Monday, 30 December 2013

Uniting the Theological, Biblical, Mystical and Pastoral

Josep Benlliure Gil Life of Francis of Assisi
In a recent post (here) Collin Cornell shares some thoughts about how to teach Old Testament at seminary level. He notes a tendency in biblical studies to 'archaize' the bible through historical study. As he says, while this might, to some extent, undo the latent fundamentalisms and prejudices we bring to our use of the bible, archaizing the bible also has some deleterious effects. In particular, he notes that it enables the student to pull apart the biblical text but, as it were, not to put all the pieces back together.  The child-like pre-study use of the bible is transformed because historical study makes the text less sentimentally familiar, but the child-like whole is not replaced with a, potentially profound, adult use and understanding of the bible. There is something missing, and he suggests students have to be helped to love the text again through its study, not despite the study.  I think this is a common experience in theological studies in Australia. And it seems to me that what can also be missing, whether in my own study here at home, in the seminary, or in the local church, is the reunification of what we call biblical studies, systematic and historical theology, ascetical and mystical theology, and pastoral studies. Imagine learning to read scripture through the intelligent, questioning and faithful use of all the tools and wisdom Christian  theologia (in its fullest meaning) has to offer. I imagine being taught by Rowan Williams is, or being taught by Hans Urs von Balthasar was, such an experience. Being taught by John Gaden in the eighties was just such an experience for me.
Hans Urs von Balthasar

This kind of theologizing (and teaching) is not easy to do. Partly because to do it one needs familiarity with the texts as well as theology, historical and hermeneutical study, etc. All this takes experience and discipline. But it also requires us to be making connections between what is usually presented as discrete and separate(d) packages of thought, methods and purposes (Old Testament, New Testament, systematics, historical theology, pastoral studies, etc.). We also need to keep the creative juices going, and at some point those of us who read theology often end up just parroting what we read rather than doing something with what we read. And lastly, touching our depths, including the full panoply of human experiences and emotions, and then bringing this into our theological study and reflection (and praying), well, that is not easy and requires faith, courage and discipline, not to mention self-awareness.

  1. I have hesitated to use the word 'spirituality' and instead opted for 'ascetical and mystical theology' but perhaps 'spiritual theology' would do. See here for helpful thoughts on 'spirituality' from Kim Fabricius.
  2. For some critical warnings regarding the historical method in the study of Scripture see here.


  1. In the 70s (and the 60s I think) the tendency to 'archaise' was much more the tendency to 'archaeology's'
    This was not a simplistic attempt to verify the unverifiable (Noah's Ark)…but rather to connect the text with the geography and the still extant realities and indeed continues today. It was very clear to me when I went to Israel in 2011. I remember one balmy Sabbath sitting outside a shop in Jericho drinking a cup of coffee…everything shut down…the town half asleep.
    And then there was the Sea of Galilee. So much mythology, and suddenly as you see the thriving town of Cana you get a lot of stuff. Or Mount Tabor.
    This is not only what you are talking about (who knows what you are talking about most of the time!)….but it is about integration into a real world
    I would want to name Keith Chittleborough as one of those who had the profound integration of which you speak. Both as theologian, NT scholar and Director of POT in Adelaide (the latter I am particularly grateful for)

  2. Yes, Keith was another one for those Anglicans who studied theology pre-80s.

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