Sometimes, seminary studies can seem a bit arcane. I remember one of my favorite Biblical Studies professors, Carolyn Sharp, jokingly saying in a sermon, “We Bible professors like to tell ourselves that what we do is relevant.” [It is. We just forget to thank them for it as we are poring over their commentaries while working up a sermon.] And I frequently hear fellow seminarians disparaging the study of theology for being too intellectual, too detached from the world, its problems, and ministry in our communities.
But I love theology, and study it somewhat addictively, and I also love ministry and practice that too (I hope). I like to think that the two are related, and that theology is relevant to life, ministry, our relationships with one another and with God, peacemaking, etc.
I had proof of that (a theologian would throw in words here about epistemology, etc., but I will refrain) in these past few weeks, when I was doing theology for a very practical purpose. In one case, I was asked to help with the research for a sermon at a wedding. The groom had chosen very particular Bible passages for the wedding, and the preacher knew what concepts he wanted to convey, but he asked me to do some theological research to add depth and some interesting, classic sources to it. Afterwards, he said that the couple was delighted with the sources in the sermon.
And that gave me delight. Really? A little theological research brought delight to a couple, and perhaps others, on their wedding day?
In another case, I was asked to provide theological research to bolster a lecture being presented to people interested in youth ministry. I love theology, and I have worked as a youth group leader for several years, and it seemed like a perfect fit for me. I was amazed, as I scrolled through journal article after journal article about theology in the Psalms, what I gleaned when I looked at the Psalms, God, and us through the lens of the lecturer’s framework and my own past experiences working with teenagers. Amazed.
And I was also thrilled that a highly experienced pastor wanted to employ me to do this: to explore deeply and theologically in the immediate service of a deep human need.
This research was different from purely scholarly research, which starts with questions and considers many paths before the scholar decides what to present. This research was more targeted in terms of purpose and content. But still, the experience gives me confidence that all research serves some deep human need beyond the addictive hunger of the researcher.
And now, back to some theological research for my next sermon for 2nd Epiphany Sunday!