From “Inhabiting a Dwelling Place: Reflections of a Seminary Student and Professor” by C. John Weborg
I left North Park with a historical and theological identity. That identity has not changed. I am still a Lutheran Pietist with only this difference: that which was a latent Lutheran dimension has become more theologically articulate. I still have a clear sense of the vocation I was taught at North Park Seminary but with a profounder confidence in the God who is at work through his word. The educational methodology that fostered this identity was in no sense a form of indoctrination. It did include a disciplined learning of the church’s confession of faith and the Scripture on which that confession is based. It is that material, long in formation, endowed with faith, hope, and love, that was mediated to us at North Park. It was an education rich in reading original sources – patristic, Reformation, and contemporary – as well as the required textbooks that provided students with a treasury of wisdom and knowledge.
I recall asking a student from Kenya or Nigeria (my memory is not sure which) how he might teach the doctrine of the church in his culture. He told me of a certain tree whose age was older than his people. This great tree had collected so much dust in its branches, crevices, and leaf structures that seeds borne by the winds took root in the collected dust. The seeds grew into a diversity of trees, all living together in the big host tree. Birds of species normally hostile to each other lived in peace in this tree. I learned to not do the “western” thing and analyze this rich response. Theological thinking by storytelling allows the story to disclose its meaning – although I wonder if “meaning” is even too immobile a word. The story itself releases its power, enfolding the listener in it, rather than simply disclosing an interpretation or deducing a conclusion from it.
The fixed world of my education with which I began this article met its challenge in my introduction to world Christianity. World Christianity is not simply a topic but an entire discipline, challenging church history as it is conventionally understood and taught, drawing attention to the fact that early Christianity was far more geographically vast than conventionally presented.
Not least of the value in this global historical awareness is that congregations today are increasingly ethnically diverse. Depending on location, one’s parish may include refugees, immigrants, exchange students, and American citizens of various ethnicities. Some knowledge of this “world church” – at least enough to know where to look for the specific data one needs to do ministry – is a key component of pastoral competence. Knowledge of world Christianity also contributes to pastoral care in preparing congregants for international business, educational, and philanthropic assignments.
The communication of the infinite value of a person’s humanity is gospel. It is not the entire gospel – and we cannot fail to preach and teach the full intellectual content of the faith – but it is the beginning. In Irenaeus’s bold gospel claim, the glory of God is the “human being fully alive.” The “human being fully alive” begs to know what dehumanizes the person, what vandalizes the divine image…. In order to get a hearing for the gospel, whether from the SBNR or East Germans, we must first come as fellow human beings. In meeting human to human, the Holy Spirit will show the other that we can be trusted with the deeper matters of their lives. Effective pastors something about context. And they do not make the mistake of respecting the fully human and calling it secular humanism.