To Understand God Truly

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.

To Know God Truly: What’s Theological About a Theological School?
was published in 1992 by Westminster /John Knox Press. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Herb and June Lowe.


(ENTIRE BOOK) This is a book addressed to those who have felt the pinch of a misfit between their expectations of theological education and the realities of a theological school. Theologically speaking, what ought to be the purposes and nature of theological education? What theological commitments ought to be decisive criteria for assessing and reshaping the ethos and polity of a theological school? The readers he has in mind include: perhaps a student starting her second year of study, or an academic who has just joined a theological school faculty and has never herself been previously involved in theological education, or a person newly appointed to the board of trustees of a theological school.


  • 1. Orientation: Or, After the Fall

    The author addresses the question; what is theological about theological education? His audience for the book is students in the early stages of theological. His objective is that the book be accessible, in plain English, and to engage the reader in an ongoing conversation. In addition, he wishes to sugge3st the ways to think about the issues, and to sketch a particular theological view as to the nature and functioin of the theological school.

  • 2. Crossroads Hamlets

    In this chapter the author looks at the proximate and distant origins of North American theological schools and the variety of factors – subject matter, understandings, communities – that, woven together yield a concretely particular school.

  • Chapter 3: Excellence as <I>Paideia</I>

    In this chapter the author names two quite different models of excellent schooling. He describes the origins and evolution of the first, “paideia,” which has its roots in the ancient Greco-Roman world.

  • Chapter 4: Excellence as <I>Wissenschaft</I> and Professionalism

    In this chapter, which concludes Part One, the author traces the effect Schleiermacher’s concept of a “research university”

  • 5. Utopia

    In this chapter the author invites the reader to join in a thought experiment about what some theological school known to them is and ought to be. He identifies three central issues which need to be resolved in this experiment. He suggests that the Christian “thing” is present in concrete reality “in and as various Christian congregations or worshiping communities in all their radical pluralism.” Finally, he lays out the nature and purpose of the remaining chapters.

  • 6. Borrowed Language

    In this chapter the author prepares the reader to deal better with the rest of the book by carefully defining the concepts of “pluralism,” “understand,” “action,” and “practice.” In ordinary usage these concepts are remarkably vague, but as applied to the book’s proposal they are to be used only by the analysis given here.

  • 7. Congregations

    In this chapter, the author refines the thesis that a theological school is a community of persons trying to understand God more truly by focusing its study within the horizon of questions about Christian congregations. He explores, in detail, what constitutes a congregation and why it is the appropriate arena.

  • 8. A Theological School

    In this chapter the author makes a proposal about what constitutes a theological school and what the implications are for its excellence as a school from the fact that it is specifically a theological school.

  • 9. A Theological Schools’ Course of Study

    In this chapter the author proposes courses of study unified by designing every course to address the overarching interest of a theological school and pluralistically adequate by designing every course to focus on questions about congregations.

  • 10. Between Athens and Berlin

    In this chapter the author lays out his utopian proposal for a theological school in “dialectical tension” with the Athens and Berlin models.

  • Epilogue

    In his epilogue the author suggests that discussions of theological schooling and proposals to reform it might get further if some of the assumptions and many of the terms conventionally used were changed. He then presents the beginning of “a budget of questions” for critical reflection

  • Select Bibliography of Books Cited