In my experience, and after almost 2 years as a doctoral student in Divinity (Theology and Literature), I’ve been struck by how taken aback people often are when they find out what it is that I spend my time writing about.
So, I present to you, from my own limited experience, what i’ve gleaned from their reactions to me, the 5 things people most often assume about theologians
1.Theologians are Men.
It is definitely the case that Theology is heavily dominated by men. At least in the situations I’ve found myself in, Theology is dominated by caucasian men much older than I. This is not the beginnings of a feminist theological rant, rather an observation of the status quo. But, not all theologians are men. And not all theology done by men is good simply because it is written by a man. Similarly, there are some fine women theologians, from whom I’ve learned a great deal; both positive and negative.
2. Theologians are Old.
I guess many of the ones you’ve heard of, or your minister or pastor talks about might be old; or indeed, dead. Luther and Knox and Calvin and Bonhoeffer and Barth are most certainly not still kicking around ideas at the pub on a friday night. I’m not criticising experience here nor the years of wisdom offered. But, last time i checked, I’m not 70, and neither are my colleagues or most( of my) professors. We’re not all Rob Bell, either, for the record.
3. Theologians don’t read anything else other than theology, and if you do you’re not really a theologian.
So, there’s real theology – either biblical studies or systematic depending on your personal bent – and then there’s “soft” theology. I work predominantly in theology and the arts. I know there are plenty who question whether or not there are better ways I could be using my time, that I could be looking at “hard” theology. If it’s not clear, i think this hard/soft dichotomy is pretty much a bunch of hocum. Even though i shouldn’t need to say it, I’m not saying that biblical studies, systematic theology, and interdisciplinary theological studies perform the safe functions. But, i think there’s a richness of experience in exploring how we live day to day and the enacting of our faith and those things we believe about God and his word than in focusing narrowly on one piece of scripture. That may be (and is) the (important) task of another; it is not mine. At times it’s a bigger challenge to make sure that I’m using basic principles of reading well in relation to scripture because I’m crossing text types and genres so much. In reading so widely, I’ve felt encouraged and challenged by the way in which reading well in general serves me in reading scripture and writing about biblical texts.
4. If you are a woman working on a PhD in Theology then you must also be ordained.
Must, as in, well, why wouldn’t that be the natural end…Maybe it is part of a journey for some women working on their PhDs in Theology. But, the blind assumption is problematic. Being ordained isn’t a fait accompli for men doing their PhD in Theology either – as if ordination were somehow like a gateway to a higher plane of existence. But, for me, and for a great many women, because of the schisms and strain that the ordination of women has wrecked, it is a potentially much more troublesome matter. Vocation should not necessarily be tempered by politics, but by scripture and the greatest commandment – to love one another, as I have loved you. In loving one another though it becomes apparent that these matters are not simple and are not mere matters of personal choice and one’s own sense of vocation or calling. In short, I have no plans to pursue ordination. But, I will not second guess the way God may work in my life and in my future. In short, it’s not helpful to assume either in the positive or the negative that because a person, be they woman or man, is working on a doctorate in theology then they are, or will, or will not be, ordained.
5.Theologians don’t write anything of practical value to the church today.
Indeed, their waxing lyrical just gets in the way of the practical stuff, like cashflow and pastoral care and music we like, and doing things the way we’ve always done them. I know plenty of theologians seeking to serve their local church, and who may also be involved in the ministry lives of their local church. I am. and i’m not the only one. Academic theologians certainly need to, in general, do a much better job of descending from the ivory tower a little more often. I know that I see it as an important part of who I am to be finding ways to make accessible the important lessons from church history, from the word of God, from the ways in which artists, and poets and authors have explored the church and have sought to express what they know of God’s character. I don’t always hit the mark. But, i’m definitely earnest in my pursuit of sharing clearly and in ways that are easily understood.