In the morning briefing after the 8 am Eucharist, Crusty asked the students to remind him which canonical areas were being assessed today. Keep in mind, Crusty ends up spending more words and perhaps even more time drafting these blog posts than the students do in their answers, and COD tends to get a bit foggy by the end of all of this. Throw in preaching and presiding yesterday at a church that was a 90 minute drive away each direction, and a -15 wind chill walking in to the seminary today, and you'd be feeling like Crusty, too. "Theology in the morning," one student called out. "Maybe they'll ask us a church history question in the theology section since they asked us a theology question in the church history section," another called out.
Well, at least they did ask a theology question in the set on Christian Theology and Missiology. Keep in mind, while we have shorthand for some of these sections, in reality the definitions of the canonical areas are often longer. Since General Convention decided additional things were important, but couldn't keep adding canonical areas, they just periodically add to
|Actual photo of COD after walking to seminary at 730 am in -15 wind chill.|
Anyway, here's Set 6:
Set 6: Christian Theology and Missiology
NO EXTERNAL RESOURCES
Within the history of Christian theology, one can find two views of the knowability of God that seem incompatible. One is a view of God as active in history and knowable through divine acts. The other is a view of God as ontologically transcendent and therefore beyond all categories of human understanding and explication. You want to understand the relationship between these two views of God, which may appear to many in your congregation to be in conflict with each other.
Using two theological traditions within the history of Western Christianity that you think are appropriate, explain in an essay of 1,500 words how you would explicate the relationship between these two views to members of your congregation.
Maybe Crusty's just starting to get a little brain-dead at this stage in the process, or looking forward to the GOE party at 5pm, but he really didn't have much to quibble about with this question. It's a pretty straightforward theological question: there are indeed elements in the history of Christian theology which do speak of a God active in history and knowable; and the other where God is hopelessly other and transcendent. COD found his thoughts crystallizing mainly in three areas:
1) Again with the setup. The whole "You want to understand the relationship between these two views of God, which may appear to many in your congregation to be in conflict with each other.which may appear to many in your congregation to be in conflict with each other" just seems tacked on and forced. Are these two things related, your interest in the issue and your congregation's interest? Or is this some kind of divine synergy, where you want to understand these issues and lo and behold, your congregation is grappling with them, too. Were the drafters of the question thinking, "Gosh, we don't want this just to be some kind of theological exercise, let's get them to ground it in some way and apply it to a context" and so they came up with this? I "want to understand the relationship"? And I need to be able to explain it to my congregation, who are having discussions about how these views are in conflict with one another? Crusty's been part of lots of congregations, urban and rural, East and MIwest and West Coast; also served as a college chaplain. Can't say as he's come across the debate about how God is knowable or not in many of them. COD has found often times theological conversations in congregations come out of personal, pastoral situations. Someone whose healthy wife suddenly comes down with ovarian cancer can start asking questions about why these things are happening. Someone who loves nature and fly fishing can feel that they find God there. But COD doubts the first example would say, "I have some questions about theodicy," and the second, "Do you think we can only know God apophatically?" 9/11was also one of those times people were having theological discussions, though not necessarily using the kind of terminology and phraseology. The setup here is a bit facile and forced. Either just ask the student to explain the differences, or spend the time coming up with a real scenario and a real question about to apply a theological issue to a specific scenario.
2) Because the problem is compounded in section 2. Since we don't know much about the context in which these issues arise in the congregation, how are we to explain? A sermon series? Adult ed forum? Crusty was no bones with asking students to explain the relationship between these two views (because in COD's mind this whole question is a bit of a red herring, since the two views are not incompatible). COD personally would have done something like sketch out an adult ed forum; he certainly wouldn't want the readers to say, "We asked you to explicate it, not outline an adult ed forum. You should have spent more time on explication." In the Set-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named, while COD thought the question deserved its WTF ranking, at least explained very specifically what it was asking students to do.
3) COD is also intrigued by the restriction to "Theological Traditions of Western Christianity." Is this intentional, or just boilerplate without really thinking, or is it intended specifically to exclude other theological traditions? Crusty has a Master of Theology degree from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, and he would have gone all Gregory of Palamas and Hesychast on this question. Because the Hesychasts figured it all out
|You might remember me from such films as "Calling All Hesychasts!"|
"O Gregory the miracle worker, light of Orthodoxy, supporter and teacher of the Church, invincible defender of theologians, the pride of Thessalonica, and preacher of grace, intercede for us forever that our souls may be saved."
"With one accord, we praise you as the sacred and divine vessel of wisdom and clear trumpet of theology, O our righteous Father Gregory of divine speech. As a mind that stands now
|Pray for the GOE takers, O Holy Gregory.|
[Taken from http://lent.goarch.org/saint_gregory_palamas/learn/; slight different translations in different Orthodox jurisidictions.]
But this would specifically seem to have been excluded here. Crusty might chalk it up to, "We can't assess people on things they might not know," but they've already shown themselves in Set 4 and Set 5 to be quite ready to do that. So why not let someone who might have familiarity with Eastern Orthodox theology to apply that here?
Overall, COD gives this a ranking of: Meh. The theological question being asked -- are the strands in Christian theology which say God is knowable in conflict with those that say God is other? -- is fairly straightforward. But the setup/scenario ("explain this to your congregation flummoxed by apophaticism") seems tacked on and poorly defined, and the exclusion of Eastern Orthodox theology is perplexing.