A recent internet acquaintance of mine has some opinions of his own as to how “theologically open” a seminary or Christian university ought to be. Everything sounds good on the surface of his post but I must admit that I disagree with almost all of it.
There seems to be undergirding the entire post a vision of the Church or “Christianity” as a unified body. Now on a dogmatic, especially a pneumatological level, this is true in some sense (this would of course be contested by the Eastern and Roman Catholic Churches) but in our lived lives it is quite simply false: We are divided by a myriad of issues from confessions to political bodies – (I am here endorsing wholeheartedly Ephraim Radner’s understanding of Christian division).
Thus it is difficult to conceive in any meaningful sense what a “merely” “Christian” seminary or university would look like. The Nicene Creed can function as a solid enough base to flesh out a basic confessional unity in most Christian contexts but when considering seminary especially, it becomes far more complicated as to whether or not such a base is truly sufficient to serve the needs of our unique churches. What hath Geneva to do with Canterbury?
The complex Christian cocktail that has resulted from the “Ecumenical Movement” as well as the utter failure of western protestantism to sustain anything like a distinct Christian confessional unity becomes clear in conversations like this. This confusion has several strains currently expressing themselves in our churches, I’ll mention four: 1) Most evangelical don’t have much in the way of any theological identity. They don’t know or recite the creeds, they don’t catechize and they don’t like homosexuals. So long as they sing modern worship choruses and preach 45 minute sermons they feel that they get along fine. 2) Many older churches such as the Mainline still maintain a sense of their historic identity but there is a significant toleration of theological diversity such that there is a widely acknowledged reality of the dissolution of a coherent evangel. 3) Also within the Mainline but also in many Emergent and certain evangelical churches there is a repudiation of confessional unity and a glorification of diversity. 4) There are the hold-the-line or buckle-down-and-fight groups.
I admit this is reductive but on a generic level I think it holds. Within churches we are bound to find any of several of these so I don’t pretend that they are watertight between groups.
I am of the opinion that theological identity is essential to evangelism, discipleship and unity. It follows, as I’ve mentioned before, that I think you should teach what you believe. This of course sounds ridiculous coming from an Episcopalian 🙂
Now… All this and yet I agree that closing off creative and inquisitive theology can be utterly destructive. Honestly, at this point, I’m absolutely clueless as to how to hold these two things together in a balance, historic theological identity and faithful theological response. Or rather I have an idea of how it can work in churches structured according to historic catholic order but no idea how it can work between churches. Whatever the case, Methodists should pump out Methodist pastors and Lutherans Lutherans, anything else just creates a muddle.