Today is the last pastoral reflection on the value of being involved in a regular theology reading group. Our last reflection comes from Fr. Allen Doerksen, who is an Anglican priest from St Aidan Church in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Allen has been part of our reading group for one year and is planning to continue in the group this year.
1) What is the “value” to you of a “theology reading group” as a pastor?
The questions you raise cut to the heart of clergy formation. Nowadays if you want to inculcate the habit of reading good theology and getting serious about biblical studies you have to avoid an M.Div like the plague and take a couple of M.A.’s or M.A. and Th.M. instead, (though I’m sure this is not the case at Briercrest 🙂 ) At the core of “practical theology” (the guts of an M.Div) should be the most “practical” of all pursuits: the intelligent reading of the Bible in conversation with the Great Tradition.
The value of a reading group is that it forces you to:
- push through excuses and the “urgent” and attend to “loving God with all your mind…”
- interact with colleagues which exposes “blind spots,” prejuidices and weaknesses
- share a mutual passion that often was the reason we felt called to ordained ministry in the first place and that often seems to be left out of our “job description”: the knowledge of God
2) What is the top reason you would give for why a pastor should engage in long-term reading of theology, especially theology that is “unrelated” to the specific preaching and teaching you are doing?
Eugene Peterson says one of the wisest things a pastor can do is pick a theological mentor (pick someone who’s dead, he says!) and stick with him/her throughout the thick and thin of ministry. Pick someone, he says, who is orthodox, enamoured with God [and] the Scriptures and [who] cares deeply about the Church and the World. In other words pick a capacious theologian whose not afraid to rattle the cages and who might be outside our own denominational purview e.g. The Cappodocians, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, Barth, Jenson etc.
Over time regularly reading a great theologian will help the reader/pastor become more capacious and large-hearted him/herself; in other words they will gradually come to be shaped/mentored by the theologian often in very unintended ways. One of the ways this has worked its way out in my life has been to give me a larger frame of reference from within which I ply my craft; this, in turn, has allowed me to become a much less anxious presence in the midst of the vissicitudes of parish/congregational life; something that was very difficult for me to imagine I could ever be given my typically anxious/quick to anger nature.