I finished the last batch of marking in College yesterday. The process of grading, marking and feeding back on student work is an intriguing mix of discipline, yes at times tedium, enjoyment and reflection on what theological education achieves in the process of forming and transforming people.
Driving home in the car with Emmy Lou Harris singing sadly, then with Dave Crowder blasting out his Happiness Mass in C Major, I had time to think about the formative impact on a teacher of twelve years reading the work of our students.
Theological education is one of the most important foundations for Christian mission today. I am not going to argue that; I take it as self-evident for followers of Jesus who dare to take up the double invitation 'take my yoke upon you and learn of me....take up your cross and follow me.
But one overwhelming argument is the evidence Semester after Semester, of students growing in their faith, beginning to move out of constrained comfort zones into the risky place that is thoughtful discipleship, and engaging with adventurous thinking about a faith that is never safe and sound, but :
celebrates God incarnate in Jesus,
argues, because life depends on it, for the foolishness of the cross,
lives always towards newness and hope, because that's what resurrection people do
comes alive and learns to serve within the orbit of an eternal community of Triune Love
studies and wrestles with Scripture as if their lives depended on it, which it does
learn to love the Church again because it is the Body of Christ and they are part of it
begin to discover, and learn to accept, who they are, God's gift to the church today
and in all of this, to read, pray, think and follow faithfully after Jesus.
So when an essay on Christology and Ecclesiology, or a sermon in Creative Homiletics, or an Exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount, or a Journal of Theological Reflection on a church placement, or a review of a chapter on the significance of Nicaea for a wee local Scottish Baptist church in the 21st Century - when any of these 'assignments' comes on to the desk for marking and grading, they are sacraments of learning, they are formative spiritual exercises, they are attempts at loving God with mind and heart, they are snapshots of a soul growing and a spirit spreading its wings towards a bigger sky.
So yes. There is the tedium of overload, the deadline for marks to be submitted, the pressure of marking; before that, for the student, the hard graft of reading and researching, of finding the right books and articles, of deadlines looming and 1000 words to go. But theological education is about something much more enduring and transforming than ticking the assignment boxes.
Theological Education is a commitment to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength so that, in service to God in Christ, we can learn to love our neighbours as ourselves, live as peacemakers, be ambassadors for Christ and ministers of reconciliation. And in all that commitment to develop wisdom and discernment, to open ourselves up to God's wide and wonderful world with the confidence of those who know enough to know they'll never know enough; but to live as those who take what they know, what they deeply know, of the grace and truth of Christ, and live it out so that once again in the Christian community, the Body of Christ, the Word becomes flesh and dwells, tabernacles, makes its home in this God-loved world. A world forever changed by Love incarnate, crucified and resurrected in Jesus, the One in whom God was pleased to dwell, and to unite all things to Himself, making peace by the blood of the cross.
All of that underlies an academic assignment in a theological College which is committed, students and staff, to personal formation for the ministry of Christ and His Body the Church. "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me...take up your cross daily, and follow me...you are the Body of Christ."