“And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.”
At first glance the picture above may appear to be the tower of some great English cathedral. Actually, it’s a photo I took at Yale university on the occasion of Kristin’s graduation.
The vast amounts of energy and resource poured into institutions such as Yale testify to a supreme sense of self-importance. Indeed, the academic culture speaks from what we have come to characterize as the ‘Ivory Tower’ with the sense of the royal ‘we’, claiming an expertise and superiority that is meant to be the latest, if not the last, word.
For the most part, theological seminaries have cast their lot with the academic culture. A glance at the faculty lists of main-line seminaries will reveal names followed by the abbreviations of academia, symbols of their expertise. But they can also be symbols of something else, something that academics in the church have a hard time confronting. Namely, conformity to the values of the academic culture.
I have joked, (actually, I have been quite serious) that every person who serves on a theological faculty should be mandated to teach confirmation classes and visit nursing homes as part of their job description. What does a Biblical theologian resplendent with a PhD have to say to a teenager in love with Ipods, laptops and pop culture? What does a high flying systematics prof have to say to a woman living out her last months in a nursing home on some nameless side street, neglected or forgotten by her family and the ‘progressing’ world around her?
If professional theologians have nothing to say to the teenage pop culture addict or a dying woman, then I have a hard time understanding what they have to say to a classroom full of seminarians destined for the trenches to do battle with “sin, death and the power of the devil”. The fact is, many of these religious professionals don’t have anything to say. They give hot air a bad name. Naturally, many would object to this. But the course descriptions of a typical mainline seminary today, Lutheran or otherwise, reveal a simple fact: the ‘schools of the prophets’ have become graduate schools in religion where the religiously diverse and inclusive values of the academic culture have made Jesus just one more option on the religious salad bar.
Theological faculties and congregations would do well to remember that it is what the church has to say to the fallen world, in its state of perpetual bondage and lostness unto death that finally matters. The academic culture and the wider society, with all their generous diversity, have no answer to these. Jesus does. For Christ, and the salvation that is in Him alone, is the heart, soul and substance of the Church’s message. It is in the sounding of this one, glorious note that the Church finds its voice, and the world its hope.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”