Monday, March 5, 2012
Pastoral Formation. . . in the 21st century
The Seminary as done us the great service of making video of the 2012 Symposia available to us. You can listen for yourself to his hour long presentation here. I am not going to review his entire article here but to highlight some of what he said to us.
Theology is not something you consume but something you produce... This is an incredible shift in perspective. I think it is one that has taken place largely within my own lifetime as a Pastor. I grew up understanding that theology was something more consumed than produced and the educational system of the Missouri Synod at the time also shared this value. Part of every class involved voluminous reading and the mastery of authors, books, and articles as if they were foods on a plate. If, and it was a big if, you aspired to produce theology, you must first learn to consume it -- hearing, digesting, summarizing, and reflecting on the words of others. Books were primary sources -- books which required substantial investment to write, to publish, and to read. There was an air of permanence in the stacks of books which became your own theological library as well as the seemingly endless shelves of books in the libraries of Synodical schools and in the studies of my teachers.
Contrast this with the situation today. Books are so expensive so that they are borrowed for a fee more than owned, some are downloaded for use during the course and then disappear once the term is completed, or the whole of the curriculum is online. Sources continue to be books (often digital) but they have been supplemented and even supplanted by such things as online articles and blogs that were not even in existence at the time I entered the Synodical system on my way to becoming a Pastor. Permanence has given way to transience and the way we view information has shifted from authority to opinion.
Perhaps I have made the big leap of technology and moved from being a child of the world of my young adulthood into the landscape of the present moment, ever changing and with few abiding values or truths. Perhaps I am responsible in part for these changes. I will leave that to others to judge but it is not without a little trepidation that I acknowledge this shift from consumption to production -- with all the ambiguity of authority inherent in such a shift.
No Pastor can deny the dramatic changes in the hearer of sermons in the pews or the participant in Bible study reading from his I-Pad or smart phone. The authority of the Pastor is itself a victim of the competing authorities of web and media personalities (from thoughtful teachers of the faith to the naysayers like Bart Ehrman). We have become captive to a perspective, implicit in the internet age of google search, in which no truth is true until I decide or declare it true and no authority is legitimate except the one which agree with me.
In a practical sense, I feel these tensions every week in Bible study, catechism class, and in sermon prep. For good or for ill we do not have a clean distinction between sacred and secular, no centralized authority to resolve dispute, and no institutions or people beyond the reach of google to disagree. Indeed the very nature of life within the Church today is to host versions of truth which are largely equal to and as authoritative as others and the greater point about what works (as opposed to what is believed, confessed, and taught).