Friday, November 13, 2009

Ministerial formation?

Kim Fabricius has picked up on an Stanley Hauerwas sermon opining about the way ministerial students are formed for ministry. He takes specific aim at the necessity of theology and church history courses. He contrasts this with medical students, who must take anatomy courses not just courses in relating to people. Now, we might point out that many physicians would benefit from some coursework in human communication, but that's not the point. The point concerns the foundations for ministerial formation. Kim writes:

The point is that Christian doctrine is important, because, in Ellen Charry’s phrase, it is “artegenic” (literally “conducive to virtue”), because (cf. Romans 12:2) the “development of character will not happen without knowledge.”
(Ellen Charry, By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine [New York: OUP, 1997], p.19.)

Which also means that church history is important. “It is a point worth pondering,” writes Rowan Williams. “To engage the Church’s past is to see something of the Church’s future. If we relate to the past as something that settles everything for us, something whose meaning is utterly and finally plain, it is to treat the texts of the past as closing off history, putting an end to our self-awareness as historical persons involved in unpredictable growth. If we discuss the past as unintelligible, if we read its texts as closed off from us by their alien setting, we refuse to see how we have ourselves been formed in history; we pretend that history has not yet begun…. T. S. Eliot, faced with the glib modern claim that ‘we know so much more than our ancestors’, riposted, ‘Yes; and they are what we know.”
(Rowan Williams, Why Study the Past? [London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2005], p.94.)

Being a church historian and having taught it at a seminary, I would agree with Williams' assessment. Ministry is about more than technique -- there is theory that underlies it, and this theory is known as theology, and theology is rooted in history and in scripture. Thus, to be properly formed for pastoral ministry, one should be well versed in the critical study of scripture, the history of Christianity, and theology.

I invite you to read the complete piece by clicking here -- Ministerial formation?

Then come back and offer your thoughts!

3 comments:

roy said...

Bob, I've thought about this a lot through the years. A couple of observations.

The critical difference in the education of a physician or a lawyer vs. a pastor is formation. When a lawyer graduates, he thinks like a lawyer and sees the world like a lawyer. When a physician graduates, she thinks like a doctor and sees the world like a doctor. We have no agreement on what a pastor is or does, let alone, how one should see the world.

as for doctrine being the equivalent of anatomy... nah. A femur is a femur is a femur. Christology is not nearly as simple. I remember when I first read the Liberation theologians and thinking, "this isn't theology." Indeed, it wasn't if theology was a list of specific doctrines examined in the European/enlightenment tradition. But it was thinking theologically about life and looking at human experience through a theological lens and I came to believe that was much more important.

So... for me, the key to pastoral formation is learning to think theologically, to see the world through a theologians eyes. The tools to do that obviously include church history, even traditional theology... but they are merely tools, not the formation itself.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Roy, a new pastor who isn't humble is worrysome. A new doctor or lawyer who isn't humble- is fresh meat. David Mc

Anonymous said...

er..A new doctor or lawyer who IS humble. Oh, forget it.