Well-honed theology vital for future challenges
As I write, I am sitting sipping a cup of Earl Grey tea, looking out over Johnstons Bay to Balmain, the warm afternoon sun filtered by the leaves of the eucalyptus tree on the promenade in front of me.
Even as people walk by and others chatter over coffee or beer at tables nearby, I am lost in my own thought, musing on four days spent at the Centre for Ministry participating in the “Focus on …” event (formerly Seminar Week) sponsored by United Theological College and the School for Continuing Education.
This year the theme was “Focus on the New Testament & Ministry: Reading the text, ministering in the world”.
It was a great opportunity to sit under an internationally recognised New Testament scholar — Professor Donald Hagner from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, USA — and reflect on the New Testament teaching on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity and its relevance to our relationship to Jews in the 21st century.
Based on a study of the scriptural text, Professor Hagner, coming from a conservative theological standpoint, challenged the commonly held view that the scripture supports the contention that the Church supersedes Israel.
His thesis is that “the Church is the climax of God’s purposes for Israel, yet without being the end of the story … The salvation the Church enjoys is from the Jews and for the Jews.”
Whether one agreed with that viewpoint or not, one was engaged with the scripture and with the scholarly debate more fully than time and ministry often allows.
It was a reminder that in the Church we need to be informed by those whom God has called to unpack, study and help us understand the scripture, its context and its message in ways that it is not possible to do without their lifetime commitment to the task.
My further reflection was that for me and all ministers it is vital that we engage in this way on a regular basis so as we can be more informed, better teachers in the ministries we exercise.
More than this, I would encourage all members of the Uniting Church to take the opportunity to engage in ongoing theological learning by attending weeks such as this or looking at the possibility of taking a course or a subject or two at Charles Sturt University School of Theology (of which UTC is a part).
In these days, for those in remote areas, it is possible to take courses by distance education.
More theological education, rather than less, is going to be vital as we move into a new era — an era:
- in which people in the community will be looking to the Uniting Church to provide alternative, educated, biblically and theologically credible responses to issues concerning the Bible and faith, morality and ethics, life and death;
- in which we will have many more lay-led congregations requiring biblically and theologically literate leadership, able to impart their learning to the congregation and those beyond;
- in which there will be more ministers exercising resource ministry, part of which will be to resource lay leaders and congregations with the biblical and theological tools to enable them to engage others in a credible way with confidence in the faith they hold.
I would encourage lay-led congregations to provide in their budgets for the ongoing theological education of their leaders, covering both the costs of the course and any expenses incurred.
This can only be of benefit to the congregation, its worshipping life and the implementation of its mission.
I would also encourage ministers to further their theological education simply because I am sure it is our well-honed theology which is going to be vital as we face the challenges of the future.
It is important that congregations encourage their ministers to take their study leave as a matter of priority and support them financially to do so if possible. Study leave is not taken for personal gratification or financial gain but as a means of benefitting the church in its life and mission.
Well, there are my thoughts! The Earl Grey has gone cold, the sun is setting. I mustn’t forget t pay the bill.
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