love Him and serve her in many different contexts, without needing to fear losing Him, or faith, or even necessarily our own distinctives.
What do you think?