Last Friday was a good day for my book problem: I finished another! I’ve blogged a fair bit about Jesus Wept and this is the last post I plan to write on the thoughts in this provocative book. Listen to this quotation which the authors of Jesus Wept take from Nouwen’s In The Name of Jesus:
Formation in the mind of Christ, who did not cling to power but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, is not what most seminaries are about.
Hold that in your mind and then read this excerpt from the same chapter of Jesus Wept, Herrick and Mann’s own words:
Learning vulnerability is, we would suggest, part of ministerial formation. In a training environment where the reality (if not the principle) of ministerial formation as integral to preparation for leadership in the Christian community has been or is in danger of being lost, those who are willing to risk walking the way of vulnerability may save the Church from success-bound professionalism, and ensure that the self-emptying, self-giving – sometimes vulnerable – service of others which Christ modelled, is not entirely effaced.
As I read this particular chapter on ministerial formation as prophetic vulnerability, I was thanking God for the place of the London School of Theology in my life. I don’t normally do this but today feels like a day for blogging my reflective gratitude for that community and for shouting pretty loud about what a special community it is.
And I know LST is not perfect, that for some there has been great pain or disillusionment in this place, a heaviness which perhaps lingers still; indeed, we all have our problems when we gather as Christian community, theological colleges just as much as churches! But I also believe that, for the saints, there is power in choosing to reject an endless repetition of the negative and instead speaking out what is true and praiseworthy about our communities. Not only a power but even a responsibility to do the same.
You know, LST is unashamedly an academic institution. I don’t think I fully realised that before I came. I was only interested in getting some form of ministry ‘training’ in the best conservative evangelical sense of that word, after all. But LST is more than that: we’re not only about the transmission of information, doctrine that the majority considers ‘sound’. Instead, we’re about genuine theological enquiry in submission to the authority of Scripture. No one in all my time at LST has ever told me that I can’t ask that question, that I can’t hold that theological position; all that has ever been demanded is a rigorously academic and thoughtful grappling with the text and an engagement with the related wisdom of scholars better-equipped than I to reflect upon its mysteries. I’ve been taught to celebrate the kind of scholarship shot through with godliness, the heart committed both to understanding and to obeying the text.
I am grateful for the place of LST in my life because of all that it has taught me regarding the best of evangelical scholarship and the way that it has trained me to think for myself rather than parroting the doctrinal ‘party line’ of one denomination or another. Yet I am also deeply thankful for another reason: the commitment to the formation of me as a person and as a minister. It’s not been so much in those classes entitled ‘formation’ that this has happened. Instead it has been in the quotidian: the conversations in the corridor, the unexpected coffee breaks, times of prayer and struggles with essays. It has been the openness of those in this community which has been most used by God in my transformation. In fact, the two groups to whom I owe the biggest debt here are the other research students and the faculty. The friendships which have grown with so many in these groups have been truly transformative for me: you’ve taught me theology I didn’t know or, in the way you’ve been living it, reminded me of theology I did know.
Sometimes you won’t even have known just how much your commitment to a theology of vulnerability, of the cross, has affected me. Sometimes a one-liner, perhaps even one which you thought throwaway, has sat with me for weeks or months and the whole of my ministry has been rocked, even part-destroyed and rebuilt, as I have sought to process what it means to lead and to mentor, to lecture and to preach, to pastor and to write…to do all that I do through that lens which you espouse so completely with your words and your living.
And when I’ve been stuck, lacking in wisdom or experience, so many of you have made time for me. Invariably so, actually. You’ve shared with me your ideas…your notes…your books…the opportunities which were in your hand to give even when that meant for you to take a risk on me as I stepped out in something new. More than anything, so many of you have believed me into becoming the person that I am now, calling out of me things that I never dreamed might be mine. And, in the manner of your ‘self-emptying, self-giving – sometimes vulnerable – service of others which Christ modelled’, you have kept me from falling into the ‘success-bound professionalism’ against which Herrick and Mann warn.
I’m grateful to be here now, at this time in our history as we enter the new thing that God is doing amongst us and through us. I’m thankful to have spent these several years past here. Back then, I thought it would only be one. One year of ‘being trained’. One year of getting my head straight after the hopeless servitude of the City lawyer who feared that she was losing her way in the success-bound professionalism of it all. But one year was not enough. In a place like this, a community of saints who get so much wrong but also get so much right…an assortment of people who are committed to the discipleship of both head and heart, to a way which is the way of death and of faith and of resurrection all mixed up in one holy mess…
…in a place like this, one year is never enough.