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The Task and Value of Theological Education

Many Christians are familiar with the Gospel of John's story where the disciples spent all night fishing and didn't catch anything, then Jesus appears and tells them to keep fishing, but to do it in a different way. Obeying Jesus, the disciples then instantly catch 153 fish.


This is certainly not an instance of "give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man a fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Many of the disciples were professional fishermen and certainly knew all the tricks of their trade. Despite this, they knew Jesus, as the Logos of God who had transformed their lives through the experience of their discipleship.


All theological education is discipleship. Like the disciples, we often trod along with tried and true methods that have been formalized over the course of history by our various traditions. However, there also must be room for informal theological education. Both formal and informal theological education helps form us as we walk with Christ. Examples of formal theological education range from Bible study (inductive or otherwise) to higher education while informal theological education is often given as you participate in the life of your spiritual community.


To paraphrase a pastor I know, "It isn't about a balancing act, it is about the fullness of theological education." Our churches need both to help us become fully formed. The average parishioner should lean on those who have been formally trained to help them with methodology that will help them see the richness of our Protestant tradition and those with advanced degrees often need help tying themselves to real, concrete concerns in place of abstract theological inquiries.


In my estimation, the exvangelical movement is at least partly due to the American church's failure to disciple people and engage in relational truths over propositional ones and that allow robust conversations that do not shrink back mystery, doubt, and unanswered questions. Remember, Jesus told parables that seemed to stump everyone, including the disciples and often had to explain them after their telling.


In those cases, Jesus was both the one preaching the gospel and leading his disciples into deeper truths. As we lead our communities through spiritual formation, it is our job to preach and teach without avoiding the hard subjects all while relying on the Holy Spirit to speak to us and those we are discipling. Remember, God didn't call us to have all the answers, but he does call us to wrestle with the one who does.






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