Faith Seeking Understanding

I find myself, once again, at Duke Divinity School (I took 2012 off!). My sixth year here is not as before. The previous five years were a completion of the Pastors’ Course of Study School; however, this year is a continuation of my personal Vision to receive everything that the United Methodist Church has for me. My classes this year concern only Methodism, what we jokingly consider “UM P.H.D.”: Advanced United Methodist Polity, History, and Doctrine. I will report on these classes as the weeks move along. For now though, I am reminded of what I posted two years ago as I was finishing the five-year Course of Study:

For some, simple faith is enough. I do not mean this in the sense of “works vs. faith” and neither do I speak in an absolute sense of salvation and the role of faith. I refer to the fact that some are satisfied with simply having faith, while others are interested in faith that seeks understanding (i.e., theology). That is how I view the five years of my life that I have spent here at Duke Divinity (not to mention another six years at NTS). Some argue that education “ruins the minister,” while others think it is mandatory for ministry. Many are afraid of education and many others put far too much faith in it. I think that it obviously depends on the state of mind of the one seeking the understanding, if one so wishes, whether or not it is a good or bad thing to seek understanding.

I think it is important to know and understand why and how we do/believe/think the things and the ways we do/believe/think. Do we seek academia to give the answers to these questions? Certainly many do. The consequence of this is that these persons do not contribute to the ongoing conversation, but only serve to regurgitate the thinking of some professor or former (or present) thinker. There are many professors and/or thinkers of the ages with which I agree, but that is not why I am here. I am not here to get answers, but material. I want to hear the arguments presented throughout the ages so that I may enter the conversation and (God willing) contribute. Do I come away from these conversations with something? Certainly! Not simply because someone said it, but because of taking part in the conversation makes me think through the why and how we do/believe/think as we do (or do not).

Some enter the academic setting with their theology already concretized. Many of these experience a crack in their concrete, and some have it strengthened further. Others enter without a theological basis at all – empty shells waiting to be filled – and these are the most impressionable, and (quite honestly) the most naive. These are those who feel a certain professor or thinker is the proverbial “be-all-end-all,” as though such a one is the only one having the conversation. Yet, another interesting thing are those who sense no change in what they think, theologically or otherwise, even after years spent overhearing the conversations of the ages. These, to me, are most alarming! No one person (or group) has all the answers and, more often than not, a balance or combination of persons (or groups) gives a fuller picture of the whole. If you ever quit learning, you quit thinking.

I cannot fail to mention an almost universal variable in all of this, namely, human frailty. It seems that most folks deem it detrimental to have all the answers, while others speak as though there are no answers to be had and thus only speak in philosophical circles. Many seek academics in the hopes of knowing something that “common folks” do not, as though their actual self-worth is in question. Others are truly seeking to understand what they know and this affects their spheres of influence (the way we think affects the way we live – good or bad).

Personally, I wish only for us to think. Period! And I have spent 11 12 years, now, (academically) learning and processing ways to help us to do just that. I wish to invite you into the conversation. In my opinion, the faith we claim demands understanding (i.e., theology). Faith seeking understanding… Dare to know.

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