Tag Archives: academia

Theology as Discipleship

Theology is irrelevant to our life as Christians.

At least that’s what many evangelicals tend to believe. There is this thought that runs through much of evangelicalism that theology is either irrelevant because we should be focusing on practical things. There is also another line of thought that seems to believe that theology is dangerous because it is divisive, and has the potential to confuse people about God. Keith Johnson in Theology as Discipleship argues that neither of these are the case. In fact, theology is vitally relevant to our lives as Christians and it actually has the ability to help us grow in Christ. Or as he himself puts it:

The traditional goal of Christian theology is to develop a better understanding of God so that we can think and speak rightly about God within the context of a life governed by our faith in Christ and our discipleship to him in community with other Christians. (34)

Keith Johnson writes theology in a truly “gospel-centered” manner. By Gospel centered I don’t mean what people typically mean by “gospel centered,” I mean a fully rounded out gospel which places union with Christ at the center.

Johnson begins by explaining where theology went “wrong” (i.e. anti-intellectualized & over-academia-ized). He then explains what it means to do theology from the standpoint of our union with Christ. Part of theology’s purpose is to help us to know Christ and grow in our understanding of our union with Him. The way this happens is through the use of Scripture and the hearing of God’s word. As we listen to scripture and hear God speak our mind, our thoughts, and out theology becomes conformed to the mind of Christ.

This short book is super helpful and I would encourage anyone that is interested in studying theology to pick it up. I would especially encourage anyone who is going to bible college or seminary to read it before they dive into the study of theology. The fact that he includes explicit sections of exegesis in each chapter is a breath of fresh air, and it’s a great way of modeling how to do theology. His final chapter, “Theology in Christ” is another highlight of his book. In it he lays out 9 thesis for what it means to do theology as discipleship.

Overall this is a great little book which reorients theology around its true purpose, growing in Christ and serving the church.

 Note: I received this book courtesy of IVP in exchange for an impartial review.
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Analytic Theology at St. Andrews

Recently it was announced that St. Andrews University (thanks to the Templeteon Foundation) would be joining Fuller Seminary in kicking off a program in Analytic Theology….

Some of the biggest issues facing humanity will form the basis of study at a new international institute to be based at the University of St Andrews.

The Logos Institute, which takes its name from the Greek meaning ‘word’ or ‘study’ but which is also used in John’s Gospel with reference to the incarnation, will be a centre for excellence in the study of analytic and exegetical theology.

The range of questions it will consider concern the existence and nature of God, God’s relationship to time, the nature of the person and the conceptual and social challenges confronting religious belief. The latter will include interdisciplinary analysis of the challenges of religious hostility, sectarianism and, indeed, terrorism.

The institute is being launched by a £1.6 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation which supports research relating to the major questions of human purpose and ultimate reality.

The work of the institute is founded in the collaboration of father and son academics Alan Torrance (pictured), professor of systematic theology at St Mary’s College of the University of St Andrews, and Dr Andrew Torrance of the University’s School of Divinity.

Alan applied to the Templeton Foundation for funding to launch an institute for analytic and exegetical theology to be based at St Andrews and, separately, Andrew applied for funding to expand his work on communication with schools and churches, for which he had earlier received a grant of over £500,000.

The Foundation decided to roll the two applications together to launch the Logos Institute.

The new institute, which will open in the summer of 2016, builds on existing resources at the University of St Andrews.

These resources will be complemented by the appointment to part-time positions of four leading international thinkers and a further full-time, senior appointment. In addition, there will be research fellowships, six PhD scholarships and a new Masters programme as well as a series of public lectures, a blog, a website, podcasts etc.

Professor Alan Torrance said:

“The impetus for the new institute is the remarkable sea-change that has taken place in philosophy. Over the last three decades, a sizeable proportion of academic research in philosophy has been directed toward questions bearing on the existence of God. This renewed interest has resulted in major advances in the field and a wealth of published research. It is in the light of these significant developments that ‘analytic theology’ has emerged. The Institute will bring this new generation of theological research into conversation with the world-class expertise we have here in biblical studies, philosophy, psychology and international relations.

“Our primary concern will be to explore the immense explanatory power of Christian theism and its relevance for how we understand the ultimate significance of human life. We shall be doing this in dialogue with exciting, new developments in contemporary Biblical scholarship.

“One of the key research topics will be the nature of forgiveness and what this central Christian notion might mean for how we approach religious enmity, sectarianism and, indeed, terrorism.”

Dr Andrew Torrance said:

“At its best, the task of theology gathers together and engages a diverse range of perspectives. Not only does it draw on the insights of biblical scholarship and philosophy, it also draws on the insights of the natural and social sciences. Further, it seeks to be attentive to the religious communities that have devoted themselves to pursuing a knowledge of God.
“Such a diverse conversation is not easy, however. For constructive conversation to take place, those at the table need to share the same language, and this requires conceptual clarity and discipline. Theology’s task in this regard stands to be resourced richly by analytic philosophy and the clarity it generates.”

Professor N.T. Wright, School of Divinity at St Andrews, added:

“There are few places in the world where a project this daring and creative could even be imagined; fewer still where it could be brought to birth. St Andrews is just the place for this remarkable venture, and I look forward eagerly to sharing in it.”

Among those who will be lecturing at the institute as part-time faculty are the US-based British theologian Oliver Crisp, American, analytic philosophers Michael Rea and Peter Van Inwagen and American philosopher and theologian, C Stephen Evans.

Other aspects of the Institute’s work will involve programmes for schools and churches, lectures and a UK-wide competition resulting in a full scholarship.

You can find more information on the St. Andrews Divinity website.

What is the Relationship between the Church and the Academy?

The issue is of considerable contemporary relevance. A very large number of colleges and universities in the United States were founded by denominations of the Christian church. Some of the most famous — Harvard, Yale, Princeton — retain selected elements of this foundation — an architecturally distinguished college chapel, for instance, or prayers at graduation ceremonies. But to all intents and purposes, these great schools have long since relinquished their Christian connection, and would not want to try to revive it in an academic world that prides itself on its multiculturalism. And the same observation could be made about hundreds more.

At the same time, this separation of church and academy is not universal. There are still a great many colleges that continue to profess their Christian allegiance. There are even new Christian colleges being established. Such institutions, however, whether newly formed or long established, tend to be regarded with suspicion by the secular academy. How can religious affiliation be compatible with academic integrity? Must it not put limits on the intellectual freedom essential to the life of the mind? It is not so very long, some will say, since the Pope suspended professors who taught contrary to the official doctrine of the Catholic church. Is this not inevitable, and no different from a far more famous case when the Inquisition sought to silence Galileo in 1632?

On the other side, of course, avowedly Christian colleges see a need to combat the corrosive effects of the secular academy, which is marked by a failure to engage in debate and discussion about some of the most fundamental human choices. Under the protestation of “neutrality,” such choices are declared to be a matter of personal “values” rather than the objectively ascertainable facts with which academic inquiry is concerned.

-Gordon Graham (HT: EerdWord)

Jason Sexton’s Advice to Students – Serve the Church!

Jason Sexton, a Systematic Theologian who holds positions at USC and Cal State Fullerton and heads up the Theological Engagement with California’s Culture Project, advises those pursuing theological and biblical studies to serve the church consistently and faithfully in order to flourish during their education

Thinking about Becoming a Theologian? Resist the Temptation!

Fred Sanders, a theologian who has mastered the art of social media, offers some advice for people who want to become academic theologians. He encourages us to pick a major doctrine to specialize in and resist the temptation to specialize in some obscure doctrine…

Also – know your primary sources & learn some languages!

Book Review – Prelude to Philosophy by Mark Foreman

My story is all too common. I was going on a mission trip to Uganda and I had sent support letters to my old high school teachers. In my letter I explained what God had been doing in my life and how he had led me to study philosophy at UCLA. That is when all the warnings started to come in. I vividly remember one letter I got back, it simply said “Beware of losing your faith. Colossians 2:8” As I said my experience iPrelude to Philosophys all too common. Lots of Christians are averse or afraid of philosophy. Mark Foreman’s Prelude to Philosophy shows us why Christians shouldn’t be afraid, but rather why they should purse a philosophical mindset.

Overview

The book is broken up into two major sections. First comes a sort of prolegomena of philosophy. Foreman deals with questions like: What is philosophy? Why is philosophy important? Why is philosophy important for Christians? What does philosophy study? The second part deals with the methods of philosophy – logic, reasoning, fallacies, how to approach arguments – you might consider this a toolbox for actually doing philosophy. He concludes with a short epilogue on the virtues necessary for being a Christian philosopher.

Pros

  • Its very relevant – Foreman opens up the book by saying that “there is no doubt about it: philosophy has a major public relations problem.” He is absolutely correct. Many Christians are wary of philosophy without good reasons. The fact is that Christian hesitation about philosophy comes out of a fundamentalist tradition of anti-intellectualism. This tradition is insulated from other world views (even other Christian traditions), is marked by Biblicism, and at times advocates for blind faith. This has caused many Christians who were raised in this tradition, or have an affinity towards this tradition, to fear doing philosophy. Foreman shows us why those fears are completely unfounded. This book addresses a very relevant need among Christians today.
  • He shows the huge potential that philosophy has for the Christian faith – If theology is the queen of the sciences then philosophy is the handmaiden to theology. That is what the Church has believed for the past 1700 years, that is until the enlightenment. Neverthless, the truth still holds. Philosophy is very relevant for Christianity. Philosophy informs Christian hermeneutics, theology, apologetics, polemics, and evangelism (pg. 89-93). Not only that, but philosophy helps cultivate a philosophical mindset among Christians. Mark suggests that there is a biblical mandate to develop a philosophical mindset, he draws this mandate out of Colossians 2:8.  This mandate involves three elements: 1) appreciation of the role reasoning plays in evaluating philosophies, 2)construction of a Christian system of philosophy, and 3) refutation of contrary philosophies (pg. 80). All this to say, we Christians need philosophy

Cons

  • Part one feels disjointed from part two – this isn’t really an issue I have with the content, rather its an issue I have with the structure. To me it almost feels like two separate books. The first part is about the nature of philosophy, the second is about logic and reason. Foreman could have easily split these two sections into two smaller books. This isn’t something that makes me like the book any less, but my level of interest changed as I approached the sections on logic and reason.
  • It needs more on the vocation of a philosopher – If you want and introduction on what it means to be a Christian academic philosopher don’t look here, look at Plantinga’s “Advice to Christian Philosophers.” I know that Foreman wasn’t writing to students struggling with a desire to become professional philosophers, he is writing for people who are struggling with the concept of philosophy in general, but part of easing the hesitations of novices of philosophy could have included a short section on how professional Christian philosophers are actually involved in doing ministry. Sidebar: somebody really needs to write a book about what it means to be a Christian professional philosopher. I know that there are a lot of articles and papers out there on that particular vocation, but we need a full fledged book on the subject.

Conclusion

My favorite part of the book was the prologue – the virtues of a Christian philosopher. Its in this section that we see Mark Foreman’s heart really shine through. Christian philosophers ought to love truth, be diligent, be intellectually honest, treat others with fairness and respect, have intellectual fortitude, possess epistemic humility, and be teachable. Reading through this book its apparent to me that Foreman embodies these virtues. If there are any doubts that philosophy is for Christians just read this book, I am not talking about the content of it, I am talking about the heart behind it. Foreman has a pastoral tone, guiding, teaching, shepherding philosophical novices through the difficult terrain of philosophy.

Foreman is a gentle shepherd, leading philosophical novices through the difficult terrain of philosophy.

If you are a college student about to take some philosophy classes pick up this book. If you are a Christian who has some doubts about philosophy pick up this book. If you are a college professor teaching an introduction to philosophy class, pick up then assign this book. If you are a college pastor who has students who are about to begin majoring in philosophy read this book then give them a copy. If you have been doing philosophy for a long time, pick up this book. I have spent a lot of time doing philosophy in a secular setting and philosophical theology in a Christian setting, and I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book even though it is just an “introduction.”

Note: I received this book free of charge from Intervarsity Press in exchange for a review. I was under no compulsion to give it a positive or negative review.