Thursday, April 02, 2009

My Theological Education Or Between Doubt And Certainty

Faith exists somewhere between and beyond doubt and certainty. If all you have is certainty, you have no need of faith. If all you have is doubt, you don't see the need for faith. Faith is what happens when you have reasons to doubt, reasons to be certain, and, in that situation, choose to trust.

Last year, a friend and I were reflecting on our theological educations. During our undergrad, we both attended the same school, Canadian University College, for four years—an experience that left us with more questions than answers. Later, as pastors, we both wrestled with those questions, finding answers to some and putting others on the shelf.

Now we are doing our Masters of Divinity at the flagship seminary of the Seventh-day Adventist church in Andrews University and having the very different experience of being provided with more answers than questions. In some ways this is frustrating, because we know when a professor is oversimplifying facts or minimizing the weaknesses of the traditional Adventist position. But in other ways it is liberating to discover that others have found the same answers we came up with or, better yet, to be given novel solutions to questions we had left unresolved.

Anselm said that theology is faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum). If this is true then the goal of theology must be to simultaneously explore doubt and shore up certainty. This, of course, is an impossible task. During that conversation with my friend I realized that institutions of theological education tend to favor one or the other.

I realize that it is not good PR to characterize my alma mater, Canadian University College, as a institution that offers a theological education promoting doubt. But remember, doubt is not the opposite of, but a prerequisite to faith, for where there is no reason to doubt, there is also no reason to have faith. In fact, doubt was just what I needed at that point in my Christian experience.

For example, I came out of high school believing that there were no major questions about the Bible that I could not answer, and that if a question about the Bible were to come up that I did not have the answer to, I would be able to look at the Bible and Ellen White's writings and find that answer with relative ease. In short, I had a high degree of certainty about the world, my life, and the way things ought to be, and as a result, I was not very open to God bringing anything new into my life. Questions, doubt, and uncertainty were what I needed to restore balance to my faith.

This stands in contrast to my experience prior to entering seminary. I invested a great deal of time during my ministry reading material by those who emphasize the doubt side of faith, who presented me with more questions than answers. Confronting these questions is well and good, but faith requires a healthy level of certainty in order to function. And as a pastor, I need to have answers that prompt faith for those who are struggling with doubt in their spiritual life.

The mission of the MDiv program at Andrews University is to produce competent pastors, and what that means in the context of theological education is pastors who are certain of what they believe. One would expect the church's flagship seminary to be dedicated to promoting certainty, and there is definitely a place for that, considering the significant doubts Adventist clergy and academics are known to harbor or even promote.

But consider the implications of pursuing certainty of belief as an absolute. David Koresh is an extreme example of what can happen when a religious leader's certainty leaves no room for doubt. A pastor who is big on certainty will find it difficult to practice humility or patience and may end up damaging their church with their rigidity and inflexibility.

Perhaps it would be better if pastors left the seminary with some doubts intact. Because, for all the good certainty can do for a pastor, it is in realm of our doubts that God has room to grow us. I prefer to be more like Job, and less like his three friends.

As I look back on my admittedly incomplete theological education, I see a new reason for certainty in my faith. On my path God has provided my faith with just what I needed when I needed it. Doubt tells me to chalk it up to happenstance, but I choose to trust my creator to continue to guide my life.

And, I am glad that neither those institutions and individuals which promote doubt nor those which promote certainty are able to exclude the other from our church's system of theological education. I'm not saying a thousand theological flowers should bloom within Adventism, but the current institutional mix has been good healthy for me and others I've encountered. So maybe it's a good thing that we have the ATS and ASRS, but it's an even better thing that they're on speaking terms.

I'll sign off with one final thought for you to comment on: The opposite of faith is not doubt or certainty; it's disobedience.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Adventist Theological Seminary to Become Monastery: Students Form Religious Order

At the end of this semester, the Adventist Theological Seminary will officially close its doors and then reopen as the new St. Andrews’ Monastery. The change was prompted when the Seminary Student Form (SSF) voted to reorganize as a religious order. “We were basically already taking a vow of poverty when we came here,” explained SSF President Babe Korea. “And, as students, obedience is something we’re used to, so we said, ‘Why not add chastity?’”

When asked how the married students will cope with a vow of chastity, Mr. Korea replied that he is also married and is “looking forward to giving up carnal relations,” because in his opinion it will free up time to complete his required reading. Another student, Ms. Regena Upton-Single, hopes that taking a vow of chastity will help her focus more on her studies and less on finding a “soul-mate.” Campus Safety also approves of the vow, predicting that there will be fewer complaints of males loitering in areas frequented by nursing, education, and music students.

Dr. Henri Poutine, the Dean of the Seminary, expressed the faculty’s full support for the changes. “We believe that implementing a comprehensive rule of life will significantly help us to curb latent autodidactic tendencies in our students,” he said in a statement. Dr. Poutine noted that in keeping with the ancient tradition of religious hierarchy, “Do as I say; not as I do,” monastery policy will exempt faculty from “vows that interfere with inter-gender relations in the context of matrimony.”

According to Dr. Poutine, General Conference (GC) leadership is optimistic about the seminary’s new identity. In “off-the-record” comments, he told apokalupto that, “Ever since the Jesuits went all soft and social justice-y in the 70s and the economic crisis gutted the Illuminati, the GC has been looking for a way to exploit the current power vacuum in the global illicit influence structure. And they’re hoping our new monastery and religious order will be the basis of a secret society that can play with the big boys.”

Dr. Poutine refused to give further details except to say that a contest will be held to pick the SSF’s new name. The winning submission will have an “obvious idealistic or positive meaning,” but feature “mysterious or possibly even sinister undertones.” Other contest criteria, deadlines, and prizes have not yet been announced.

In Other News:
Church Throws All Spectrum Readers Out