I find myself at Duke Divinity School in Durham for the fifth July in a row. Though I thoroughly enjoy being here, I cannot help but have a sense of relief that I will graduate this August. And though I will probably be back next year (though not in residence) in my quest to receive everything The United Methodist Church has for me, this five-year segment is a milestone along the path on which I have been called. As usual, we have had some very interesting conversations in the classes of which I am a part, and I will share some excerpts with you from these conversations.
Again this year (for the third time in five years) I have the pleasure of instruction under Dr. Mickey “the Smiling Assassin” Efird in New Testament II. He begins class with, “Well, I see all of you made bail this morning,” then proceeds to annihilate any presuppositions one might have concerning the New Testament with his tried-and-true (50 years of personal teaching) “Efirdism” – otherwise known as the historical/critical method of biblical scholarship – while ending his assault with, “Well, I’ve got more minds to corrupt; y’all meditate and cogitate on that.” It is no use debating with Dr. E, for he considers debating, “the work of theologians.”
Next, I have Contemporary Theology with PhD student (Emory) Brad Burroughs. Brad has an interesting definition for Theology, Fides Quarens Intellectum – “Faith seeking understanding.” Using the simplest form of the idea of “faith” (and not my beloved Pauline “Faith of Christ”), we must understand why we believe what we believe. We are entering an ongoing conversation that began (at least) 2,000 years ago to understand God and God’s creation, namely, humanity (which then enters a subheading within theology called anthropology). This will be a good class because we get to debate!
Following that, my next class is Theology and Practice instructed by Dr. Jennifer Copeland. Now she has a slightly different approach to defining theology (though she would, I think, agree with “faith seeking understanding;” knowing why we believe what we believe) and suggests things like “learning the language” of God, “Mastering a closed system” (a blow to the previously male dominated practice), and rather prefers “constructing open spaces for living into God’s reign.” Dr. Copeland is also interested in redefining old words, such as, “doctrine.” Rather than it meaning “rules for controlling behavior,” she suggests “means of mediating God’s grace.” Rather than “rhetoric” being a weapon of persuasion, she suggests redefining it as a tool to “transform space.”
Finally, I have the honor of being instructed by the Reverend Jeremy Troxler of Duke Divinity’s Thriving Rural Communities. His class is Transforming Agent, which he is very gifted to lead. His entire vision concerns what he terms, Missio Dei – “Mission of God.” The church, according to Jeremy’s vision, is to be an agent of transformation in God’s mission of transforming humanity. The church mission is God’s mission; the mission of God has a church. In this mission we are invited to become part of God’s life. The church is an extension of that invitation. And who is the God of this mission? A God Who “Hears the grown of the cosmos” just as he heard the grown of the Israelites under bondage all those years ago in Egypt. A God Who “moves in” with humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ, to live among and in and out of a hurting world. He is a God who suffers for sinners at the cross of Christ. This is the God of the Scriptures.