OK, so these aren't really closing reflections...in many ways they are only the beginning...but here it goes.
2 years to finish my Bachelors in theology
2 years to earn my Masters of Theological Studies
2 years of coursework for my PhD.
I am nearing the end of six years of classes to learn how to talk about God. It's not that I didn't talk about God before that. I did. Sort of.
I use to say a lot...I say even more now, but I am much more cautious about what I say. Part of the reason I am more cautious is because the words that I say are often more nuanced and deliberate than they were before. Maybe I am more cautious because I am more aware that I really don't have this entire theology and bible thing figured out. Before I started this journey, I and all of my friends thought we knew pretty much what everyone should say about God. Now I am much less certain. And then, sometimes I am more cautious because I am aware of how my words may offend others. Sometimes I still choose to offend because I think someone needs to be offended, but I know when I am doing it now.
I think the biggest question at this point in my education and my faith journey is...Has six years of higher education in theology made me a better Christian?
I think that was really the thing that my Assemblies of God friends were afraid of when I left for this journey. They weren't sure that I wouldn't come back hating the bible or Christianity, or at least not believing them.
The reason that churches are often afraid of their people going away to school should be obvious by now. A great number of them really do return with big doubts about the existence of God and the truth of the Jesus stories. Even those who still believe are often no good for ministry anymore. They like to include all of the big words for their congregations, especially if those words are in Greek. Of course, the people in their congregations are really impressed with this for the first two weeks. After that they realize that the newly educated minister knows much more about Greek grammar than they do about practicing the presence of God.
So I don't want to push the question aside that is so often pressed upon educated people of my tradition: Did higher education take away my Jesus?
Maybe the question seems odd. I suppose after all of my ramblings above, it doesn't seem that odd. I think the question is legitimate.
My first response is ...no. I know that learning all that I have about the historical situation in which Jesus ministered has changed my view of what Jesus was teaching. So in some ways, the Jesus that I once believed in has been altered. I use to think Jesus was trying to teach us all how to get to heaven. Now I think Jesus was trying to teach us how to be ready for when God brings heaven to earth (read Revelation 21-22). That is a pretty significant change. Some may see that change and say that my education has taken away my Jesus and replaced him something else. I prefer to think of it more like the man who was blind and Jesus spit in the dirt to make him see. When I was saved, I could see people walking around as though they were trees. Now I see people where the trees once stood. I certainly am seeing different things, but I don't think that is so bad.
But then, after thinking about it a little, I would have to respond with a really emphatic ...NO. I'll put it this way.
Though it now takes me 25 pages to write the same idea that use to take me seven sentences, I still believe the same things about Jesus that I did seven years ago. I believe Jesus was God incarnate. He was made to suffer on a cross by the Roman and Jewish leaders who feared him. After three days he was resurrected to a glorified body and visited his disciples. And then he ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to empower the infant church to do great miraculous works in Jesus' name.
That doesn't seem so bad, does it?
So, why am I writing this?
I guess I am thinking about two people tonight. First, I am thinking about my friends in my faith tradition. So many of them want to be faithful to God and want to be all that God called them to be. I only wish that they would take up a diligent study of theology and trust that God would sustain there faith. I am witness to the fact that this study will only make you stronger as a person of faith.
Second, I am thinking about my friends who want something of the person of Jesus and his teaching of love, but generally think the bible and the confession that Jesus was God is a little strange at best and at worst, dangerous. Many of these friends were told by a science professor in college or history teacher in high school, that religious belief is for the weak. They have been told so many times that belief in God is irrational. I can assure these friends that belief in God is neither irrational, nor dangerous. Believing without thinking can be dangerous. I was that at one time. But a thinking person can evaluate the evidence and believe that Jesus was God, the Holy Spirit still miraculously heals today, and God created the heavens and the earth. And, none of that belief will cause them to kill Muslims or hate homosexuals. If you want to see hatred, read the patron saints of (the New) atheism, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. You will see that religion isn't dangerous...sin is dangerous.
OK, so hopefully I will have some more time for posting now that I am finishing up my coursework. May this be only the beginning.