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Between Athens And Berlin: The Theological Education Debate by David Kelsey


David Kelsey is Luther A. Weigle Professor of Theology at Yale University Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. His article is based on his convocation address in 1996 inaugurating a new academic year in which YDS, under the leadership of its new dean, Richard Wood, set out to develop new curriculum and programs recommended by a review committee, which was chaired by Kelsey. This book was published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1993. It was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


Chapter 6: "Athens" and "Berlin" in a New Key?


Is it possible to reconceive what makes theological education theological in such a way that we can honor the agenda of desiderata that has emerged out of our analysis of four major voices in the current debate about theological education? Can we reconceive theological education in such a way that (1) it clearly pertains to the totality of human life, in the public sphere as well as the private, because it bears on all of our powers; (2) it is adequate to genuine pluralism, both of the "Christian thing" and of the worlds in which the "Christian thing" is lived, by avoiding naiveté about historical and cultural conditioning without lapsing into relativism; (3) it can be the unifying overarching goal of theological education without requiring the tacit assumption that there is a universal structure or essence to education in general, or theological inquiry in particular, which inescapably denies genuine pluralism by claiming to be the universal common denominator to which everything may be reduced as variations on a theme; and (4) it can retrieve the strengths of both the "Athens" and the "Berlin" types of excellent schooling, without unintentionally subordinating one to the other?

Charles M. Wood’s Vision and Discernment

A fifth voice in the conversation suggests that we can. If Farley’s modification of the "Athens" model looks like the thesis to which Hough and Cobb’s modification of the "Berlin" model is the antithesis, then Charles Wood’s proposal may point the way to something like a higher synthesis. In Vision and Discernment 1 he proposes a way through this impasse by a radical reorientation of the ways in which we have been posing the central questions. He does this in two important respects: the first is in regard to the standoff between the attempts to show that theology engages the whole person because it is something "subjective" and personal and the attempts to show that it does so because it is something "objective" and public; and the second is in regard to efforts to replace the picture of theology as a movement from theory to practice by new pictures of the relation between theory and practice. We can conveniently review this fifth proposal about what makes theological education theological by explaining the reorientation he suggests on these two points.

The overarching goal of theological education, according to Wood, is theological inquiry. Theological education will be unified when all aspects of it are ordered to that one end. But what is "theology"? After a sketch of the standoff between views of theology as something "objective" and views of it as something "subjective," Wood concurs with Farley’s reasons for rejecting the picture of theology as universally valid "objective" truths and factual knowledge.2 He also rejects another type of "objective" view of theology, represented by Hough and Cobb, which defines theology by reference to the purposes of professional church leadership (93).

But Wood then objects to Farley’s way of defining theology as a habitus. Not that there is anything wrong with the concept of habitus. What is wrong is Farley’s failure to see the implications of the fact (which he himself notes in passing) that a habitus is by definition a disposition for some activity. Farley tries to describe theology, which he has already defined as a habitus, in terms of the habitus for it. But that creates a circle, for no habitus can be described except by reference to that for which it is the habitus -- in this case theology. In Farley’s case the circle is broken by introducing a subjective construal of habitus, and hence of theology, as a mode of consciousness. But that simply puts us back into the standoff between the views of theology as something "objective" and as something "subjective."

Wood suggests that by following the lead of the concept of habitus, but in a different direction from the one Farley took, one can resolve this knot by reconceptualizing the entire issue We do not have to choose between "objective" and "subjective" construals of what theology is. A habitus is a disposition for some activity. Think of theology as an activity, the activity constituted by a type of inquiry, which engages the whole person as an agent, a doer. The habitus "is the capacity and disposition to engage in theological inquiry." Thus

it is the activity of theology -- theology as inquiry -- which is theology in the primary sense. It is the "active "sense of the term which is prior; the "subjective" and "objective" senses are both derivative from it, both logically and chronologically. (34; emphasis added)

Theology in the "objective" sense is chronologically derivative from the activity of theological inquiry because it is the activity that produces objectively valid truth claims and the objective purposes of professional church leadership. Theology in the "subjective" sense is chronologically derivative from the activity of theological inquiry because it is by participation in the activity that one comes to have the appropriate habitus, the appropriate mode of subjectivity.

What sort of activity is theology as inquiry? Here Wood introduces his second major proposal to reorient the conversation about what is theological about theological education. Theology, he says, is "critical inquiry into the validity of Christian witness" (21). Theology is one component of the set of activities that comprise the ongoing praxis of Christian communities, for which "witness" is Wood’s generic term.

Wood insists on the importance of this point. Against the sort of picture of theological education illustrated by Stackhouse’s proposal, Wood rejects the view that theology bears on action as theory applied to praxis. He criticizes the "Berlin" type because, while it stresses the importance of theology for the practice of ministry, it fails to stress the way the practice of Christian communities must inform theology (cf. 62-63). For Wood, theological inquiry is part and parcel of the "Christian thing" itself and must not be defined in such a way as to detach it from that practice.

At the same time, however, Wood is dissatisfied with the alternatives offered by the other positions on what’s theological about theological schooling. The root of the problem is that, along with their opponents, they all agree to frame the problem and discuss it using the concept pair "theory/practice" (or theoria/praxis). In Wood’s view, once we agree to do that the problem becomes intractable and the discussion hopelessly, if subtly, muddled. The reason is that the idiom "tends to perpetuate the conventional dichotomy between so-called ‘theoretical’ (‘wissenschaftlich,’ ‘academic’) and ‘practical’ disciplines, and at the same time to promote a false impression of agreement on terms" (63). We systematically undercut ourselves if we try to explain how interrelated theological inquiry and Christian life are by using these categories because they reintroduce the very separation we wish to deny.

Wood proposes that, instead of explaining the relation between theology and action by using the pair "theory/practice," we think about the relation between "vision" and "discernment" in both inquiry and other types of action. Engaging in any action requires both capacities for "insight into particular things or situations in their particularity" (discernment)3 and capacities for "a general, synoptic understanding of some range of data or field of objects" (vision).4 Furthermore, the two need each other: "the most complete realization of either comes not at the expense of the other but rather in conjunction with the other’s own fuller realization" (75). It is the capacity for critical discernment, not "practice," that serves as a corrective to vision’s vulnerability to idolatry and ideological distortion. "Both vision and discernment are informed by, and in turn inform, practice.... At the same time, vision and discernment together -- and not vision (or ‘theory’) alone -- are constitutive of theological reflection" (72-73).

The actions that comprise the common life of Christian communities, for which Wood’s general name is "witness," require the exercise of capacities for both vision and discernment; theological inquiry, which is but one of the activities that comprise the life of Christian communities, requires them too. Furthermore, all the activities comprising Christian communities are public activities. Theological inquiry is not applied to activity, as theory is to practice; it already is part of the activity and, like all activity, involves both general synoptic overview and insight into particulars. In this way Wood honors the concern of the sort of position illustrated by Hough and Cobb to stress theology’s public and practical character against the apparent privatizing and interiorizing of it by the position illustrated by Farley. In its own quite different way Wood’s proposal also honors the concern of the sort of position illustrated by Stackhouse that Christian theology be kept as fully "public" as is any other way of envisioning and discerning our common world.

With the notion of theology as action that involves both vision and discernment in hand, we may explore what sort of inquiry theology is. "Christian theology may be defined as a critical inquiry into the validity of Christian witness" (21). It is "the self-criticism of the Christian community with regard to its own being and activity as Christian community" (38). Like any inquiry, in Wood’s view, it is guided and structured by its interests.

The importance of this point to Wood can be shown by contrasting it with Farley’s account of theological inquiry. We saw that for Farley theological inquiry is defined as precisely theological by the nature of its subject matter (or "object" of inquiry) -- namely, faith-within-its-situations. Furthermore, this subject matter was said to have an essential structure of several dimensions that dictate a structure to theological study. By contrast, for Wood, inquiry is defined as theological, not by the nature of its subject matter ("Christian witness"), but by its interests in its subject matter. We are free to be interested in the literary qualities of Christian witness, or in its history, or in its role in social control, but inquiry guided by such interests would be literary criticism, or history, or social analysis, not theology. What would make it theology is an interest in its being true to itself as, precisely, Christian witness. What makes an inquiry into Christian witness Christian theology is that it is guided by an interest to judge that witness "by the standards which pertain to it precisely as Christian witness.... this is what was meant by calling it a critical inquiry into the validity of Christian witness" (26). This is the activity that is theological inquiry.

Critical inquiry into the validity of Christian witness is not a simple activity. Its guiding interest has three dimensions, each of which can be expressed in a question. The questions elicit a double response. On one side, they invite critical judgment of an instance of Christian witness: Is it valid? On the other side, they invite constructive proposals: In these circumstances, what would be a valid witness? (Cf. 40.) The three leading questions are these:

(1) Is this piece of verbal or nonverbal witness genuinely Christian? As Christian witness, it claims truly to represent Jesus Christ. Does it? (Cf. 39.) Wood calls critical inquiry guided by this question "historical theology." He defines historical theology as

the use of the resources and methods of historical study to pursue

the theological question of the "Christianness," i.e., the faithfulness to what is normatively Christian, of Christian witness. (42)

Wood includes critical inquiry into the Bible here, for what is at stake in historical theology is identification of the criteria by which to test the faithfulness of witness to Jesus Christ.

(2) Is this piece of witness true? (Cf. 39.) Wood calls critical inquiry guided by this question "philosophical theology."

The philosophical study of any human activity aims at exhibiting the "logic" of that activity, that is, at uncovering the principles relevant to its understanding and criticism.

So the adjective "philosophical" here indicates "the methodological orientation of this branch of theological inquiry" (45). Philosophical theology goes "beyond the identification of criteria and procedures for judgment to the making of actual judgments concerning the meaning and truth of Christian witness" (46).

(3) Is this piece of verbal or nonverbal witness "fittingly enacted? Is it appropriately related to its context?" (40). Wood calls critical inquiry guided by this question "practical theology." Practical theology

draws upon the resources of those disciplines concerned with the understanding of Human culture and behavior -- psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, and their various offspring -- to inquire about the relationship between the content and intention of Christian witness and its context. (48)

It is not narrowly concerned with the practice of church leadership "but rather with the enactment of Christian witness in its entirety -- that is, with the entire life and activity of the church as the community of witness" (48).

These three dimensions of critical theological inquiry are distinguishable from one another, but they are inseparably interdependent. They are distinguishable because they are guided by different aims. We can pursue any one of them without having any interest in either of the other two (cf. 50). Furthermore, each of them is made rigorously critical by incorporating the relevant "secular" disciplines of history, philosophy, or the human sciences. Theological inquiry is not simply dependent upon these other inquiries and their results: "It does not just involve individual questions which also happen to have a home in other inquiries." Rather, "one pursues a certain part of the theological task by engaging in historical inquiry, and another part by philosophical inquiry, and so on" (37; cf. 58). When one actively participates in sociological inquiry toward answering the leading question "Is this piece of witness fittingly enacted?" one is not engaging in nontheological inquiry. Nor is one engaging in nontheological inquiry when one actively participates in historical inquiry toward answering the question "Is this Christian witness faithful?" -- nor when actively engaged in philosophical inquiry toward answering the leading question "Is this witness true?" In each case, what makes the inquiry theological is the leading question, which in each case is one dimension of theological inquiry as such. Theology subsumes under its guiding interest the aims guiding each of these other inquiries. However, the methods proper to each of these types of inquiry discipline the relevant dimension of theological inquiry, making it rigorously critical, but also making it distinguishable from the other two.

For all their distinguishability, these three are nonetheless inseparably interdependent dimensions of a single inquiry. Even if one pursued "any one of these inquiries without an interest in the other two, one may not pursue any of them without becoming involved in at least some aspects of the other two" (50). Because theology is critical inquiry into the validity of Christian witness in every respect (faithfulness to itself, truth, fittingness), historical, philosophical, and practical theology are necessarily "in reciprocal relationship to each other" (67). They are not three steps or stages in a sequence.

The relations among them cannot be clarified by using the contrast "theory/practice." It simply muddles things to agree to debate whether the movement is from the constructive and critical theory delivered by historical and philosophical theology to the practice analyzed by practical theology, or whether the movement is from the praxis examined by practical theology (even as "practical thinking") to historical and philosophical theology taken as reflection "on" practice or taken as theory derived "from" practice (cf. the sort of position on theological education illustrated by Hough and Cobb). Nor is there any intrinsic dialectical movement or structure to theological inquiry that could be brought out by clarifying the relation between "theory" and "practice" in the abstract, or the relation between prereflective and reflective knowing, or the relation between foundational knowledge and interpretive skills (cf. the sort of position on theological education illustrated by Farley). Any two dimensions of theological inquiry are necessary to and inform the third. In particular, judgments about the faithfulness (historical theology) or the truth (philosophical theology) of Christian witness must presuppose and take into account (and not simply lead into) analysis of the context of that witness and its fittingness to that context (cf. 50).

Furthermore, each of the three dimensions of theological inquiry is in certain respects both "practical" and "theoretical." Each involves the acquisition and employment (or practice) of certain abilities, and each involves reflection on the practice of witness, normally with the practical aim of making better practice. Each of them -- practical theology included -- is also theoretical: each requires for its effective pursuit the exercise of theoria -- that is, the comprehensive envisioning of both the Christian witness and the theological task in their unity and complexity (cf. 67). Because the contrast "theory/practice" is in some sense present in all three of these dimensions, it cannot help to explain the relation of inseparable interdependence among the three dimensions of theological inquiry.

What does help to illumine the reciprocal interdependence of the three dimensions of theological inquiry, Wood proposes, is the distinction "vision/discernment." Theological inquiry involves "a dialectical relationship between vision and discernment" (69) in each of its three dimensions. In each dimension it is necessary to envision "Christian witness as a whole" (i.e., the "Christian thing" as some sort of unity). In each dimension we "will draw upon whatever resources seem most promising for discovering and explicating its content [i.e., the content of Christian witness] so as to provide an answer to the complex question of its validity" (69). In philosophical theology those resources will be philosophers’ resources; in historical theology they will be historians’ resources. Wood especially stresses the importance of resources from the social sciences that practical theology brings into play in envisioning Christian witness as a whole:

They can contribute to an understanding of oneself, one’s social context, one’s loyalties, etc., which can enable one to detect the presence and influence of the hidden factors shaping one’s theological thinking and one’s presentation of the Christian witness. (71)

Because the three dimensions of theological inquiry are reciprocally interdependent, the three types of envisioning Christian witness as a whole are also interdependent. For an adequate vision of Christian witness as a whole we need the interplay between visions of that witness that draw on all three types of resources -- historical, philosophical, and social scientific.

In each dimension discernment is also necessary:

The activity of discernment in theology is the effort to grasp and assess the character of a particular instance of Christian witness -- past, present, or prospective. It is the effort to see what is really there in the situation, rather than merely what one has been led to expect.

There is a discernment "proper to each dimension of theological inquiry" (73). Historical discernment,

rather than viewing each individual character or incident as only an instance of some collectivity or trend, is able to see the specific, the novel . . . the way even the "typical" diverges from type . . . [and can] recognize the peculiar dialectic between continuity and discontinuity in tradition. (73)

Philosophical discernment, which "involves a keen logical and conceptual discrimination, . . . fight[s] the ‘craving for generality’ (73-74). (Cf. the Mud Flower Collective’s critique of misplaced universalizing!) Practical discernment involves "a sensitivity to the human situation, and the conceptual equipment to appraise particular actions in context" (74). (Is it deliberate or inadvertent activity? What are its motives, its consequences? etc.) Because the three dimensions of theological inquiry are reciprocally interdependent, the three types of discernment of instances of Christian witness are also interdependent. For adequate discernment of any instance of witness, we need the interplay of historical, philosophical, and social scientific discernment.

The full set of modes of "visioning" Christian witness as a whole and the full set of modes of discernment of instances of Christian witness must be kept dialectically related to one another in the interest of keeping critical theological inquiry self-critical. All three modes of theological discernment are necessary as a corrective to theological vision’s tendency to distort ideologically, to ascribe universal validity to the limited and particular, and to gloss over ambiguity and tragedy in experience. The self-critical character of theological inquiry cannot be explained by using the "theory/practice" contrast, for "it is discernment, and not ‘practice,’ which is the proper counterpoint to theory or vision in this respect.... Both vision and discernment are informed by, and in turn inform, practice" (72).

The singularity or unity of theological inquiry in and through its three dimensions is the ground, in Wood’s view, for two more theological "disciplines," in addition to philosophical theology, historical theology, and practical theology. When one’s aim is "to integrate these three basic inquiries in a comprehensive and constructive fashion" (50), one is doing systematic theology. The defining interest in systematic theology is the unity of the three dimensions of critical inquiry into the validity of Christian witness. Systematic theology aims to formulate not only critical but constructive proposals that comprehensively integrate both the ways in which probes of the fruitfulness, truth, and fittingness of the witness envision the "Christian thing" as a whole and the ways in which these probes discern particular instances of the "Christian thing." So far as the "visioning" aspect of theological inquiry is concerned,

this means, e.g., asking how social-scientific accounts of human behavior (say, in cultural anthropology) might illuminate historical inquiry, and how both might bear on philosophical questions regarding meaning and truth, in regard to Christian tradition. (71)

And so far as the discerning aspect is concerned, this means

what we might call "systematic discernment" . . . a multidimensional insight into the particular character of a situation, in which one is attentive to the interplay of various sorts of factors. (73)

The other additional theological discipline is moral theology. Like systematic theology, moral theology’s basis is the unity of the three dimensions of theological inquiry. Its defining interest is the "validity of Christian witness concerning human conduct" (54), personal and communal, individual and institutional. Where practical theology is concerned with assessing the conduct of Christian witness as witness, moral theology is concerned with assessing Christian witness as conduct (cf. 55).

Because both systematic and moral theology are defined by interests in the integral unity of the "Christian thing" and the unity of theological inquiry, neither of them should be thought of as the "middle discipline" (cf. 50-51) between historical theology’s formulations of what is normatively or faithfully "Christian" and practical theology’s application of those formulations to practice. Schleiermacher had arranged them in precisely that fashion, and ever since then, that picture of the essential movement of theological schooling has ruled wherever the "Berlin" model of excellence in theological education has been adopted. That created a one-way movement in theological inquiry in which practical theology depends on systematic and moral theology, but they do not depend on it.

And that, Wood holds, is what creates the central problem for theology, which people try to formulate and then solve using the "theory/practice" distinction. It is better to say that systematic theology and moral theology are not brokers between "theory" and "practice"; rather, both systematic theology and moral theology are inquiry defined by an interest in the unity of the three reciprocally interrelated dimensions of theological inquiry. Construed in that way, systematic and moral theology are "informed, methodologically and materially, by practical theological reflection as well as by the other two basic inquiries" (51).

If we were to adopt Wood’s way of understanding what theology is, what picture of theological schooling would follow? Wood points out that there are two uses of theological inquiry, the "normal" use and the "educational" use. The normal use of theological inquiry "is the attainment of considered judgments concerning Christian witness." These may be judgments critical of some instance of Christian witness, or they may be constructive judgments proposing what Christian witness properly is. Making such judgments requires certain capacities, especially capacities for vision and for discernment. "The educational use of theological inquiry also involves the making of judgments," but in contrast to normal use

its more proper aim is not the formation of judgments, but the formation of judgment.... It informs practice by equipping the practitioner not with ready-made deliberative judgments but rather with the capacity to make them. (80)

Wood goes on to say that

it is not the mere possession of "a theology" that is the measure of a theological education; it is rather one’s ability to form, revise, and employ theological judgments that counts. Vision and discernment are exhibited in practice. (82)

Hence the overarching goal that will unify theological schooling is the goal of helping people to acquire "that complex set of intellectual and personal qualities which go to make up what we might still call the theological habitus" (79) -- that is, to make sound theological judgments.

How is such judgment formed? By engaging people in the activity of theological inquiry. Accordingly, Wood’s proposal no more implies any particular radical form of the abstract structure of the received fourfold curriculum than has any of the other proposals we have examined. What is required, rather, is an expansion of our view of the place of theology in the total curriculum, structured pretty much as it now is.

This does not mean an increase in the number of courses required in systematic theology. It has rather to do with the questions that guide teaching and learning in every course. It means "understanding the entire curriculum as really and truly a theological curriculum, that is, as a body of resources ordered to the cultivation in students of an aptitude for theological inquiry" (94). The leading question in every course dealing with any subject matter must be this: How does this subject matter (be it "logic, or Mexican-American history, or the sociology of religion") contribute to assessing the validity of Christian witness? When this question expresses the dominant interest governing the inquiry, then it can subsume the interests that define the several academic disciplines. The student is helped to acquire the aptitudes needed in order to do history or philosophy or a social science as aptitudes needed to inquire critically into the validity of Christian witness.

Wood is not much troubled by the fact, which so disturbs Farley and Hough and Cobb, that the way in which academic disciplines are institutionalized in American higher education also dictates the structure of the curricula of theological schools. The five theological disciplines that Wood identifies, which in their reciprocal interplay comprise theological inquiry, do not, he cheerfully acknowledges, correspond to the academic disciplines and "disciplinary specialties" (to use Farley’s terms) that organize theological schools’ curricula into departments of "Old Testament," "New Testament," "Church History," "American Religious History," and so forth. Indeed, in his view,

theological inquiry . . . does not depend absolutely upon the existence of a corresponding disciplinary arrangement. It can be conducted, with more or less success, within a great variety of arrangements, each of which may facilitate the inquiry in some respects, and obstruct or distort it in others. A certain tension is likely to exist between any lively inquiry and the disciplinary traditions. (57)

Not that the five theological disciplines can do without the established academic disciplines. As we saw, for Wood, one actively engages in the discipline of philosophy or history or a social science in doing theology. The guiding interest of theological inquiry simply subsumes the interests guiding academic disciplines. In regard to the institutionalization of the disciplines, the five theological disciplines are now only "potential disciplines." Perhaps the pressure of the guiding interest of theological inquiry will so shape theological engagement in history, philosophy, social sciences, etc., as to make the theological disciplines actual -- that is, institutionalized in their own right. If so, Wood believes, "it will only be by a gradual, deliberate process of transformation" (59). In the meantime, Wood appears to be sanguine that if the leading question of theological inquiry is kept explicitly in view, it is powerful enough not only to subsume the leading interest of each of the relevant academic disciplines but also to resist distortions that the institutionalization of the academic disciplines might tend to impose on theology.

Does this picture of theological schooling belong with the "Athens" or the "Berlin" type of excellent education? Perhaps it modifies both of them so much more than any of the other four types that it amounts to a third way. In this respect Wood’s proposal is particularly instructive. In accord with one pole of the "Berlin" type, Wood stresses that what makes theological schooling excellent schooling is that it is schooling in the capacities for rigorous disciplined Wissenschaft. Wood endorses the view that when we are engaged in the "educational use" of theology the stress must fall on "how to think rather than what to think," even though that "may look like evasion" (81) of the validity of Christian witness. In accord with the "Athens" type, Wood insists that what makes theological schooling excellent schooling is that it shapes sound theological judgment; through this paideia we acquire a habitus, albeit a habitus for action that is self-critical in the modern sense of "critique" -- a sense that ancient Athens knew nothing of.

What sets Wood’s proposal apart is the way in which he explicates the capacities both for Wissenschaft and for the habitus. They turn out to be the same kind of thing. In both cases acquiring them is a matter of acquiring certain conceptual capacities; but "concept" is understood here in a special way -- the concepts that must be acquired are abilities or aptitudes. Acquiring some concepts is a "self-involving" matter, "in that a grasp of them requires (or, perhaps better: amounts to) a certain capacity to understand oneself by them" (86). Many theological concepts are like that -- "creation," "sin," "grace," and "hope," for example. Acquiring these concepts shapes one’s identity in a significant way. Moreover, learning some of these concepts involves learning to understand oneself critically. To be rigorously critical in inquiry "is more like a ‘character-trait’ than like a skill" (88).

Accordingly, what is needed for wissenschaftlich theological inquiry -- that is, inquiry to understand and probe the validity of Christian witness -- is not best understood as a methodological and hermeneutical self-consciousness (in opposition both to Farley, who understands what is needed for wissenschaftlich inquiry in just that way and celebrates it, and Hough and Cobb who understand it that way and minimize its importance). Rather, what is needed is the acquisition of certain capacities and aptitudes, the mastery of which shapes who one is. This makes it sound, ironically, as though the way to acquire wissenschaftlich disciplines is through some kind of paideia (which is precisely Farley’s claim). Not only does Wood distance himself from the "Berlin" model’s picture of what is involved in education in Wissenschaft he also rejects its definition of theological education as professional schooling: "Theological education is not necessarily professional education for ministry, but the heart of proper professional education for ministry is theological education" (93). (Here Wood sides with Farley and against Hough and Cobb.)

So too, what is involved in acquiring the theological habitus is mastering certain concepts -- that is, acquiring abilities and aptitudes for making sound judgments. Here too, having the relevant concepts is "more like a ‘character-trait’ than like a skill." However, this is not understood in the way in which the "Athens" type understands paideia. For Wood we do not need to posit something ahistorically and cross-culturally universal to all human beings, something "objective" like an invisible and immortal soul (which paideia presupposed in ancient Athens), of which "dispositions" and "character traits" are modifications. Nor need we think of "dispositions" and "character traits" as modifications of something "subjective" like the universal structures of human consciousness (which paideia and habitus presuppose for Farley). In Wood’s view it is enough to understand acquisition of habitus as something that we do, whatever our "nature" may be.

Perhaps the major difference between Wood and the other proposals we have examined (except for the Mud Flower Collective’s proposal) is located here, at the point of explicitly or implicitly assumed anthropology or view of what a human being is. Wood neither assumes nor implies any claims about an "essence" that is universal to all human beings in every time and place and that is constitutive of our humanity. Universal claims are made or implied that all human beings act in a variety of ways and that all human beings can acquire some of the capacities needed for engaging in some kinds of action. Unless "shaping" is all that is required for education to count as paideia, which is much too broad and vague to serve as a definition, it is difficult to see how Wood’s picture of theological schooling belongs any more to the "Athens" type of excellent education than to the "Berlin" model.

What makes Wood’s proposal distinctive in this regard and may be its greatest strength is his suggestion that "theology" be understood in an "active sense" rather than as something "objective" or as something "subjective." However, the suggestion is also the point at which his development of his proposal is worrisome.

The proposal has the advantage of not bringing with it any assumptions about a universal, cross-cultural, ahistorical structure to theological education. That is an advantage because it makes it possible to frame a proposal about what is theological about theological education that can consistently address both the issue of the schooling’s adequacy to the ideal unity of the "Christian thing" and its adequacy to several types of pluralism. The schooling will be unified when the overarching goal of all of its activities is the cultivation of persons’ capacities for theological judgment in their conduct of theological inquiry. At the same time, this proposal is consistent with acknowledging several kinds of pluralism. To acknowledge pluralism is to acknowledge the presence, not simply of diversity, but of a diversity that is not subtly or overtly reduced to a set of variations on an underlying theme. It is to acknowledge the presence of types of "otherness" without assuming that they all share in some one set of common denominators. The proposal is consistent, first, with acknowledging a pluralism of ways in which the "Christian thing" has been and is now construed. The unity of theological schooling need not rest on an implicit or tacit privileging of one construal over others. The way in which the goal of theological schooling is formulated is also consistent with acknowledging a genuine pluralism in the social worlds to which graduates of the school may go and in which the "Christian thing" is lived out. In each of these cases Wood’s proposal is consistent with acknowledgment of pluralism because the proposal assumes no universal structure in "human nature" -- neither a universal structure of "reason" nor one of "consciousness" -- to which these pluralisms could be reduced as to a least common denominator.

Wood is clear and explicit about ways in which social and cultural factors ideologically distort both Christian witness and theological inquiry. However, it is worrisome that his analysis of the activity of theological inquiry and of the activity of schooling in that inquiry devotes so little attention to the institutionalization of either. It focuses little attention on institutional arrangements of power within a theological school, or on the consequences of the activity of theological inquiry on a theological school’s own social, economic, and cultural location.

Attention to these matters would seem to be required, however, by the proposal itself. Human activity is always shaped by cultural patterns and social structures. Insistence on the importance of that point for theological education is one of the major contributions of the Mud Flower Collective to the agenda of the debate about what makes theological education theological. A failure to explore how the activity of theological inquiry is located in and inescapably shaped by patterns of activity that are dictated by its social and cultural setting and, just as important, patterns that are dictated by institutional power arrangements, deprives theological inquiry of the means for its self-criticism and correction. One point at which this issue is broached in Wood’s proposal, as we saw, has to do with the effect on theological schooling of the institutionalization of the academic disciplines in which theological inquiry participates (including philosophical, historical, and social scientific inquiries). As we noted, Wood seemed to be remarkably optimistic about the abilities of theological inquiry to resist corruption from this quarter.

It is troubling that this issue is not explored with the same intent that Farley, for example, had in building into theological schooling moments for self-examination and self-correction against corruption from such sources. At the same time, however, it may well be that Wood’s proposal to understand theology as an activity provides the most promising conceptual resources for doing just that. Not only are intentional human actions in large part given their specific shape and significance by their cultural "location," but they are also guided by human interests that themselves have specific social, economic, and cultural locations. These aspects of human action are part of what makes them what they concretely are in every particular case. Thus this "locatedness" of intentional action is the basis for the fact that actions can be both authentic and ideologically distorted.

The point is that remarks about the potentially distorting and demonic effects of actions’ locatedness do not need to be added extrinsically, as it were, to analyses of human inquiry -- here theological inquiry in particular -- cast in terms of "action"; such remarks are entailed in the very concept of action. The concept of action itself brings with it the requirement that a full characterization of any action must include, precisely in order to be "full," attention to the ways in which the action is socially located and may be distorted ideologically and otherwise. Thus a characterization of theology and of what makes theological education theological that is cast, like Wood’s, in terms of "action" already has conceptually built into it resources for addressing the justice issues so central to the sort of position illustrated by the Mud Flower Collective’s proposal.

* * *

Throughout our review of Wood’s proposal about what makes theological education theological we have been noting points of convergence with and divergence from the other four voices in this conversation. This has served to underscore the centrality of the agenda that has been growing as this review has proceeded. At the same time we have consistently seen that the "conceptuality" that Wood has adopted undercuts fundamental matters on which the other four voices tacitly agreed, with the effect that in his proposal the issues appear to be addressed in a different key, in which many of the tensions noted among the other four conversation partners were significantly eased. Thus Wood’s proposal adds an important new issue to the agenda: In what conceptuality do we most fruitfully formulate the basic issues confronting theological education today, propose resolutions of those issues, and debate our disagreements? We will now turn in the conclusion of this book to a summary of the issues, and the morals about how best to discuss the issues, that has emerged from this review of the recent literature on what is theological about theological education.

 

Notes

1. Wood, Vision and Discernment (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985).

2. Wood, p. 32; subsequent citations will be made parenthetically in the text.

3. Wood, p. 68.

4. Wood, p. 67.

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