Training to be
And what about the Bible?
Launching into theological training for ministry is a daunting prospect, especially when your formal education finished many years earlier. There is the possibility that what you hold most dear in your faith, the long-held truths you hold from biblical teaching and understanding, will be challenged. Those who give the teaching might feel it to be a good thing to encourage students to re-examine what they have based their faith upon so far. While for the student it may not always feel that way, the purpose is that the basis for faith will be broadened and deepened. If faith starts out on shaky ground there is a danger that it will topple, but if it is rooted and grounded in the love of God and bible-based, then investigating and examining it will lead to greater self-awareness and a firmer foundation for faith.
The pathway of training which I followed was modular, part-time evening and weekend study whilst remaining in my own home, job and church, and the timescale was over three years. The learning was alongside others who were following different pathways~ some full time students over shorter periods of time; some mission students from a variety of countries in England for a year before returning to work in their native lands; there were students being prepared for ministry in Anglican, Methodist, United Reformed and Pentecostal churches as well as students following study for their own personal reasons. Some classes were of around 20 students but some were as large as 50 or 60 and all contained students from a variety of backgrounds, experience, and opinion, which brought diversity to discussion and in itself broadened experience and knowledge of the breadth of ways of believing and following Christ that exist.
One of the first modules was Introduction to Christian Theology and its purpose was to give the tools to enable thinking about God in response to questions which life throws up, to listen to what others say about God, picking up what is useful in our own search, and to communicate these thoughts in a clear and accessible way. After a few weeks of being given some study and research tools and techniques we came to a session on 'Reading, authority and the Bible' in which we looked at the sources for what is included in the canon of scripture, discussed different understandings of its revelation or inspiration and how that might affect our understanding of what it says.
There was discussion 1. About reading the Bible in context, both of the surrounding passages of a text but also understanding it in the culture of the time in which it was written 2. We discussed how to use the bible in theology, the different approaches there are to its authority and how all approaches would agree that biblical interpretation in theology should be governed by the life, words and example of Jesus. They should also take account of the way the world has changed since the Palestine of Jesus. We also need to be conscious of the particular interests and perspectives we each bring to our thinking, and be open to challenge and argument from people of different contexts, views and perspectives. We were encouraged to see discussion and argument as important to growth of faith and search for truth. No one group holds all the understanding or truth that scripture encompasses.
The course raised all sorts of issues. The following poem was written in response to some of them.
given tools for learning, being taught to 'read' is next
The use of the Bible in theological training for ministry has affirmed to me its importance in the mainstream Christian churches of this country. It has encouraged me to continue with further broadening my understanding of biblical contexts and themes through reading and on-going training and study. It has given me confidence in using the Bible in teaching, preaching and worship within my present role as an Anglican priest. I believe I have been particularly fortunate in undertaking training at an ecumenical and mission college, which brought together such a wide range of thought and experience. While my own theological position may not have vastly altered, my understanding of the wider church of which we are all a part has grown tremendously.
Thanks be to God that he meets us where we are and draws us to himself from that place, and for the part his written word plays in that journey.