Last week began my second year in the Missional Training Center, a paradigm-shifting experiment in theological education that will–God willing–result in me having a Master’s Degree a few years from now. Each week we are expected to journal about what we’re learning in class and the readings, and I intend to use my blog as a place to fulfill this assignment.
As this second year begins, I’m mindful of three significant things:
1. Who you learn with is as important as what you learn.
It was wonderful to be back with some of the dear friends that are part of my cohort. Last year there were two different cohorts, but this year remaining students have combined. It’s a great group of pastors and leaders from all over the state. I can already see how God will use these brothers and sisters to grow me.
I completed almost half of a degree through Reformed Theological Seminary’s Virtual campus and, while I appreciated the flexibility of being able to “attend” lectures and do work on my schedule, I sorely lacked the relationships that make learning so valuable and fun.
Not only are my classmates a tremendous blessing, but I’m deeply thankful for our faculty. In particular, getting to know Mike Goheen and his wife, Marnie, has been incredible. As they spend more time in Phoenix this year, I’m hoping to lean into them even more for wisdom and modeling a life of humility and boldness in the name of Jesus.
2. I don’t mind being a guinea pig.
Everyone in high-level theological education knows that the current system has many flaws (too expensive, disconnected from the local church, trains academics more than pastors, too much busy work, hard to do while actively engaged in ministry, etc.). It’s one thing to observe these shortcomings and another to critique them. But it’s something totally different to forge a new path.
Forging a new path is exactly what Mike Goheen is doing. Though many significant people are participating and watching this experiment, it’s not a sure thing. Tradition is powerful and hard to change.
It may lead to an accredited degree, and it may not (but I think it will). Either way, I’m excited to be part of something that’s innovative and gutsy–makes for a lot of fun.
3. There’s a difference between the unchanging gospel truth and our theological reflections on it.
We had a great discussion last week about “doing theology.” Mike described it as reflection on the gospel and God’s word in particular contexts to equip the church, for the sake of the nations.
This highlights a few aspects of theology that are easy to forget:
“Reflection on the gospel and God’s word…” – Any time I begin to reflect on the gospel and God’s word, I should be open to correction. The gospel is like a vein of beautiful rock that runs deep below the earth. I can go down to mine it, but as soon as I come to the surface to describe it to somebody else, I need to see my reflections as what they are — imperfect reflections.
“…in particular contexts to equip the church…” – Theology isn’t done in a vacuum. It’s always done in a particular context and driven by contextual concerns. Consider for example how we might consider it essential to teach that the Bible is authoritative. This concern would not have existed 500 years ago, but is crucial today. The truth of the gospel doesn’t change, but the questions we ask as we approach it do.
“…for the sake of the nations” – Our goal in understanding the gospel is to equip the church for the sake of the nations. We never seek theological understanding for its own sake, but that we might be a more faithful people who can be used by God to declare his glory among the nations.
As I approach this year, I want to keep this approach to theology on my mind. I want to be open to learn so that I can effectively equip the church to bless the world.