As I announced last year at this time, I moved back to Charlotte to begin seminary training for the purpose of ordination. For the last year, I have had the joy of such training at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte. RTS is a fine school in many respects, but I have been in the process of discerning whether RTS is the right fit for me. More pointedly, the question is whether the RTS vision for ministry, and the theology that underwrites that vision, is faithful and properly focused. There is no simple, yes or no, answer to that question. Yet, the weight of the “no” has dominated my thinking and praying, just as I am grateful for the “yes” in abundance at RTS.
So, this past semester I applied to Union Presbyterian Seminary, which has a campus in Charlotte. I was accepted, with nearly all of my credits transferred from RTS. Union is a seminary of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is the denomination of my church, Westminster, and the denomination in which I will pursue ordination. So, there is an obvious denominational advantage to Union over RTS, which primarily serves the other Presbyterian denominations which are, more or less, hostile to the PC(USA).
The shift from RTS to Union parallels a shift in my own Christian convictions for several years now, away from a type of evangelical theology that dominates conservative circles. It would take too long to enumerate the many influences and events along the way: the professors, the books, the peers and friends. Needless to say, a guy who loves Karl Barth and Simone Weil is not a typical evangelical, if an evangelical at all.
The classical Reformed tradition has much to offer. It is properly theological as Barth himself understood in his appreciative treatment of Dort. But, the current proprietors of this classical Reformed theology are, far too often, compromised by a conservative cultural captivity that severely limits the life of theology in the church. This captivity is further compounded by a “worldview” suspicion about anything outside the church. Thus, theology is isolated from other disciplines, which themselves are transformed and mutilated in order to conform to a “Biblical” worldview. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the whole fiasco over evolutionary science, which has lately resulted in evangelicals moving even further to the right. The same can be said for the understanding of history, philosophy, art, and particular areas of study, such as gender. Currently, the method of engagement by conservative evangelicals, especially the Reformed, is wholly inadequate. I’ve harped enough on these issues in the past, so I won’t rehearse them now. As it stands, such conservatism will thrive to the extent that it can isolate itself from responsible study of the world, as it presents itself to us. Such isolation is increasingly difficult to maintain, with information technology and the migrations of people. But, the fear surrounding these cultural changes has been a boon for conservative religious circles…for the time being.
I also have little sympathy for theological reflection that barely moves above the level of the text, and I assume that readers know what I mean. Perhaps inerrancy is to blame for this, or at least an inerrancy that “secures” the foundation of all dogmatic formulations (such that, Biblical inerrancy comes before the doctrine of God!). My own view of Scriptural inspiration may or may not be classified as inerrantism, and I don’t care if I could pass that test. I am really striving for the God behind the text, which serves as a temporal and provisional witness.
These are just some examples that have come to mind. Certainly, no particular topic can be isolated and made a determining factor in my shift to Union. Nor do I wish to caricature RTS as wholly obsessed with certain hot-button issues, as if to the neglect of all else. I could detail a host of excellent things, from fine professors, that I have learned at RTS. I am thankful for that, but excited to be moving on.