October 21, 2008 / David Fitch


A woman in our church, Cyd Holsclaw, is taking our denomination’s ministerial studies program. The course named “Introduction to Theology” asks her to respond to several contextualized questions deriving from the various categories of what used to be called Systematic Theology. Looking at the questions she was given she decided to rewrite them. She said the questions were not really the questions she was getting from either new Christians or inquiring seekers. The questions have changed. What follows first are (some of) the questions she was given followed by her rewrite of the questions.

The Ministerial Studies Questions

ECCLESIOLOGY: How does your church compare to the purpose and pattern of the Early Church?
SOTERIOLOGY: A person from a Roman Catholic background asks you why you don’t pray to the Virgin Mary. How would you answer that person?
SANCTIFICATION: In your desire to become Christ-like, what quality of God’s character do you need the most?
THEOLOGY: What do you consider to be the greatest of God’s attributes and why?
ANTHROPOLOGY: A new Christian, who is concerned for his unsaved family members, asks you where his deceased grandfather, who never heard the gospel, is in eternity. How would you answer him?

Cyd’s Rewrite of the Questions

ECCLESIOLOGY: I don’t need church. Organized religion really bothers me… I’d rather just go for a walk in the woods and meet with God there.
SOTERIOLOGY: The whole idea of only one way to God is ridiculous. It’s so arrogant to say that Jesus is the only way. I’ve met a whole lot of people who are kinder and more compassionate than the Christians I’ve met. Those people seem more in touch with God.
SANCTIFICATION: God loves me unconditionally. I know there are some issues I need to deal with eventually, but don’t throw this legalism on me and give me a code of rules I’m supposed to live by. That’s not the kind of God I want to serve.
THEOLOGY: Jesus dying on the cross is so bloody and violent. How am I supposed to believe that a God who kills his own son in cold blood would love me?
ANTHROPOLOGY: Christianity is all about men. God is a man, Jesus is a man, pastors are men, etc. How do I, as a woman, fit into a faith that seems to be all about men?

I am struck by how often I hear the questions that Cyd put forth in her rewrite even when I go to the most conservative of locales and talk with evangelical pastors. Her insightful rewrite calls all of us theological educators to shape theological education beyond the acquiring of basic information. This of course is the continual struggle of all theological programs. Correspondence and online programs struggles with this even more. The first set of questions (from the Ministerial Studies Program) are important and in many ways foundational to answering the second set of questions (Cyd’s rewrite). We need both. Yet for many of us, we need an education that gives us the means to think through the concrete questions of our day theologically, Scripturally, historically and beyond the modernity and Christendom assumptions that seem to hover over the first set of questions.

How can we better connect the Systematic Theological questions with the concrete ones on the ground in our ministerial programs (especially correspondence and on-line programs)? There are many other questions like Cyd’s. Can you offer any additional?