Chapter 4:”Athens”: Unity and Pluralism in the Current Discussion
A conversation has been going on in North America concerning what is theological about theological education. It is not only the longest-lived but by far the liveliest conversation theological educators have ever managed to sustain among themselves ecumenically about the nature and purpose of their common enterprise. It has produced an unprecedented amount of publication about the topic. In this literature the models of excellence for theological schooling provided by “Athens” and “Berlin” engage each other for the first time, sometimes working out compromises, and always showing in bold relief an array of basic issues confronting every theological school.
There are two broad types of issues. It has been convenient, though misleading, to tag them as issues about unity and issues about pluralism in theological schools.1 They both have to do with the nature of the “Christian thing” and how theological education is related to the “Christian thing.” “Unity” issues tie into this question: “Is this theological school’s course of study adequate to the inherent unity (or ‘integrity’ or ‘identity’) of the ‘Christian thing’?” “Pluralism” issues tie into this question: “Is this theological school’s course of study adequate to the pluralistic world in which ‘the Christian thing’ is actually lived?” When the answer to either of these questions is “No!” then this issue arises: Is it something about our understanding of “theological school” or of the “Christian thing” or of how they are related that creates these inadequacies?
Note that basic issues about theological schools tend to be conceptual and theoretical in character. They have to do with the ways in which we explicitly or implicitly understand various matters. There are also, of course, practical problems raised by the same questions, such as these: How do we make a course of study more adequate to the pluralism of the world in which the “Christian thing” is lived without so overloading the curriculum as to make it inadequate to the inherent unity of the “Christian thing”? How do we find faculty who not only are masters of their academic specializations but also see how those specializations bear on the “Christian thing” in its integrity and fit together with other specializations in doing so? How pluralistic should the student body of this theological school be, or, for that matter, its faculty, etc.? Individual theological schools must debate and solve such problems all the time. They must do so in reference to the factors that make them the concretely particular schools they are — their peculiar histories, governance structures, social and economic location, and the like.
The point is that in all such debates some conceptual and theoretical framework is at least tacitly employed. The basic issues tending these debates have to do with the adequacy of that assumed framework and whether it may in fact subtly confuse the debate or help to cause the problem in the first place. Whereas the “problems” faced by theological schools are practical matters needing solutions, the “issues” confronting them are conceptual matters needing resolutions. It is with issues rather than problems that the current discussion has concerned itself. This understandably makes persons who feel the urgent need to solve problems impatient with the conversation. However, the conversation about basic issues promises to yield something like a therapy that, if stayed with over time, will help to clarify which problems are most important, why some problems may turn out to be less important than they first seemed, why others chronically prove to be intractable, and just what is at stake in the “real” problems.
Clearly the words unity and pluralism may easily mislead because they are both vague and ambiguous. That does not require us to abandon them but only to use them with care to designate the two broad ranges of basic issues in the current discussion of what’s theological about theological schools. It is necessary only to sort out as clearly as possible the various senses in which each could be used and then to be clear about which sense we intend. It will be useful to us later on if we do a bit of preliminary sorting out now before moving on to the discussion proper.
To begin with, consider this question: “Is this theological school’s course of study adequate to the inherent unity of the ‘Christian thing’?” The meaning of unity depends on our construal of the “Christian thing.” Is the “Christian thing” like a coherent body of doctrines, with the sort of unity appropriate to a body of theory? Or is it more like a way of being a human person, with the sort of unity appropriate to personal identity? Or is it more like a set of moral rules, with the unity appropriate to a code of law? Or is it more like a system of cultural symbols, with the sort of unity appropriate to a single culture?
Then consider this similar question: “Is this theological school’s course of study adequate to the pluralistic world in which the ‘Christian thing’ is lived?” A “pluralism” of what? The meaning of pluralism depends in part on the way in which one understands “world.” Perhaps we intend a pluralism of cultures. In that case, we construe “world” as the planet earth and analyze its population into various “cultures,” each of which is relatively homogeneous and has a recognizable identity. Then, in jargon currently fashionable among theological educators, we speak of basic issues raised in the effort to “globalize” theological schooling and the effort to “contextualize” the “Christian thing” in culture after culture.
Perhaps we intend a pluralism of religions. In that case we construe “world” as a realm of religious symbols, practices, experiences, and institutions, including Christian ones. Then we speak of issues raised in efforts at interreligious dialogue. These may or may not be the same as issues raised in efforts to contextualize and globalize theological education; there are, after all, more dimensions to “other” cultures than their religious dimensions.
Perhaps, however, we intend a pluralism of social “locations.” In that case we construe “world” as “social reality” and analyze the way in which persons’ experience and knowledge are shaped by the sexual, racial, and economic factors that determine their locations in their society’s structure of status and power. Then we speak of issues raised in efforts to bring the “Christian thing” to bear on their distinctive modes of experience and knowledge.
As they bear on a theological school, these and other sorts of pluralism interrelate in complex and confusing ways. One central confusion has to do with the possibility of conflict. It is debatable whether certain sorts of pluralism create an adversarial situation for the “Christian thing.” For example, it is an ongoing debate whether religious pluralism creates competition and even conflict for the “Christian thing.” So too, it can be debated whether the “Christian thing” is necessarily in deep conflict with any given culture in which it is being contextualized. However, it cannot be debated that certain sorts of social location demand to be resisted and changed — namely, unjust locations that oppress the people who live in them. Attending to this sort of pluralism raises a different order of basic issues for a theological school than does attention to other sorts of pluralism.
Put abstractly, each of these “worlds” is pluralized by different interests. That is what makes it superficially appropriate to refer to a pluralism as a plurality of “interest groups.” However, “interest group” suggests interests of a self-aggrandizing sort, and that is entirely unjust. To be sure, the interests that define many groups are interests to maintain and preserve traditions of belief and action, symbols and aspirations that are held dear. Often they are patterns of belief and action from which the groups benefit. Such is the case with cultural and religious pluralism. However, some groups are defined by interests to change social structures and to be liberated from their bondage. Neither interest in maintaining what is held dear nor interest in liberation from what is oppressive need be an interest in self-aggrandizement; both may be rooted in a universalizable picture of the good life, an interest in human flourishing. When we deal with pluralism defined by the latter sort of interest, however, we must speak of issues raised for a theological school by the effort to address this pluralism in an actually liberating way, not simply in a theoretical way.
The ambiguity of the concept of “pluralism” is further complexified by the fact that a theological school itself is a pluralistic world in all of these senses. When that pluralism is in view, we must speak of issues raised for theological education by the effort to make the course of study adequate to the school’s own internal pluralisms.
“Unity” and “pluralism” are not polar opposites, and to raise issues about one is not antithetical to raising issues about the other. That is, the quest for unity in a theological course of study is not an effort to overcome pluralism and its consequences. Pluralism is not necessarily another name for self-contradiction and fragmentation in theological schooling, a problem to which unity is the solution. Nor is the quest for an adequate response to pluralism an effort to overcome unity. Unity is not necessarily another name for narrowness and bias in theological schooling, a problem to which pluralism is the answer. If one attends to issues raised by the quest for unity, one does not imply that it is misguided to raise issues about pluralism; nor does a focus on issues raised by the quest to be adequate to pluralism imply that it is a sign of evasion or confusion to raise issues about unity.
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In the remainder of this chapter and in the following chapters I want to show what difference the differences among three distinguishable approaches make in the current conversation. The first approach accords with the “Athens” type and explicitly or implicitly adopts paideia as the model of excellence in theological schooling, while incorporating the best of the “Berlin” type. However, one representative (Edward Farley in Theologia and The Fragility of Knowledge)2 uses this approach to address issues concerning unity in theological schooling, while another (the Mud Flower Collective in God’s Fierce Whimsy)3 relies on it to address issues concerning pluralism.
The second approach, explored in the next chapter, accords with the “Berlin” type and explicitly or implicitly adopts Wissenschaft and “professional” schooling as the model of excellence in theological education, while incorporating the best of the “Athens” type. However, one representative study (Joseph C. Hough, Jr., and John B. Cobb, Jr.’s Christian Identity and Theological Education)4 uses this approach to address issues concerning unity, while another (Max L. Stackhouse’s Apologia)5 relies on it to address issues concerning pluralism.
A third approach (represented by Charles Wood in Vision and Discernment)6 can be read as an attempt to formulate a third model of excellent schooling in a way that addresses issues of unity and pluralism in their basic interconnectedness. We shall discuss this approach in Chapter 6. The structure of these three chapters simply mirrors the three steps in a dialectic among these three approaches.
Unity with Pluralism in Accord with “Athens”: Edward Farley
It is fair to say that Edward Farley’s Theologia, the first extended North American theological reflection on theological education since H. Richard Niebuhr’s study almost thirty years before, launched the current discussion. The basic issue to which he addressed himself in that book, and in the collection of essays that make up its sequel, The Fragility of Knowledge, is the fragmentation of theological education. This fragmentation has resulted from distortions that have corrupted both poles of the dominant “Berlin” model of excellent theological schooling. The “professional schooling” pole has equated “professional” with “clergy functions.” It has redefined “theology” as the theory to be “applied” in successful performance of those functions. For its part, the wissenschaftlich pole is inherently “tragic,”7 inherently open to deformity. This is because, in order to make headway toward knowledge, it must distort its object of knowledge by abstracting it from its concrete setting. That distortion can be corrected by conjoining specialized research with “perspectives” on all knowledge that offer synoptic interpretations in which the objects of research are returned to their larger physical and social settings. Farley particularly notes the perspectives provided by “intuitive imagination,” “tradition,” and “praxis” (Fragility, 6). However, those perspectives have been so marginalized in the modern research university that they are unable to play their corrective role, and thus Wissenschaft is left fragmented.8
Together, these distortions of the “Berlin” model leave theological schooling bereft of its proper center: theologia. Farley uses the term theologia rather than theology in order to underline that it is a kind of wisdom and not, as theology tends to suggest, a body of information and theory about God. In Theologia Farley argues that this center can be recovered and the fragmentation of theological education can be overcome only by a recovery of a modified version of paideia as the mode of theological schooling. In The Fragility of Knowledge he goes on to argue that there is a structure to this theological study that is dictated by the essential nature of theologia — that is, a structure that has a theological rationale. His suggestions about how fragmentation might be overcome and how a suitable structure could be restored to theological schooling “are intended to be of sufficient ecumenical character to be pertinent to theological schools of different denominations and even different branches of Christendom.”9
Clearly, it is of the utmost importance to understand what theologia is. Theologia is rooted in and rises out of faith’s situation. Thus theologia must be understood in terms of its relation to faith. What is faith? “Faith describes the way in which the human being lives in and toward God and the world under the impact of redemption.”10 This is Farley’s characterization of the “Christian thing.” Faith itself is a kind of knowing. “Redemption” impacts persons’ lives through what Farley calls “the total mythos of the Christian faith” or the “faith-world”: images, doctrines, and forms of communal life, and the “realities” carried by these images, doctrines, and the like ( Theologia, 166). As life under the impact of redemption, faith is inherently prereflectively “insightful” or “cognitive” (cf. 156-57). On the other hand, persons of faith also exist “in an already disposed biographical, social and historical situation” (165). They are concretely located. Thus, on this view the “Christian thing” has the sort of unity that belongs to a distinctive way of being “set” into the world and the distinctive perspective on the world that that affords.
Assuming that this is an acceptable description of faith, how is theologia related to it? Farley contends that theologia must be characterized in two ways. Looked at in one way, theologia is something like a believer’s settled disposition to do certain things or to act in specific ways. The classical name for such a disposition is habitus. Looked at in another way, theologia is a “dialectical activity” in which a believer engages. These are not two different sorts of theology. Rather, theology properly understood is so complex a reality as to require these two descriptions if it is to be characterized adequately. Each description, however, relates theologia to faith in a different way.
Considered as a habitus, theologia seems to be distinct from faith, just as the end state of a process is distinct from its beginning state. More exactly, theologia seems to be a set of different modes of this habitus. To call theologia a habitus is to liken it to those moral virtues that were formed through classical paideia. A moral virtue was classically understood to be a settled disposition or habitus to act in specific morally valued ways — for example, prudently or courageously. By analogy, theologia is a “cognitive [rather than moral] disposition and orientation of the soul” ( Theologia, 35). In Farley’s view, faith is inherently driven to subject itself to “deliberate processes of reflection and inquiry” through which its prereflective insightfulness becomes reflective and self-conscious insightfulness. The reflective wisdom at which faith arrives at the end of this process is theologia. Theologia is not related to faith in an “about” mode, as a description is related to the thing described. No, theologia is a personal wisdom, a way of being human, not information or theory about a way of being human.
And it comes in several modes. This complicates the notion of habitus. Just as faith always has some particular situation, so the habitus that is rooted in it has some particular social setting or matrix. Farley notes three such matrices, none of which is mutually exclusive. One is the situation of the believer as such. This varies enormously across cultures and epochs, but it does have some “perennial elements” (Theologia, 157). Farley especially stresses forces in the situation that corrupt and oppress human life and faith itself Such forces require faith to become critically self-vigilant and hence self-reflective about both itself and its situation.
A second matrix for this habitus is the situation of leadership n the church, either ordained or not. Although this matrix, too, varies enormously, all instances of it have in common the aim to gather the community of faith to function as a redemptive community. This will yield a different mode of theologia than that of the believer as such (including the leader’s own), but without displacing it, because it “aims to evoke the believer’s understanding and action” (Theologia, 158).
A third matrix of this habitus is inquiry and scholarship. Its social context “is usually, but not necessarily, the school. The task is the determination or uncovering of truth” in orderly, disciplined, and systematic ways. Here theologia exists in a third mode as “theological knowledge.” In every mode, as faith’s prereflective insightfulness is brought to reflective insightfulness, theologia is wisdom and understanding; but only in the matrix of Wissenschaft is it knowledge. This mode of theologia does not replace or exclude either of the other two. Presumably it could be expected to help empower those in leadership settings for the mode of understanding they require there; hence the value that is placed on Wissenschaft theological schooling (Theologia, 159).
Considered as a “dialectical activity,” on the other hand, theologia seems to be not the end point of a process but the process itself. Here theologia simply is “that dialectic of understanding which is evoked by faith’s attempt to exist faithfully in its situations” ( Theologia, 169). Looked at in this way, theologia seems to be faith’s own internal process of becoming reflective. This process has several moments.
First is the “thematization of the faith-world” (Theologia, 166). By “faith-world” Farley means that complex of images, doctrines, and forms of communal life, and the `’realities” they carry, “in” which, in a manner of speaking, persons of faith live unreflectively and naively most of the time. The entire complex shapes the way they construe themselves and the world, other persons and God in relation to themselves. For the most part this complex is too close to consciousness to be explicitly describable. To “thematize” the complex is to gain some distance on it and at least outline its principal motifs and patterns. Thematization needs to be done so that persons of faith can use the symbols and practices of the “Christian mythos” to read the situation in which they find themselves. However, there will be a tendency to grant the situation the status of a norm by which to assess the mythos (e.g., “These biblical notions are irrelevant, meaningless, or false because they don’t cohere with our modern worldview”).
Hence, a second moment “intervenes.” The situation “viewed in relation to the transcendent” (Theologia 166) is seen both as creaturely, requiring a repudiation of its claim to absoluteness, and as corrupted, requiring theological criticism. However, by the same token, faith refuses all absolutizations, not only of various situations, but also of the total mythos itself.
So a third moment involves a “distancing and criticism in relation to tradition itself” to unmask “the elements in the tradition which serve oppression, ideology and the legitimation of privilege” (Theologia, 167). Left at that, however, theologia as a dialectical activity would be in the bind of interpreting the “total mythos of Christian faith” as at once normative for critique of the tradition and yet itself open to critique because it is relative to particular historical and cultural conditions.
Accordingly, a fourth moment “surmounts this impasse and grasps the mythos in its enduring reality and its power” ( Theologia, 167). It discerns what it is about the mythos that “expresses enduring truth . . . about God and the presence of God” and hence about “what the world is and what human being is.” In short, it discerns “the kingdom of God” — that is, “the situation [which is what the dialectic first set out to read] as God undergirds it, pervades it, disposes it, lures it to its best possibilities” (168).
Together, the views of theologia as a habitus and as a dialectical activity entail, not “the idea of a university,” but at least the rudiments of “the idea of a theological school.” That is, they entail the rudiments of the essence of any school that is entitled to consider itself a “matrix” for education of church leadership. To be sure, in both books Farley is centrally concerned to insist that the “theological education” whose unity he seeks to restore is something that also takes place outside theological schools and must not be identified with theological schooling. It may equally well take place in the churches and in college and university departments of religious studies. Nonetheless, his argument does in fact imply the rudiments of the essence of a theological school, which is our focus. This can be brought out by considering the three elements Farley distinguishes in theological schooling: theologia, pedagogy, and scholarship.
The Structure of Theological Education: Theologia, Habitus, and Paidiea
If theologia is a cognitive habitus analogous to moral virtue, then necessarily “the education that serves it,” like the education that forms moral virtue, “has the character of paideia” ( Theologia, 178). This is its proper pedagogy. Hence, theological schooling is a form of paideia. Like moral virtue, theologia cannot be taught directly; this paideia requires the teacher to be midwife of a wisdom that only faith can give. While a number of things may be studied directly, such study can only be the occasion for the evocation of theologia.
Like classical paideia, which shapes persons’ lives morally, this paideia is done for its own sake. This fact addresses one of the causes of fragmentation by excluding from the outset any definition of theological schooling by reference to the cultivation of skills whose ultimate payoffs in “successful” clerical practice. One of Farley’s major points is that this paideia is not to be simply identified with clergy education. Theological education is one selfsame thing. It may take place in a variety of settings, only one of which may be clergy education. It is one selfsame paideia whether it occurs in the context of a congregation, a theological seminary, or a college or university department of religious studies. The logic of the claim seems to go something like this: Theologia is one selfsame habitus in all persons who have it because it is rooted in one selfsame faith that marks them all as, precisely, believers — albeit believers located in diverse situations. Consequently, the paideia through which that habitus is nurtured in people is itself one selfsame process of “theological education.” Hence, theological schooling is basically the same pedagogy (paideia) in all times and places.
At the same time, as we saw, Farley stresses that different social settings (that of the believer, the church leader, the scholar) yield different modes of the habitus. This creates space, as Christian appropriation of classical paideia did not, for acknowledgment of legitimate pluralism in theological education. Indeed, there are two sorts of pluralism admitted here. One is a pluralism of settings for theological education. This creates a pluralism of modes of the paideia that aims at the cultivation of theologia. We have seen that their plurality does not necessarily create conflict among them; but it does raise the question of how this plurality coheres with the postulated self-identity of the paideia across all its various settings. The other type of pluralism occurs within one of the matrices of theologia — namely, the situations of believers as such. These vary enormously. The major determinants of this pluralism are believers’ race, gender, and “location” socially, economically, culturally, and historically. This variety might very well entail unavoidable conflict among deeply different versions of “faith.” It raises a question about the unity of the “Christian thing” and how it coheres with this pluralism of believers’ situations.
In sum, by construing theologia as habitus, Farley moves to correct one cause of the malaise of theological schooling: the amalgamation of questions of pedagogy with questions of scholarship while theologia is totally ignored. In Farley’s proposal, the very nature of theologia dictates that its proper pedagogy be defined neither by the demands of clergy functions nor by the demands of scholarship; as a habitus, theologia itself demands paideia as its pedagogy. At the same time, the inescapably situated character of the habitus entails a revision of the classical idea of paideia to acknowledge that it exists concretely in a plurality of modes.
If theologia is a dialectical activity, then necessarily the education that serves it must be disciplined and critical, and classical paideia must be radically modified in another way. As we saw, the dialectic inherently requires a pedagogy that in disciplined fashion critically tests for truth and for ideology, both in faith’s situation and in the Christian mythos. Further, Farley contends, the structure of the dialectic entails a structure or order to the pedagogy. Accordingly, a theological school will necessarily involve critical inquiry that exhibits a certain order or structure.
What counts as “critical” reflection has, Farley holds, been irrevocably changed since the Enlightenment through a “massive, centuries-long paradigm shift from ahistorical to historical ways of understanding reality” (Fragility, 119). Classical paideia studies its subject matter ahistorically. Even Newman’s nineteenth-century version of paideia, though it had room for critical history, still founded the structure of the course of study in an ahistorical essential structure of reality. If paideia now must understand everything historically, it can no longer be a movement from a source that is beyond critique to application. The “source” itself, Scripture and the total Christian mythos, must be critically studied historically. That immediately undercuts the classical employment of a fourfold structure of the course of study that moved from Scripture (source) studies through history and dogmatics to practical theology.
However, theologia as a dialectical activity provides a substitute structure for a theological school’s course of study. “Structure, here, means the areas of study that theology . . . requires, and the relation between those areas” (Fragility, 171; cf. 104-5). This requires further analysis of what faith is. The structure of theological study must be dictated, not by pedagogical considerations, nor by the conditions necessary for scholarship, but by the essential nature of faith — or, more exactly, faith-within-its-situations modified by a particular matrix. This has to be explained in greater detail.
As we have seen, for Farley “faith . . . is a way of having, living in, and responding to situations,” characterized in its particularly Christian form as “existence . . . in the mode of redemption” (Fragility, 137). It is always located in some concrete situation:
working in a factory, shopping, worshipping, attending a concert, living in a family. These situations are less amalgams of contents presented to our cognition than they are composite dimensions to be understood and interpreted. Dimensions here are aspects of a situation which differ from one another in genre or type. (135-36)
Faith is not itself “a discrete life situation but a way of being in life situations.” Nor does it replace the dimensions of any life situation. Rather, “faith brings new features to every situation . . . — new dimensions opened up by redemption itself and how it occurs” (137). These include a community (“ecclesia”) and its tradition (the total Christian mythos); the “imagery and vision of the goodness, fragility, corruption, and hope of the human condition under the transcendent (the gospel); and . . . a praxis oriented existence” (action).11
Farley is careful to stress that these dimensions introduced into every situation by faith “are not simply something ‘subjective,’ at the consciousness pole, although the emphasis is certainly on the believer.” All of them presuppose a “condition, reality, or reference of redemptive existence” that is objective (Fragility, 143-44). We might name that objective pole “God” or “Word of God.” However, this objective pole is never immediately available for study. We can hope to come to understand “It” only by way of study of what mediates “It” — namely, the Christian faith. Hence, the Christian faith within its various situations is “the most general subject matter, the content, of theological study” (144). But that does not yet dictate the structure of the course of study.
It is “the aims rather than the subject matter of theological study [that] provide the initial clues” (Fragility, 103; emphasis added) to the structure of its course of study, and it is those aims that provide its unity ( 173). These aims are dictated by what faith itself requires to be done to this subject matter: interpretation. Here is where we get to the structure of theological study. As we have seen, faith inherently drives itself from prereflective insightfulness to reflective insightfulness through a four-moment dialectical activity called theologia. Each moment of that dialectic turns on acts of interpretation. Different types of interpretation are called for by the different types or dimensions of faith’s situations, including the dimensions that faith itself introduces. Accordingly,
the aim of theological study is to discipline, or rigorize, the basic modes of interpretation that already exist in the situation of faith, and . . . these hermeneutic [i.e., interpretative] modes generate the requisites and criteria for the areas of study and the movement of study in the field.12
Farley proposes that the aim to discipline the basic modes of interpretation already present in faith’s “dialectical activity” — that is, theologia — provides a way both to restructure and to reunify the theological course of study on theological grounds rather than on grounds dictated by the present disarray in the academy. Farley suggests that analysis of the “dimensions” of faith-within-its-situations requiring interpretation will show that “five elemental types of interpretation” are called for (Fragility, 141). Three are brought into life situations by faith. They are the types of interpretation involved, respectively, in grasping or thematizing “the total Christian mythos” (interpreting the tradition), in assessing the truth of the vision conveyed by the mythos (interpreting the truth of the gospel), and in engaging in faith’s praxis (interpreting action). Because dimensions of faith are always interrelated in concrete actuality, these three types of interpretation are always “interrelationally copresent” (139). Two additional types of interpretation are syntheses of these three: the fourth “elemental” type of interpretation is the type required to interpret faith’s situation as such; the fifth is a “special instance” of the fourth (148) — namely, the type of interpretation needed to interpret a believers ” primary occupation” or vocation, which constitutes the believer’s own unique “enduring life situation” (141).
Each of these five “elemental types” of interpretation constitutes a “basic part of the structure of theological study.” If the aim is to discipline and rigorize each of them, then each requires two things: first, each requires “knowledge of the area of concern,” and second, each “makes use of whatever sciences and scholarly resources are necessary for the disciplining of that mode of interpretation” (Fragility, 173). This means that paideia toward theologia involves a movement back and forth, from attention to acquiring knowledge of a relevant area of concern to attention to disciplining the types of interpretation involved in acquiring that knowledge. 13
On the one hand, this requires what Farley calls “foundational studies . . . areas of knowledge and cognitive postures that the student needs in order to interpret tradition and action” (145). Though judgments about which particular areas fit this description will necessarily vary from school to school, Farley holds that three general areas of foundational studies are needed by any program of theological study: (1) the cultural context of religion and church; (2) philosophical understanding of the human condition; and (3) Christianity historically understood (cf. 144-47). Study of each of these areas needs to be rigorous and disciplined. Hence these foundational studies themselves appropriate relevant sciences and scholarly inquiries.
On the other hand, since each of these foundational studies involves sophisticated skill in the three types of interpretation appropriate to tradition, truth, and action, it is necessary to shift attention to the acts of interpretation themselves. In order to make students’ practice of interpretation more self-consciously disciplined, it is necessary to focus on the methods and presuppositions of relevant sciences and types of scholarship. Furthermore, on Farley’s analysis, when attention focuses on acts of interpretation themselves, it is also necessary to focus on ways in which the first three types of interpretation (of tradition, truth, and action) are synthesized to comprise the remaining two types (interpretation of the situation as such, and, as a special case of that, interpretation of vocation).14
Note how Farley’s proposal negotiates between “Athens” and “Berlin” as models of excellent schooling. Theological education is paideia aiming to cultivate a habitus. Like all paideia, it works indirectly by focusing study on a subject matter. In this case the subject matter is faith, and the study involves dialectical activity, central to which is the disciplining of acts of interpretation of the subject matter. Both the study of the several dimensions of the subject matter and the disciplining of interpretative skills must necessarily enlist various sciences and scholarly researches. That is, because the paideia aims at something (theologia) that not only has the character of habitus but also has the character of dialectical activity, it must embrace Wissenschaft. Because the Wissenschaft is in the service of the cultivation of a habitus, it is not done for its own sake. By being appropriated into paideia, Wissenschaft ceases to define theological schooling. Indeed, by being appropriated into paideia, Wissenschaft regains the possibility of its own reunification. As we saw, on Farley’s analysis Wissenschaft is inherently tragic, obliged to pursue knowledge by methods of abstraction that systematically distort its objects of knowledge. This distortion can only be overcome by the countermovement of synoptic perspectives that offer syntheses of the results of the several distinct abstractive “sciences.” Such perspectives have been marginalized in the modern academy. By being appropriated into the paideia aimed at theologia, however, Wissenschaft has one such synoptic perspective restored to it, and with it at least the possibility of a corrective to its own disarray.
Interpretation as the task of Church Leadership
Thus far Farley’s discussion has concerned the structure and unity of theological education as such, regardless of its matrix. The discussion applies to a theological school, but with a specific modification. The modification is dictated by the matrix of “church leadership.” Here there is a remarkable turn in Farley’s argument. Having forcefully exposed the “clergy paradigm” as a major cause of the fragmentation of theological education, and having vigorously rejected the notion that clergy functions should specify the purpose and structure of theological schooling, Farley still finds a way to acknowledge that church leadership may indeed shape theological education. This is possible because, on his analysis, church leadership and theologia intersect at the point of interpretation. The arguments of the two books converge to make this point.
In his book Theologia, Farley proposes that the central task of church leadership, lay or ordained, is “the mobilization of the ecclesial community . . . to theological understanding at the service of the believers’ ministries” (176). Incidentally, this is remarkably like H. Richard Niebuhr’s (neo-orthodox!) picture of the proximate goal of the minister as “pastoral director.” However, where Niebuhr characterized the ultimate goal of both leader and community as the increase of love of God and neighbor, Farley characterizes the ultimate goal as “redemption.” The ultimate purpose of the community is to be a “redemptive community.” Because the ecclesial community is a community of redemption, because believers’ ministries serve redemption, and because redemption occurs in connection “with the particular mythos and ‘gospel’ of that community” (176), interpretation of that gospel is essential to the church leader’s task of evoking, disciplining, and broadening believers’ theological understanding. Thus analysis of the task that is central to the matrix of church leadership can yield “criteria” for the aims of specifically clergy education (180): presumably it should discipline future leaders’ interpretive capacities in such a way that they are capacitated to empower other believers for their ministries.
In The Fragility of Knowledge Farley moves to the same conclusion through analysis of vocation as a dimension of faith-within-its-situation. One’s “vocation” is a special case of one’s “situation”; it is one’s “primary occupation.” For most people it is distinct from any “occupation” they might also have in church. However, for clergy “primary occupation” and “occupation in church” coincide. For them, the type of interpretation called for by vocation is identical with the type called for by church leadership. Hence it is not an arbitrary and extraneous imposition to introduce church leadership as a dimension of faith that is a subject of interpretation and a subordinate part of theological study.
The type of interpretation that needs to be disciplined here is a synthesis: “all of the elemental interpretive modes must collaborate in disciplining the reflective interpretations of the ordained leader and in developing the leader’s required skills” (Fragility, 161). This has a retroactive effect, as it were, on the entire movement of theological study. The type of interpretation demanded by this vocation requires a distinctive shaping of the foundational studies and a correlative disciplining of the other types of interpretation. It is not that additional foundational studies are called for or that other types of interpretation are needed. The task of church leadership determines neither the subject matter nor the unity of theological schooling; its power to fragment the course of study is neutralized. It requires only that the movement between foundational studies and the disciplining of various types of interpretation be synthesized in ways specifically appropriate to the task of church leadership.
Farley’s reformulation of paideia is as instructive as was Newman’s. His modifications of the paideia model are designed to give a structure to schooling that can appropriate the best of Wissenschaft and provide a built-in impetus to critique ideological distortion, to give a unity to schooling that can nonetheless be adequate to authentic pluralisms in both subject matter and student population, and to leave room for focus on the education of church leadership without ceasing to be genuinely theological schooling.
The relative modesty of Farley’s overall proposals about the structure of the theological course of study is clear, but it needs to be made explicit. Theological study must be “ordered learning,” whether it takes place in church, seminary, or department of religious studies (cf Fragility, chaps. 4 and 5). “The five hermeneutic modes [or ‘elemental types of interpretation’] do not enforce a specific curriculum…. They provide us with certain guiding criteria but do not dictate the structure of the study itself.” Indeed, Farley does “not think it is possible logically to derive a pedagogical structure from these requisites or criteria. The aims of a school’s program of studies always reflect the specific situation and context of the school. In addition, any subject matter will set requirements of pedagogy that do not flow simply from the aims of study” (143) — that is, from the disciplining of interpretation. He is not proposing the abandonment of the classic fourfold pattern to organize courses, for it “did embody something of the natural movement of theological study, from concern with ‘normative’ historical reality to concern with truth and practice. But the fourfold pattern is only a formal apparatus and can be a framework for very different approaches to theological study” (104).
Nor, emphatically, is he urging the abandonment of”disciplines.” To the contrary, he notes that his proposal might require the development of some new scholarly disciplines. In particular he mentions “the hermeneutic description of situations as such. If teaching in this area were developed, it would add a dimension to and perhaps redefine practical theology” (Fragility, 174-75). It is by this inclusion of the “disciplines,” old and new, that theological schooling on a revised paideia model must include Wissenschaft precisely in order to be excellent paideia. Furthermore, the inclusion of these sciences and scholarly inquiries guarantees that intrinsic to this paideia is the cultivation of the intellectual capacities needed in order to detect and critique ideological corruptions of the schooling. In that way the relative naiveté of Newman’s version of paideia is corrected. Rather than excluding disciplines, Farley’s proposal requires that the self-definitions of the disciplines used in a theological course of study not be permitted to define the divisions and overall structure of the course of study. Instead, he urges that the disciplines be organized “along lines that yield an understanding of the dimensions [in contrast to the historical epochs and subspecialties they generate] of the historical Christian faith” (174).
Further, his proposal requires that the movement of the course of study not be seen “as linear travel through the existing disciplines” (Fragility, 144). He does not even seem to want the movement between foundational studies and hermeneutical studies to be a linear movement.
This modesty about any claims concerning structures inherent in theological schooling is instructive. Instead of urging any overall structure and movement to a theological course of study, he seems finally to be urging a movement within all subunits of the curriculum, no matter in what sequence they come — a movement from implicit to explicit attention to acts of interpretation themselves, a movement toward self-consciously disciplined hermeneutic. That, after all, is what permits the study of any subject matter facilitated by some science or scholarly research to be truly “theological,” for “theological study is, in the broad sense of the word, hermeneutic study” (Fragility, 173).
Farley’s claims about the unity of a theological course of study are more robust. As for Newman, so here, the singularity of the aim of the course of study can unify the course of study no matter how diverse its subject matters or how various the disciplines it employs. The aim in this case is to discipline the elemental types of interpretation involved in faith’s dialectical activity, moving from unreflective insightfulness to critically reflective insightfulness. The unifying aim of this paideia is demanded by the very nature of theologia. It is an aim relative to a single subject matter, which is, properly speaking, faith-within-its-situation. Because faith has five quite different dimensions, the subject matter of paideia falls into several parts, each requiring a type of interpretation appropriate to it. Any one of these pedagogical areas in turn (such as biblical studies, for example) “may bring together several disciplines — distinguishable pedagogical, scholarly undertakings — yet may be unified by the aim to thematize and rigorize one of the modes of interpretation” (Fragility, 173).
What holds the variety of the pedagogical areas and the disciplines they appropriate together as an integral whole is the fact that they are rooted in the diversity of the dimensions of a single reality, faith. Precisely the same thing may allow this unity to be adequate to the plurality of types of social location of students. For this one reality, faith, is variously shaped in the various “situations” of believers as such, and the one dialectic of faith (theologia) is variously shaped by the different matrices in which it occurs. By this move Farley effectively avoids the peculiarly abstract picture of schooling that Newman gave and its blindness to the pluralizing effect of the actual internal power arrangement and external socioeconomic location of any school.
Since all of this is said of theological study regardless of its social setting, it must also be said of theological study in the particular matrix of church leadership — that is, theological study specifically in a theological school. The special requirements of the functions and tasks of church leadership provide neither the unifying aim nor the subject matter of this study. The education of church leadership, too, is paideia in theologia, the subject matter of which consists of the several dimensions of faith-within-its-situations, and the aim of which is to discipline the modes of interpretation required by each of those dimensions. However, one of those dimensions is vocation, and church leadership may be such a vocation. As a specialized vocation, church leadership calls for its own type of interpretation. That interpretation can yield criteria by which the paideia of church leaders may be shaped. Those criteria are not an alien and extraneous imposition on theological study; they are rooted in its own proper unifying aim to discipline its elemental modes of interpretation (in particular, interpretation of vocation). Thus the essential nature of the vocation of church leadership may properly shape a theological school’s course of study, as one matrix of theological study, without being the basis either of its proper subject matter or of its unity.
While there is much to be learned from Farley’s proposals about how to analyze and diagnose malaise in theological schooling, these proposals also yield some cautionary morals. Doubts about the internal coherence of the project begin to rise when one asks two questions about Farley’s description of theologia as a habitus: (1) Why is theologia both a habitus and a dialectical activity? and (2) Just how seriously does the proposal take the historicity of this habitus on which it verbally lays such stress? Two things are at stake here: the basis of unity in theological schooling and the thesis that there is a “structure” proper to a theological course of study just because it is theological.
Why is theologia both a habitus and a dialectical activity? One answer we have been given so far is largely strategic: if theology is going to be understood properly not as a body of theory about God to be applied to life situations but as wisdom in living, it needs to be understood as a disposition, a habitus; and if it is going to be understood as aware of its own plural settings and critical of the idolatrous and ideological distortions they introduce, it needs to be a dialectical activity made rigorous by appropriation of various types of Wissenschaft. Furthermore, habitus and dialectical activity need to be seen as two aspects of a single reality if the fragmentation of theological schooling is to be overcome. Its unity lies in its being ordered to a single goal, the cultivation of theologia; if that turns out to be two different things, the schooling has two goals and is fragmented again.
Have habitus and “dialectic” really been shown to be two aspects of a single integral reality? It is not at all clear that they have. Habitus and dialectical activity belong to two disparate rhetorics, each associated with a quite different view of human being. Habitus historically belongs with a classical view of human beings as both “characters” and “having character.” That is, we are “characters” filling socially defined roles who interact in complex ways in a public realm. In doing so, each enacts her own intentions in a manner shaped by her own “character” — that is, by certain settled dispositions or habitus to act thus. Recall that in ancient Athens’ picture of paideia, the central dispositions to be nurtured were moral virtues, dispositions to public bodily action of certain sorts; in Newman’s revision of paideia, the central disposition to be nurtured was an intellectual virtue, a disposition to engage publicly or privately in mental acts in a certain way — that is, with good judgment.
Dialectical activity, on the other hand, historically belongs to a modern view of human being as subjectivity or center of consciousness. Consciousness is always consciousness of something. That means that consciousness is always situated within a realm of objects of which it is aware. Moreover, it is always intersubjective — that is, it is constituted by its consciousness of other subjects. Consciousness of something always involves interpretation, and interpretations always employ some set of symbols or some language. Hence consciousness is always “mediated” by language and other symbols. Furthermore, consciousness may have any of several degrees of self-awareness in its mediated intersubjectivity and consciousness of an objective world, ranging from “unconsciousness” to rigorous self-scrutiny. Dialectical activity constitutes the most exquisitely and rigorously self-critical degree of awareness, facilitated by all available techniques of cultural analysis, social analysis, and psychoanalysis.15
In short, whereas a habitus is a disposition to do something, dialectical activity is a way of being self-aware. It may be that these two rhetorics can be synthesized. Has Farley shown that they can be synthesized? Or has he simply laid them side by side because, for other reasons, both need to be affirmed to theologia? If the latter is true, then both of them become goals of theological schooling, and the basis of that schooling’s unity in a single goal is lost.
Just how does Farley understand the relation between these two? This is not clear. An emblem of this unclarity is the striking fact that for all of his use of the term, Farley never says what theologia is a habitus for, what it disposes us to. Consider three possible ways in which habitus and dialectical activity might be related.
One pattern might be this: the dialectical activity results in shaping us with a habitus for wisdom. We saw that this pattern was suggested by the way in which Farley first introduced the distinction between them. We have also noted that the habitus and wisdom are frequently linked. In that case, the habitus is a disposition to be wise about self, neighbor, and world in relation to God. It is a disposition always to act wisely in these regards, whether in public or in private acts, in bodily or in mental acts. Interpreted in this way, Farley’s proposal presupposes a classical view of human beings as characters in roles and as having character. But if this is the pattern, it is confusing to identify theologia with both a process and a result. Better to restrict theologia to the habitus, and identify the dialectical activity with the paideia that evokes and nurtures the habitus.
But this won’t work. Thus far “wisdom” has remained a vague notion. However, no matter what wisdom’s precise meaning, there is no reason to believe that the dialectical activity that Farley analyzed in four steps or “moments” would yield a disposition to act wisely. What his analysis did show is that the dialectical activity constitutes a mode of consciousness that is critically very self-aware in interpreting things. This critically self-aware interpretive activity can be disciplined by appropriating various Wissenschaften. There is plenty of evidence, however, that persons whose consciousness has been disciplined to an exquisite level of critical self-awareness in interpretive activity are not necessarily thereby disposed to act wisely. Conversely, it is dubious that wisdom, on any definition, inherently involves this four-moment critical activity. If theologia is going to include awareness of pluralism and rigorous critique of idolatry and ideological distortion, it will have to be more than simply a habitus for wisdom whose paideia is the dialectical activity; it will also have to be characterized by dialectical activity itself. However, unless the two are somehow synthesized in theologia, it is simply a name arbitrarily assigned to two goals of paideia. And then the unity of theological schooling is threatened.
This suggests a second possible pattern: perhaps theologia as dialectical activity is what theological paideia aims to evoke and nurture, and the habitus is simply a disposition to engage in the dialectical activity. In that case dialectical activity is not the same thing as theological paideia (as in the first possible pattern of relationship between habitus and dialectical activity); rather, the dialectical activity is the goal of the paideia. That is to say that the goal of theological paideia is the cultivation of a particular mode of consciousness or inwardness. Interpreted in this way, Farley’s proposal presupposes a less classical, more modern view of human beings as centers of consciousness or “subjects.”
This interpretation is strongly suggested by the fact that Farley’s discussion of the movement and structure of theological study focuses exclusively on the four moments of the dialectic. The aim of theological paideia is repeatedly said to be the cultivation and disciplining of the types of interpretation that make up the moments of the dialectic. (There are five types of interpretation, but the fifth is simply a special case of the fourth, so the number of moments in dialectical activity reduces to four.) For its part, theologia as habitus is introduced to block the picture of theological schooling as a movement from theory to application: no, theologia is not a theory that could then be applied; it is a disposition to wisdom. Once that point is made, habitus effectively drops out of the discussion. Perhaps, then, the habitus is nothing but the disposition to engage in the dialectical activity. And what paideia aims at is both to cultivate this disposition in us and to evoke practice of the dialectical activity by us.
However, this pattern also will not work as a construal of Farley’s discussion. For according to this pattern, the stress on theologia as wisdom in regard to God is entirely lost. On this pattern, if the habitus is wisdom at all, it is wisdom in regard to, precisely, the four-moment dialectical activity; it is a disposition to engage in that dialectic at every opportunity. The dialectic, furthermore, is entirely formal. It is a matter of relentlessly testing theological notions for misplaced absolutes and probing for ideological distortions. It is a mode of consciousness, one way of being a subject. As dialectic it generates no normative content, no wisdom of its own. If the relation between habitus and dialectical activity were understood on this second pattern, theological schooling would indeed be unified by having a single goal (the dialectical activity); but it is hard to see what would be “theological” about it.
There is a third possible pattern, and it invokes a third term: perhaps theologia is both habitus and dialectical activity, not because either one entails or generates the other, but because both are rooted in something deeper, faith-within-its-situations. As we have seen, for Farley faith is a way of being in the world that is inherently cognitive. It is a kind of insightfulness or wisdom about self, neighbor, and world in relation to God that is evoked by Christianity’s distinctive bundle of symbols, myths, doctrines, and actions and that is always situated in some concrete social, cultural, and historical setting. Moreover, faith is a dynamic insightfillness. The dynamic consists of faith’s drive to turn its initially unreflective insightfulness into reflective insightfulness. Theological paideia is the way in which that transition is nurtured.
The very way in which faith is explained here seems to require a view of human being as center of consciousness, with faith being a possible type of consciousness and theologia being the name for that type of consciousness insofar as it has reached a particularly exquisite degree of self-awareness. Inasmuch as faith wisdom in an unreflective mode, theologia must be that same wisdom in a reflective mode — a habitus. Inasmuch as faith is evoked by, but is not the same as, the “total Christian mythos,” in becoming reflective it must be critically wary of confusing the culturally and historically conditioned elements of that mythos with wisdom concerning God. Furthermore, insofar as faith is always situated, in becoming reflective it must be critically wary of ways in which its cultural and historical situation may ideologically distort its wisdom concerning God. Hence, inasmuch as faith in its unreflectiveness is both culturally situated and evoked by a historical mythos, its reflective theologia must be rigorously and self-consciously self-critical. It must be a dialectical activity.
Faith thus seems to be a distinctive type of consciousness that always, in every time and place, has the selfsame structure; it is not to be confused either with that which evokes it (the Christian mythos) or with its situation. Faith’s structure is determinate enough to dictate a structure to theological study. Different aspects of its structure require that faith become reflective and that its reflective mode be, respectively, both a habitus and a dialectical activity. Habitus and dialectical activity are independent of each other. Dialectical activity doesn’t generate the habitus, as the first pattern had it. Nor is the habitus a disposition to engage in the dialectic, as the second pattern had it. Both characterize theologia only because each of them is required by a different aspect of underlying faith.
It isn’t clear that this third way of construing Farley’s proposal is coherent either. It looks as though the rhetoric that goes with a classical view of human beings as agents in a public realm has been subsumed within a rhetoric that goes with a more modern view of human beings as subjects, centers of consciousness. Habitus belongs with the first; “faith,” “critical reflectiveness,” and “dialectical activity” belong with the second. There is nothing inherently wrong with this mixing of rhetorics, of course. Philosophers and theologians have been doing it for centuries. When it is done, however, the new meaning of the concept taken out of its original conceptual home and employed in a new conceptual home needs to be clarified. In this discussion habitus finally remains murky. What is it a disposition precisely to do? Is habitus really coherent with “dialectical activity”? That isn’t clear.
What is at stake, of course, is the unity of theological schooling. Theologia is the goal that is supposed to unify the schooling. Theologia must be characterized as both habitus and dialectical activity, not because either implies the other, but because both are required by the essential structure of faith. However, since dialectical activity and habitus are independent of each other and since the notion of habitus is vague, the question arises whether they finally amount to two relatively independent goals of theological schooling, both required by faith, but whose congruence with each other is unclear. In that case, theological schooling may have two goals, and its unity is at risk.
Moreover, Farley’s way of negotiating between paideia and Wissenschaft as models of excellent schooling is jeopardized. Theologia requires paideia inasmuch as it is a habitus, and it requires Wissenschaft inasmuch as it is a dialectical activity. The compatibility of the two depends on the interrelatedness and coherence of habitus and dialectical activity. If they are quite independent of each other, and if it is unclear whether they really are congruent with one another, then it is unclear that they can synthesize paideia and Wissenschaft in the service of theologia.
The picture of faith as something that has a universal, perhaps essential, structure raises a second type of question about Farley’s project. Despite the considerable stress the proposal lays on the historicity and relativity of faith and its theologia and the paideia that nurtures that theologia, just how seriously does the proposal really take historicity?
There can be no doubt about Farley’s intent to stress the historical conditionedness and relativity of faith in its situatedness and to stress the implications of that for our understanding of theology and of theological schooling. Recall the evidence we have already seen.
In Theologia it is stressed that faith is “the way in which the human being lives in and toward God and the world under the impact of redemption” (156) and that it is always located in some concrete social and cultural situation that “varies from believer to believer, culture to culture, epoch to epoch” (157). Indeed, the theologia to which faith moves must have the character of a dialectical act precisely because faith’s various situations constantly threaten to corrupt it. The dialectic is faith is critical self-scrutiny to protect against that corruption. So too, the paideia through which faith moves to theologia has several different modes precisely because it is relative to the concrete social setting in which it takes place (the situation of the believer as such, or the role of church leadership, or the academy).
In The Fragility of Knowledge it is stressed that the very way in which we think about faith and theology and theological schooling underwent a sea change in the Enlightenment from which there is no turning back: “Enlightenment means a shift in … ways of knowing…. According to the new cognitive posture, everything that presents itself for understanding and inquiry is part of a larger system or process of relations and events, and cognition and understanding are enjoined to go as far as evidence permits in grasping things in their relations, backgrounds, and historical and natural causalities” (91). Consequently, for example, one cannot study “religion” by positing an unconditioned “religion behind the religions” (72). This means that there is neither an actuality nor an ideality that is an entity, an essence, a universal structure, or an archetype to be the referent of the term religion.
Farley characteristically refers to Christian faith as a particular type of religion. Somewhat confusingly, Farley does go on to add that one aim of religious studies is “to illumine religiousness itself, religion as an aspect of human existence” (Fragility, 73). (If there is no “religion as such,” can there be “religiousness as such”?) Whatever the difference may be between postulating an “essence” of religion and postulating “religiousness itself,” presumably the reasons for rejecting the idea of an essence of religion would also require us to reject the idea of an essence of one specific type of religion, say, Christian faith. These reasons are the “relationality,” the cultural and historical “relativity” of religious practices, myths and symbols, beliefs and institutions. Accordingly, the stress on historical and cultural conditionedness yields not only an acknowledgment but an insistence on the pluralism of Christian faith, of the theologia to which it moves, and of the paideia by which faith gets to theologia. However, if that insistence were taken with utmost seriousness, how could it be argued that there is a universal, situation-invariant structure to theological study? A structure of what, rooted in what?
Perhaps the answer lies in counterevidence that Farley’s proposal does not finally take historical and cultural relativism with utmost seriousness. To begin with, there is a striking one-sidedness in the picture of faith’s relationship to its situation. Consistently, the situation is presented as the source of possible corruptions of faith against which faith must protect itself by critical selfscrutiny. Never is the situation presented as positively constitutive of the concrete reality of faith. It is as though faith were a reality necessarily set into some situation, almost inescapably distorted by some features of the situation; but no features of the situation enter into faith’s constitution to make it precisely this concrete instance of faith. It is as though faith has a self-identity that somehow is more basic than and is privileged over its modifications by various situations.
This sense is reinforced by the way in which the theologia to which faith moves is consistently characterized as a habitus, one more or less determinate disposition. To be sure, theologia is said to come in different modes, each a modification imposed by a different matrix. The differences among these modes turn up, apparently, in theologia as “dialectical activity.” Each matrix imposes different concrete content to the four moments of the dialectic. One looks in vain, however, for ways in which different matrices modify theologia as habitus. Theologia seems to be one selfsame habitus in all matrices. But if faith is aptly described as “the way in which the human being lives in and toward God and the world under the impact of redemption” ( Theologia, 156), why should not faith’s theologia embrace a number of habitus, each a disposition to “live” in a different way “under the impact of redemption.” They would be different dispositions partly because redemption “impacts” us in complex ways evoking a range of dispositions, and partly because what counts as the dispositions for living appropriately “under the impact of redemption” varies concretely from situation to situation. If historical and cultural relativity were taken with deep seriousness, theologia as habitus would be relativized and plural. Instead, it appears to be the case that while the historicity and pluralism of theologia may be acknowledged at one level, underneath it theologia as habitus universally maintains a single invariant self-identity.
Similarly, for all the announced irreversibility of the Enlightenment’s discovery of the conditionedness and relativity of all “realities,” the study of theology is said to have a single invariant “structure.” Theological study has five areas, which are dictated by the structure of the study’s object, faith-within-its-situations. That object is said to be a reality with five “dimensions,” each of which can be abstracted from the concrete whole and attended to by one of the areas of theological study. The general thrust of the argument is clear: Although its historicity means that the actual material content of theological study may vary from culture to culture and from epoch to epoch, the formal structure of theological study is universal and invariant because its object, faith-within-its-situations, has a structure that is universal and unmodified by its historical and cultural settings. A self-identical reality seems to be posited underlying all historical and cultural relativities in theological study.
Moreover, in this case it is clearer what gives faith and theological study (and perhaps habitus, too?) their invariant, universal self-identity. It is a structure. The phrase “self-identity through diverse situations” simply points to a reality; it does not entail any particular theory about why the reality is the way it is. However, the claim that theological study has a structure and that it is grounded in the structure of the object of that study — namely, faith-within-its-situations — does seem to entail a theory about the self-identity-through-change of faith, theological study, and so forth: the self-identity is rooted in a structure that is not itself conditioned by or relative to culture or history.
What sort of structure is this? Perhaps the answer is suggested by Farley’s apparently odd remark that while there is no such thing as an “essence” of religion, there is such a thing as “religiousness itself” He goes on to characterize it as “religion as an aspect of human existence” (Fragility, 72-73). Elsewhere in The Fragility of Knowledge he takes up the same theme:
The personal-individual aspect of religion (of religiousness) originates in the strange way in which the human being is self-conscious about its own deepest problem and situatedness. The human being exists in the world . . . in self-conscious anxiety about the meaning of its experience and destiny. Its most fundamental striving or desires . . . move past or through its worldly environment and thus occur on an infinite horizon. When the human being responds to what it construes that infinite horizon to be (God, Atman, nature, being, sacred powers), this anthropological structure generates religiousness or piety. (61-62; emphasis added)
The structure in question is a structure of “human being” or “human existence.” More exactly, it is rooted in the structure of human consciousness and self-consciousness. Within this structure, the content of consciousness is culturally conditioned and historically thoroughly relative. Indeed, it may be this very structure that makes it possible for us to “transcend” that historicity enough to be conscious of it. However, apparently this structure is not itself culturally and historically relative. This is, of course, that more modern view of human being we noted earlier, to whose rhetoric belong such terms as dialectical activity and critical reflectiveness, and to which habitus is an alien term. The structure of consciousness is universal in human consciousness, self-identical and invariant.16 This structure is not to be confused with the `’essence” in which, as we saw, Newman roots the unity of a university’s course of study. Newman grounded the unity of schooling in the universal and invariant structure of reason objectively considered. It was a cosmic principle, the principle of order and intelligibility of all that is insofar as it is real. By contrast, the structure on which Farley grounds the self-identity of “religiousness itself’ is the structure, not of reason as such, but of distinctively human consciousness; it is the structure not of the cosmos but of subjects.
Now Christian faith is, for Farley, a specific type of religiousness. This explains the type of self-identity he ascribes to faith and the sort of unity he seeks for theological schooling, but it threatens his proposal’s capacity to acknowledge and cope with deep, irreducible pluralism in theological schooling. As a type of religiousness, faith has a structure rooted in the structure of human consciousness. Since the structure of consciousness is ahistorical, so the structure of faith will be self-identical through all cultural and historical changes. So too, the underlying self-identity of theologia as habitus and of theological study are rooted in the same structure. By the same token, pluralism in theological schooling must be viewed as reducible to modifications on a basic theme rather than as finally in some way irreducible.
I suggested earlier that Farley’s proposals seem to ascribe to the “Christian thing” the type of unity that belongs to a distinctive way of being “set” into the world and the distinctive perspectives on the world that that affords. And we have seen repeatedly that he stresses the reality of pluralism in theological schooling, both a pluralism of construals of the “Christian thing” and a pluralism of socioeconomic worlds from which students come and into which they go. Left at that, there would seem to be no tension between the affirmation of pluralism in theological schooling and Farley’s proposal about how to regain unity in theological schooling.
If, however, the unity of faith as a way of being “set” into the world is ultimately grounded in the ahistorical structure of consciousness of the subject who is “set” into the world, then pluralism must be looked at in a particular way. Now the pluralism of construals of the Christian faith cannot be seen, radically, as fundamentally different if overlapping construals. Rather, this pluralism must be seen as modifications of a single invariant structure — a structure, furthermore, that we can locate and describe. And a pluralism of social worlds must be seen as a series of variations on a single underlying theme, the structure of human consciousness as such. This has the advantage that it gives some precision to the concept of pluralism, which more often than not is used with stupefying vagueness. It leaves one wondering, however, whether it does justice to the depth of the historicity of social “reality,” including the “Christian thing.”
Pluralism with Unity in Accord with “Athens”: The Mud Flower Collective
If we focus on the realities of cultural pluralism as we analyze what is wrong with theological schooling and ask what is theological about it, we get a very different picture of the enterprise. I noted at the beginning of this chapter that in addition to discussions like Farley’s of issues raised by the loss of unity in theological schooling, the current conversation also includes discussion of issues raised by the realities of cultural pluralism both within and outside theological schooling. If the first type of discussion suggests that theological schooling is fragmented because it is inadequate to the ideal unity of its subject matter (e.g., for Farley, “faith-within-its-situations”), the second type of discussion suggests that theological schooling is inadequate to the reality of plural construals of the “Christian thing” and to the reality of cultural pluralism, both within theological schools and in the world into which their graduates go to offer churchly leadership.
The most elaborated instance of the second type of discussion is the Mud Flower Collective’s God’s Fierce Whimsy. The Collective consisted of seven theological educators: Katie G. Cannon, Beverly W. Harrison, Carter Heyward, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, Bess B. Johnson, Mary D. Pellauer, and Nancy D. Richardson. The members of this group of women themselves differed in regard to race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality. They were all “based professionally in the Northeast” in association with schools that are “commonly held to be on the progressive edge of liberal Protestant thought and practice” and therefore were very conscious of not being able to speak “universally about women’s experiences in Christian seminaries.”17 Nonetheless, they did regard themselves as “a typical theological body, representative of all theological educators and students” with respect to the ways in which as a body they were “fragmented by the diversity of our cultures, our experiences, and our commitments” (63).
Several features of this book are striking: its clarity about the limits of its goals, its remarkable integrity, and its candor. The Collective was clear from the outset that the book was intended to pioneer a new way of discussing theological schooling and so could hope to be “only a starting point, a spring board into further discussion” (203).
The book’s integrity has to do with that “new way” of discussing theological schooling theologically. For reasons we shall explore, the Collective was committed to the view that theology must be done as concretely as possible. The way to do that, in their view, is to keep it as closely tied as possible to persons’ lives and experience. In this case, it is tied to the lives of the Collective’s members and to their experience in working together. They determined that this book must not only commend such a method but must also be an instance of it — that it must not only “say it” but also “show it.” That determined the movement and style of the book. It has far less abstract expository writing and far more concrete writing — in the form of dialogue, letters, poetry, and ritual language — than theological books usually do. Together, they re-present to the reader the movement and structure of the Collective’s experience in working its way to theological insight about theological schooling. That gives the book a remarkable integrity that commands respect.
That integrity leads to candor about the tensions the members of the Collective experienced in their work together and about the limits of the outcome of their work. Among the limits, they expressly acknowledge not having adequately come to terms with racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, motherhood, and the nature of writing and language (cf 197-202). The candor about tensions intersects with candor about limits. “Yet we confess that we are puzzled, even as our ‘product’ goes to press, about what the concrete implications of Mud Flower’s relational difficulties may be for theological education” (202). The intersection is important because it underscores this: if we stress that theological schooling must be adequate to theological and cultural pluralisms that cannot be reduced to variations on themes, then we must insist that a theological school embrace conflicts that we know in advance may not be resolved by the applications of any body of theory.
On the Collective’s analysis, theological schooling is currently inadequate to the irreducible pluralism of types of human experience defined by race, class, and gender. In particular, the Collective stresses the effects of the exclusion of women’s experience: “Christian seminaries are in serious trouble, having failed, by and large, to appropriate either the meaning and value of women’s lives or the intellectual/professional offering of women and men who bring a feminist commitment to theological education” (145). They make it clear throughout the book that “women’s experience” is itself no one thing but rather is pluralized by race, ethnicity, and class.
This diagnosis has a conceptual corollary that is a major thesis of the book. Theological schooling’s inadequacy to genuine pluralism correlates with its reliance on what we might call “misplaced universalizing.” The standard way to do theology
is to assess the nature and character of universals, to sweep with broad strokes the particularities of personal and specific events; to bypass the nitty-gritty pains and problems, whims and fantasies, of the common folk in an effort to direct us away from ourselves toward that which cannot be known in human experience. (64)
It will not do to object to this by saying that it assumes simplistic and incoherent views of knowledge and of language according to which all we can know or speak about are concrete particulars, for the Collective assumes no such thing. To the contrary, they universalize often, never more vigorously than when polemicizing against the hegemony of “white male experience.” That certainly looks like a universal. It can be debated whether there actually is such a thing as white male experience. It can be debated whether the universalizing method described above is caused by white male theologians regarding “only their own experience as normative in making Christian doctrine” and insisting that everybody else do the same (64; cf. 44), or whether there are other causes. But it can hardly be debated that the phrase names a “universal.” And the Collective need not be read as polemicizing against “universalizing” as such. They do not advocate a “theory” on this subject. Rather, the Collective is objecting to theologians “universalizing” in the wrong place — namely, in trying to understand what God is and how to know God, and in making claims about what human being is and how we know.
The key to correcting theological schooling’s inadequacy to genuine pluralism lies in making it properly theological. And the key to making it properly theological lies, according to the Collective, in doing theology in a fashion “that is foundationally oriented toward justice and that is relational in character. To do theology ourselves we must begin with our experience of ourselves in relation” (141). This is to be done in a collaboration that includes a diversity of cultures, in accountability to very particular people — “black and Hispanic women and those white women who are struggling against racial, sexual, and economic injustice” who are committed to transforming theological schooling so that their needs and interests “are realized as basic to the methods and content of the enterprise,” by “beginning with our own lives-in-relation. We believe that this is where all research, teaching and learning should begin” (24; cf. 23-27).
The way to do this concretely in theology is to begin with the stories of the persons engaged in this collaborative enterprise: “If there is anything worth calling theology, it is listening to people’s stories” (134; cf. 209). There are at least three reasons for doing this. The first reason is that such listening allows theological reflection to focus on relationships. The basic theological convictions are (1) that God is known as God is experienced and (2) that God is experienced in relationships. People vary a great deal regarding the types of relationship in which God is experienced. If we attend especially to the imagery people use in telling their stories, we may identify which types of relationship have been the occasion for experience of God that shaped their understanding of God. The Collective does not develop this point theoretically. Instead, it devotes a chapter to sections of the stories each member told of her own life, and the reader sees the point emerging from the stories: God is experienced as present or as absent in relationships with a mother or a father; in relationships, both positive and negative, with persons who are ethnically or racially “other”; in relationships with fellow activists in a movement seeking justice.
A second reason for beginning theological reflection with people’s stories is that this quickly exhibits ways in which those lives have been victimized by injustice. We need not fear that to begin theology by hearing people’s stories is to privatize theology, focusing it primarily on persons’ subjectivities or interior lives. To the contrary, “the personal is political” (156). Persons’ stories quickly exhibit the need “to be the subject of our own stories.” Indeed, the need for that is “one of the few things” the Collective is “confident in speaking of as a universal” (99). Persons’ stories also quickly exhibit ways in which that need is systematically thwarted by “structures of evil,” arrangements of power that unjustly privilege some at the expense of others. Furthermore, as they are heard by others in a collaborative undertaking, people’s stories may exhibit ways in which they are complicit in those unjust power arrangements, helping — however unintentionally and unconsciously — to deform others’ efforts to be the subjects of their own lives (89). The ways in which persons are subject to and complicit in these structures of evil are highly particular and can be seen in their diversity only by attending to their differing stories. Thus to begin theology by hearing other people’s stories not only keeps theology “relational in character” but also keeps it “foundationally oriented toward justice.”
The third reason for beginning theological reflection with people’s stories is that this keeps the focus on relationality and on justice as concrete as possible. Stories, of course, are highly concrete forms of communication. The images in the stories on which we are especially to focus are also concrete. The fact that the stories can be told and heard in a collaborative setting that includes cultural diversity means that the stories overlap enough to be understood across lines of “otherness” that divide the listeners. They are publicly intelligible. The fact that the stories are concretely diverse will block premature and misplaced universalizing about “common human experience,” “faith,” and “human nature” as ways to explain their public character. This generates a new set of criteria of adequacy for theology. Theological work has been understood
to proceed in deductive or analytic modes of thought; the primary value of theological reflection to the reader or student appears to be clarity, coherence, precision, universalizability of abstraction, and order. Theological adequacy is measured by these characteristics and also by conformity to one’s theological tradition. These criteria have their place, but when enabling people to do theology in a constructive fashion is a genuine concern [as it presumably is in a theological school], such criteria must be understood as, at best, provisional, and as subsidiary to other values. (l 57-58; cf. 91)
The concreteness advocated for theological work here dictates a different set of criteria of adequacy for theology: “perceptiveness, insight, depth and breadth of critical illumination, and respect for the diversity of experiences of persons in different social locations” (158).
If this is how “doing theology” is best understood, then this has implications for theological education that aims at enabling people to do theology constructively. There is an instructive, if formal, parallel here with Farley’s project: for Farley, if you want to overcome theological education’s fragmentation you must get straight what “theology” is; for the Mud Flower Collective, if you want to overcome theological education’s inadequacy to genuine pluralism you must likewise get straight what “theology” is. Both, furthermore, lead to the adoption of a variation of “Athens” as a type of excellent education. For the Mud Flower Collective, too, theological education shapes persons as persons (cf. 142). It aims to bring them, as did the Collective’s own common experience, to greater self-knowledge, including (in excellent Socratic fashion) consciousness of ignorance.18 In particular, theological education should shape people so that they are capable of being the subjects of their own lives, lives whose relationships may be occasions to experience and understand God and whose praxis is oriented toward establishing justice. Since God cannot be understood directly, this theological paideia, like all others, accomplishes its goals indirectly — in this case by focusing on people’s stories and the relationships recounted in them. Furthermore, as has always been the case when theological education has the character of paideia, this paideia creates a specific social space, for “community grows in our acting together on behalf of our common need to be taken seriously as the subjects of our own lives…. In the biblical tradition, this solidarity is called love” (100). However, in important respects the Collective’s version of paideia differs profoundly from both Newman’s and Farley’s. The difference lies in the Collective’s deep skepticism regarding claims about the universal essence of “human nature” or “reason” or “Christian faith.” This has particularly instructive consequences for a picture of theological education.
For one thing, this type of paideia requires a community that is inclusive of genuine diversity-in-unity. The Collective seems mostly to assume the unity. Although the book makes almost no reference to it, the ground of that unity would appear to be the fact that what all participants experience in their particular and disparate relationships is God. The diversity comes from the fact that different types of experience, different groups of experiencers, are rooted in different social, economic, and political locations. That means that differences in types of experience of God are irreducible to some common denominator such as “the structure of human consciousness.” They are not mere variations on a theme, although they may overlap in varying ways, allowing mutual understanding and public communication. The mark of their being “genuinely” pluralistic is this irreducibility.
The Collective’s stress on inclusiveness is emphatic. They characterize their discussion of theological schooling as “feminist” theology for two reasons. One, of course, is their own commitment to the particular experience of women. The other is their desire “to call theological educators to a professional mandate: to examine how power is experienced in human life and how it is structured in the methods and content of what is taught and learned in seminaries” (13). They are emphatic, however, that they do not exclude men, even white men, or their experience. Only one thing may be excluded: “There is no room in theological education for refusal to engage in dialogue, for closed minds, for shut-down hearts. There is no room for indifference to human well being” (152). Accordingly, one mark of excellence in theological schooling is that its paideia takes place in a community inclusive `’in its faculty and student body” of “increasing numbers of women of different racial/ethnic groups as well as racial/ethnic men” (153).
The inclusiveness required by the paideia of excellent theological schooling, on this model, leads to a second instructive implication for the nature of theological education. The fact that the different groups of persons making up a genuine pluralism have different social locations means that they are differentiated in large part by their varying degrees of social, economic, and political power. The differences among them are not only differences in types of experience of God; they are also differences in experiences of justice. In the view of the Collective this makes justice issues central in theological schooling. In its final summary of the implications of its discussions for theological schooling, the Collective begins with this assertion: “The fundamental goal of theological education must be the doing of justice” (204).
Does this mean that justice issues have displaced God, or “the intellectual love of God” (H. Richard Niebuhr), or “faith’s prereflective insightfulness under the impact of redemption” (Farley) as the overarching goal of theological education? Possibly, but probably not. The Collective’s point seems rather to be that concern for justice lies at the heart of an intellectual love of God and neighbor, at the heart of faith’s situation-within-the-world. Justice issues are not merely an implication of love of God and neighbor. They are not merely a corrective of ideological distortions of faith’s insightfulness. They are the heart of the matter. The argument might go like this: If relationship with God (love of God; faith’s insightfulness) is experienced in personal relationships, then care of the former mandates care of the latter. And if personal relationships are relationships between persons with different social power, then care for the former mandates concern about the justice of the latter. Therefore care for people’s experience of God mandates above all attention to justice issues. This bears on a theological school in two ways. On the one hand, it means that no schooling or research may be done that is indifferent to the issues of justice it raises (cf. 204). On the other hand, it means that the school as a whole must devise mechanisms by which the power arrangements within its common life are kept under critical review regarding their justice (cf 12).
A third implication regarding excellence in theological education is that there is no single ideal structure to the course of study in such a school, and certainly no one best curriculum. Negatively it can be claimed that to date the experience and social location of one group (relatively affluent white males) has exercised hegemony over theological schooling. As one of the members of the Collective wrote in a letter, “Those in power tend to render things ‘universal’ in a cloning fashion or else tend to define their worth, value and quality out of existence by assessing them as liabilities and inferior” (44). The Collective’s summary of the implications of its conversations for theological schools’ curricula is that this hegemony of one group’s experience must stop. Hence “cultural pluralism is critical in the attempt to examine the value of what is taught and what is learned” (204).
Positively, however, each school must work out the structure of its course of study in the light of its particular purposes, particular history, and present situation. The only universal constraint is that it involve a community inclusive of genuine pluralism and that its central goal be justice. This too is instructive. If a theological education’s adequacy to “genuine” (i.e., irreducible) pluralism rules out postulation of some one universal, ahistorical, “essential” structure to “human nature” or “reason” or “human consciousness,” then by the same token there is nothing to dictate a universal, ahistorical structure to theological study or to a theological school’s course of study.
A final consequence of this version of paideia for theological education has to do with its unity. Theological education adequate to “genuine” pluralism will have a type of unity that not only expects but invites internal tension and conflict. This is an inescapable corollary of adequacy to deep pluralism both within a school and within the school’s host society. The Collective made this the central point of their concluding recapitulation of their analysis:
Real education and spiritual growth occur only where it is impossible to avoid the conflicts and tensions that rend our world and the lives of each of us. The difficulties we have encountered in probing our brokenness, even in spite of existing bonds of trust, should stand as a sobering reminder of the meaning of what we propose. (203)
Tension rather than harmony is the sign of health in theological education on this view. Indeed, prolonged harmony would be an early warning signal that something is amiss.
It is not that on this model of excellence in theological schooling unity is a matter of indifference. No institutionalized enterprise could survive indifference to unity. Rather, the type of unity it envisions is quite different from that assumed in classical paideia.
Classical paideia and the versions of it we have seen in Newman and Farley all ground their unity in a goal to nurture or cultivate something that has a universal structure (“human nature,” “reason,” theologia). The internal coherence of that structure guarantees that the schooling itself will be harmonious in principle. That does not rule out conflicts generated by differences of opinion and clashes of personality. However, it does promise to contain those conflicts and to provide a resolution of them through the thoughtful application of underlying principles universal to all. The fact that the unifying goal of these versions of paideia has a structure that is universal means that it is also “transcendental.” That is, it is not itself ever located in any one particular concrete reality. The structure is not the sort of thing that could ever itself be a (relatively powerful) contestant in conflicts and clashes. Rather, it is the context that is necessary for the very possibility for opinions to conflict and personalities to clash. It defines the field of combat and “transcends” them all.
The version of paideia adopted by the Mud Flower Collective, however, entails a rejection of any such postulated structure. On their proposal, to be sure, theological schooling’s unity is rooted in a goal: the goal of shaping persons so that they may become the subjects of their own lives, capable of experiencing God in and through their relationships. But that goal may not be said to have a universal structure. “Personal lives” and “experiences of God” are concrete and particular. They doubtless overlap in various ways, or they could not be publicly understood. However, the goal of theological paideia can be characterized adequately without commitment to any claim about some one structure shaped universally among them all. These lives are each a center of power. They have various social locations and belong to various groups of persons, each of which is itself a center of social, economic, and political power. They are a pluralism of powers. Insofar as that power is distributed unjustly, there will be conflict among them.
Thus, insofar as persons’ experiences are shaped by different social locations, differences among them regarding experience of God in particular will generate tension. Without any structure universal to all these groups, there is no “transcendental” framework to contain tensions and promise ultimate resolution of conflicts. What then will hold this pluralism together as a diversity-in-unity? For the Mud Flower Collective, in theological schooling the diversity will be held together, it seems, by a commitment to the pluralism that is freely embraced by all parties. lt. is a commitment to a method: to listen and to speak to one another precisely as powers genuinely other than one another. Theological controversy is no longer guaranteed any ultimate resolution by virtue of the coherence of the transcendental structure of the controversy’s subject matter. Theological education can no longer be guaranteed a structure rooted in a universal structure that transcends the powers that conflict as actual people actually engage in inquiry. Theory as theological reflection and praxis as engagement in tensions and conflict among centers of power can no longer be supposed to be separable. Rather, theological reflection consists of plural centers of power genuinely listening and speaking to one another as “other.” Such theological education would ideally have the unity of a vigorous ongoing, multi-party, tension-ridden conversation, not the unity of a harmonious structure.
The instructive consequences of this type of excellent theological education bring their own worrisome features. Two in particular grow out of what the Collective did not discuss, and a third grows out of things they did write. The first of these concerns has to do with what the word God means in this discussion, and it raises questions about the relationship between language and experience. As we have seen, the Mud Flower Collective’s proposal lays a great deal of weight on the conviction that women commonly experience God in relationships, a claim that is more assumed than argued. One does not need to be committed to a strong view of God’s transcendence over us and our lives to feel the need in some way to distinguish between experience of God and experience of a relationship. Otherwise “God” and “experience of God” begin to look like alternative names for “relationship” and “experience of a relationship.” Although it is clear that the Collective has no interest in “reducing” God to human relationships, what is needed is precisely one of the things that they acknowledge is missing in this book: sustained reflection on religious and theological language.
Providing that reflection would seem to involve taking stands on controversial theoretical issues about how language works so as to be intelligible. In particular it would involve taking a stand on the controversial question of whether concepts emerge out of prereflective experience or whether all experience, including prereflective experience, involves something like concepts. Here the question would take this form: Do people prereflectively experience God in their relationships and then subsequently find more or less adequate ways to express it conceptually? Or are the experiences they have of God shaped from the outset by the culturally and historically conditioned concepts they bring to the experiences? If the former is the case, then we can take people’s stories about relationships in which they experience God straightforwardly. If the latter is the case, however, then we may not be able to treat those stories as innocent starting points for doing theology; we may need to subject even those stories to critical assessment of possible ideological and idolatrous distortions imposed by their cultural and historical relativity. Clearly, what is at stake here is the methodology that this proposal argues makes theology properly theological: starting with people’s stories about their lives.
A second concern has to do with the picture of paideia as inclusive, collaborative conversation. Does it include adequate grounds for self-critique? It is precisely the proposal’s stress on historically and culturally relative pluralism that underscores the importance of this question. Such relativity, we have seen, leads groups to use religiously sanctioned ideas and values to obscure and rationalize their own unjust privileges, and it leads them to idolatrous confusion of commitment to partial insights with commitments to ultimate truth. In a theological education that is adequate to genuine pluralism precisely because it includes the pluralism in an ongoing conversation, what are the bases of critique of the ideology and idolatry that each group may bring into the conversation? To be sure, each group can be counted on to raise critical questions about the perspectives and commitments of the other, but is that sufficient? Idols conversationally added together do not necessarily overcome each other’s partiality, nor do they cumulatively tend to approximate ultimate truth. One ideology is not necessarily a good critique of another; more than difference of view is required for critique.
This question brings into bold relief the striking absence in this proposal of two things that could serve as additional bases for critique: the “Christian thing” and Wissenschaft. The proposal is strikingly silent about any construal of the “Christian thing” or, in Farley’s phrase, the “total Christian mythos.” Yet that mythos has often served as the basis of stringent critique of idolatries. The absence of reflection on possible roles for Wissenschaft in this paideia is also remarkable. It is not that the Collective polemically rejects rigorous and disciplined research. To the contrary, they insist that research as it is currently practiced must be reformed, not abandoned. However, they do not develop the point. Nor do they explore how a properly reformed Wissenschaft should be incorporated into the paideia they envision. They do not explicitly negotiate between Athens and Berlin. Yet Wissenschaft has frequently been the basis for rigorous critique of ideological distortions.
The third concern regarding this proposal arises from its deep skepticism concerning universal claims about the essence of “human nature” or “reason.” The worry is this: Can such suspicion be held consistently? If not, is the proposal in danger of a deep internal incoherence? We have noted two important turns in the Collective’s argument in which they themselves make or seem to make just such universal claims, once explicitly and once implicitly. The explicit claim is that as persons we “need to be the subjects of our own stories,” a claim that is “one of the few things” they are “confident in speaking of as a universal” (99). Why do we have that need? And on what basis is the Collective confident of its universality? That “need,” if the reasons for it and the implications of it were elaborated, would seem to entail a full-blown view of human nature that is as universally attributable to human beings as is the “need” from which it was elaborated.
A closely related issue is implicit in the Collective’s claim that theology properly done must be “foundationally oriented toward justice and . . . [must be] relational in character” (141). We have seen that the reasons for stress on relationality lie in views about the tie between experience and knowledge of God. Where, however, do the reasons lie for making an orientation to justice “foundational”? What view of justice is at play here? More particularly (given that the question we are exploring concerns the coherence of this proposal), can the idea of justice be elaborated without drawing on some view of human nature and some view of reason that are claimed to be universal? Indeed, does the concept of justice used here rest on the concept about (universal!) human nature that makes us all “need” to be the “subjects of our own lives”? Can this entire proposal be elaborated coherently if some such moves are not made? Clearly, asking these questions in no way entails that the answer to them is necessarily “no.” However, concerns about the very possibility of making a coherent case for this sort of modification of the “Athens” type of excellent theological education can be put to rest only by devising ways to deal with such questions.
* * *
In this chapter we have examined two very different proposals about the nature and purpose of excellent theological education, each of which is tied to a significantly different understanding of the nature and purpose of theology. For Farley, theology is faith’s inherent insightfulness or wisdom brought to a high level of self-conscious critical reflection. For the Mud Flower Collective, theology is critical reflection on the narrative of persons’ lives that attends to the concrete particularity of different persons’ experiences of God and to the ways in which those same lives have been victimized by injustice.
Both proposals adopt the “Athens” model of excellent theological education. Each negotiates with “Berlin” on the home ground of “Athens,” but with difficulty. One of the problems we have seen in the “Athens” type of excellent education, in all of its forms — its classical form in the ancient world, its form in the history of Christianity, and the form Newman gave it — is its failure to provide adequate bases for critique of ideological and idolatrous distortions of human understanding. Both the Collective’s proposal and Farley suggest that this could be corrected by incorporating into the “Athens” type the “Berlin” type’s stress on Wissenschaft. However, for all of the Collective’s stress on the centrality of ideology critique in theological education, its proposal did not develop its way of negotiating with “Berlin” far enough for it to be clear how the academic disciplines would function within theological education conceived in a modified “Athens” way. Farley, by contrast, did develop a suggestion about how the academic disciplines might be included in theological education conceived on a modified “Athens” model. However, it was not clear that the way in which education conformed to “Athens” (education as paideia leading to habitus) in Farley’s proposal is coherent with the way in which it was to conform to “Berlin” (education as a “dialectical activity”).
Each proposal addresses a different basic issue in theological education, and does so in a way that undercuts the other’s address to its chosen issue. The presupposition of Farley’s solution for the unity and fragmentation issue in theological education is his view of the nature and purpose of theology. He proposes to ground the unity of theological education in the inherent unity of theologia whose unity is itself grounded in the universally self-identical character of faith. In turn, faith’s self-identity across lines of cultural and historical epoch is itself apparently to be explained by a view of the universal structure of persons’ consciousness. The Mud Flower Collective proposes that theological education can never be made adequate to the deep pluralism in the ways in which God is experienced and known if the nature and purpose of education are premised on an underlying “universal” essence or structure, either in Christian faith or in human beings.
From the Collective’s perspective it looks as though proposals about what makes theological education theological that are based, like Farley’s, on such “universals” are inherently incapable of taking pluralism with full seriousness. The presupposition of the Collective’s resolution of the pluralism issue in theological education is their view of the nature and purposes of theology, which rejects universalizing talk about “human being” and stresses attention to the concrete particularity of individual persons’ life stories. From Farley’s perspective it looks as though proposals grounded in that way are incapable of fully coherent formulation because they seem to require, and perhaps tacitly even trade on, the very sort of “universal” claim about human being that they reject. Thus what seems to underlie the differences between the ways in which these proposals address their respective central issues is a deeper difference about how to think about “human being” — that is, deep differences in philosophical anthropology.
Obviously, the questions we have raised about each of these proposals are not beyond answer; the difficulties have not been shown to be beyond conceptual repair. Advocates of either position can be expected to develop and refine it. What is of continuing importance are the deep and perhaps permanent lines of tension between these two sorts of proposal about what makes theological education theological. Of particular importance, as we have seen, are the tensions created by different pictures of theology and the consequences those different pictures of theology have for various matters: for the effort to address effectively both the “unity” issue and the “pluralism” issue; for the effort to negotiate in a coherent fashion between “Athens” and “Berlin”; and for the effort to specify in a consistent way what makes theological education theological.
1. Cf. David H. Kelsey and Barbara G. Wheeler, “Mind-Reading: Notes on the Basic Issues Program,” Theological Education 20, 2 (Spring 1984): 8-14; David H. Kelsey, “Reflections on Convocation ‘84: Issues in Theological Education,” Theological Education 21,2 (Spring 1985): 116-31.
2. Farley, Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), and The Fragility of Knowledge: Theological Education in the Church and the University (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988).
3. Gods Fierce Whimsy (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1985).
4. Hough and Cobb, Christian Identity and Theological Education (Chico: Scholars Press, 1985).
5. Stackhouse, Apologia: Contextualization, Globolization, and Mission in Theological Education (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1988).
6. Wood, Vision and Discernment (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985).
7. Farley, Fragility p. 31; subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.
8. Farley develops this theme in the first three chapters of Fragility.
9. Farley, Theologia, p. 151; subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.
10. Farley, Theologia, p. 156; cf. Fragility, pp. 137-38, for amplification.
11. Farley, Fragility, pp. 137-38.
12. Farley, Fragility, p. 171. Here it is worth noting some technical distinctions Farley draws among “pedagogical areas,” “sciences,” “specialty fields,” and “perspectival emphases” (cf. Fragility, pp. 33-35, 109). Pedagogical areas are defined by the aims of teaching. Each one is a subject matter located within a larger arrangement of other subject matters, the whole of which is structured in a way that reflects the aims of teaching. Examples would be “cooking, auto mechanics, and reading.”
Sciences are defined by their objects and their methods of research. The “objects” are selected because they are problematic, the methods because they are appropriate to the sorts of problems the objects present. Sciences are not defined by the aims of teaching. They require some sort of institutional location whose aims might be teaching but might equally well not be — e.g., government, a corporation, or a research institute. (Recall Newman’s insistence that research science be excluded from the university and confined to institutes!) Thus, by definition, a theological school’s course of study cannot be organized by any “structure of the sciences”; a course of study has to do with teaching and learning, but sciences are not defined that way.
Disciplines are pedagogical areas and thus are defined by the aims of teaching, but they are “facilitated” by the pursuit of scientific research and scholarly inquiry. A discipline amalgamates the aims of pedagogy and the aims of science. (Thus Farley’s “disciplines” are roughly what von Humboldt had in mind for the University of Berlin, for which we have let Wissenschaft be the emblem.)
Specialty fields have evolved out of disciplines and have, in Farley’s view, largely displaced disciplines in North America’s research-oriented universities. They focus on subtopics in disciplines (e.g., not “North American social history” nor “economic history” but “history of canal systems”), are isolated from other specialties within the same discipline, and rely on “the paradigm of narrowed empiricism.” They are institutionally reinforced by the reward system in higher education, which promotes those who publish a great deal in narrow compass, and by national “professional guilds” of academics in the same specialty fields, by which academic status and reputation are determined.
Perspectival emphases are pedagogical areas that may require scholarly work in conjunction with their teaching but are not disciplines because they lack any “abstracted regions of reality” to define their subject matter Rather, they are defined by the distinctive perspectives that they provide on reality or on human experience as such. (Consider philosophy, religious studies, and the fine arts.)
The question about the structure and unity of a theological school’s course of study is a question about the structure and unity of its pedagogical areas. The current fragmentation of the course of study in theological schools is partly the result of identifying pedagogical areas with “disciplines” and then substituting “specialty areas” for the disciplines. Some pedagogical areas are not “disciplines” — e.g., philosophical theology (it is a “perspectival emphasis”). And some pedagogical areas are now defined by aggregates of “specialty areas” (“New Testament” becomes “synoptic Gospel,” “Pauline,” or “pastoral epistle” studies).
13. Actually, a second movement takes place among the three elemental modes of interpretation (interpretation of tradition, truth, and action) when the modes of interpretation are themselves the focus of attention. This second movement is a move to synthesize them into two more elemental modes of interpretation: interpretation of indusive situations and interpretation of vocations. A “situation is a temporal-spatial configuration of . . . the surrounding world as it is experienced.” It has “its own distinctive features, which are not so much ‘objects’ as dimensions of realities” (Fragility 156). (Consider the situation of “attending the theater,” for example, which has a past, a physical setting, a power structure, a set of expectations and attitudes, etc.) Interpretation of inclusive situations focuses on identifiable recurring features of such situations. Farley suggests that it is “in part a formal, perhaps even an ontological, undertaking,” but as an exercise in “theology of culture” must also attend to how those recurring features are exhibited in concrete contexts of persons’ lives (157). A special instance of inclusive situations is a vocation (148). Hence a fifth elemental mode of interpretation is interpretation of one’s vocation, which involves a synthesis of the first three elemental modes of interpretation. Hence, in its focus on disciplining the capacities required for interpretation, theological schooling as paideia will in this second movement also focus on capacities needed for interpreting inclusive situations and vocations. It is the latter that warrants a focus in theological schooling on the roles of professional church leadership, not in order to equip future leaders with professional skills, but to school them in capacities for interpretation of themselves as leaders.
14. Cf. Fragility, pp. 155-62.
15.To be sure, Plato represents Socrates as teaching by a dialectical method intended to evoke insight regarding one’s own ignorance and to evoke vision of the Good. Thereby Socrates’ paideia “shaped” persons. So too both ancient and medieval philosophers labored to develop dialectic as a procedure to test the rigor and validity of arguments. However, Farley means more than this by “critical thinking.”
16. We are further encouraged to interpret Farley’s writings about theological schooling and theological study along these lines by his careful and rigorous exploration of just this anthropological structure in Ecclesial Reflection (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982).
17.God s Fierce Whimsy p. 7; subsequent citations will be given parenthetically in the text.
18. Cf God s Fierce Whimsy, pp. 197-203, and the outline of the pedagogical implications of the Collective’s work, pp. 204-5.