When I met her, she was a mess. Maybe she was emotionally fragile before she took the course — I don't know. But my impression was, her therapists had taken her psyche apart and failed to put it back together again.
Sometimes I think seminaries do the same thing to their students.
You apply to a seminary innocently expecting to be equipped for pastoral ministry. Instead, you are introduced to the modern "science" of critical scholarship, which takes scripture apart, piece by piece. (All science uses this process of breaking a thing apart into its constituent pieces to try to understand it.)
You enter seminary with a heart overflowing with faith and devotion; you exit seminary wondering if you can trust anything the Bible says on any topic. And voila! — here's your degree — you've graduated into pastoral ministry!
The experience isn't unique to seminarians, of course. University studies undermine the faith of many young Christians. Let me quote a post by Avdat, who shared this gem from Walter Brueggemann:
Walter Brueggemann would give a rather cheeky talk about how one's changing view of scripture parallels one's changing view of the family of origin:Brueggemann's other way of putting this is to speak of a cycle of (1) Orientation; (2) Disorientation; and (3) New Orientation.1 In time, the "new" orientation will suffer disorientation in its turn.
Brueggemann admitted that seminaries are a lot better at moving people from stage one to stage two than they are from stage two to stage three.
- "The Bible is the Word of God." This is what we say when we're young and our knowledge of the scriptures is limited to what we learned in Sunday School.
This statement is not unlike saying, "I have a normal family." It's a statement of love, respect and great naivete.
- "The Bible is a mess of contradictions, myths and legends." This is what we say after we take a religion class in college. Or, after we're put through the meat grinder of Biblical studies in a mainline seminary.
It's not unlike saying, "My family is a dysfunctional mess, and I'm not coming home for Christmas!" The latter statement, like the former, is the product of some distance and new, third-party perspective, the therapist substituting for the professor. Oh yes, and there's anger in both statements.
- "But they're still my family." After a while you own them again as your own. You don't pretend that you haven't learned that your father is an alcoholic and your mother is co-dependent, but they're yours, and you still love them, warts and all.
And if we can say, "It's still the Word of God" (two creation stories and all), then we've made the parallel and necessary third move.
It's a rather cynical analysis, I suppose, but how else would one grow? You can't make progress while keeping everything the same. It is to have one's cake and eat it, too. Thus remaining innocent (ignorant?) isn't an option. God has a way of shaking us out of our complacency, however disturbing we may find the process.
Not so long ago, I left a comment on a blog in which I applied this paradigm to evangelicals and liberals.
I have had some experience in both liberal and evangelical churches. The evangelicals have a blinkered perspective; they duck the hard questions. But the liberal pastors are very, very confused, which of course filters down to their parishioners!They're stuck there because that's where liberal seminaries leave their pastors.
I am fond of Brueggemann's notion that believers pass through a cycle of orientation / disorientation / new orientation. Evangelicals seem to me to be stuck at the "orientation" stage — they need to go on a voyage of discovery, have their world rocked a bit. But many liberals are stuck at the disorientation stage.
I submit that all seminaries should attend to Ecclesiastes 3:3. Evangelicals need to understand that there is a time to tear down, in good scientific fashion. A time for analysis ("the abstract separation of a whole into its constituent parts for study").
But all scholars and professors need to understand that there is also a time to build up. A time for synthesis ("the combination of ideas into a complex whole").
Indeed, the building up is the most important part — the goal of the whole undertaking. If our seminaries tear the Bible apart and fail to put it back together again, they do pastors — and the Church — a grave disservice.
I've been through this process of disorientation myself. In some ways, I feel as if I'm only now entering the "new orientation" phase. Hence the title of this blog: Emerging From Babel.
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1This is the outline Brueggemann utilizes in his survey of the Psalms.