Volf and Croasmun - "For the Life of the World"
7:36PM Jul 7, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Is our delight today to be speaking with Dr. Miroslav Volf and also Matthew Croasman, authors of the text For the Life of the World: Theology that Makes a Difference. Thank you so much Dr. Wolf and Dr. Crossman for joining us today.
Good to be with you. Good to be here.
Gentlemen, in the first paragraph of the introduction of your book, you state in no uncertain terms that academic theology is in crisis, you write this on page one, academic theology ought to be but today largely isn't about what matters most the true life in the presence of God. The failure of theology to attend to its purpose is a loss for the church and for the world for theology is uniquely qualified to explore what matters the most, and this is a loss for theology itself for theology will either refocus itself on what matters the most or graduate least ceased to matter at all? What evidences would you point to to indicate this crisis in academic theology?
Well, we take a good chunk of the chapter to in order to indicate and note that at least name some of the indicators of the crisis all the way from difficulty of graduates, PhD programs to get jobs, to a loss of reputation of theology in the scholarly, largest scholarly endeavor. And more significantly, to certain kind of, how shall I put it match you might want to put a different a certain kind of acuity in the contemporary way in which in today's way in which academic theology is being is being done, so that in some ways, loss of reputation, lack of fall and loss of audience can be seen as, as deserved. theology deserves as much reputation as it has right now. That's very strongly not correct me.
No, I I think in large in large part this is correct. The concern here this is not a you know, make theology great again sort of appeal here. The concern here is not that sort of theology deserves a place, front and center in academia or in culture, that it's, we're not coming here to sort of demand demand our place. The concern really is here for for us for our own field. Are we producing the sort of work that would deserve the sort of scholarly and broader cultural attention? Are we taking up the truly central human question which God has given us in theology? And are we doing are we are we doing the sort of work that that question
if I Ask When did you to personally become aware of this crisis in theology?
I think it crystallized itself for myself. After I read a book by a colleague of ours here at Yale from the law school, he was also a philosopher and teach us in humanities. In what's Yale's kind of great books program. It's a book. It's called the Education Center. And basically the thesis of that that book is expressed in the subtitle of the book that our great universities and colleges have given up on what used to be at the very heart of their endeavor. And as I was reading this book, I'm Tony was writing this about humanities and universities in general. And I realized, you know, this is exactly what's happening Also in, in theology, and maybe other disciplines can be sustained without taking up this fundamental question, but the other is about to lose its soul. When it loses this central question, the question of what matters the most What is the meaning of our life and of course for theology, that's all this all this reference to, to the revelation of God in Christ and ultimately to relationship to God.
I think for I think for me, it's sort of one can, I can look back and see early indicators. At the beginning of my PhD program, I was told, I was sort of being given a rundown of what to expect in this new testament PhD program I was in the thought the outline was sort of given flippantly to describe this well, first as a couple of years of coursework. And then the third year there are exams in the preparation of the the proposal for the dissertation and usually somewhere in there as well. There's usually a divorce and this is just described, sort of, sort of flipping Atlanta understood that it was a sort of gallows humor. But but that sort of means one of the things we take up in the book, that sort of divorce of theological work and theological life. It's really, really troubling to me. And, and, and I, I care about the people in this field as at least as much as I care about the work that we're doing, and and I think we're one of the things we're calling for, right is, is theological life that goes along with theological work and to the extent to which we've given up on that possibility or even expected the opposite. That's really troubling.
I'm so delighted today to be speaking with Dr. Miroslav volf and Matthew Crossman, authors of for the life of the world theology that makes a difference. Gentlemen, if I can read just a opening line that you have on page 36 of your text, you write when two or more young theologians are gathered These days, they are just as likely to talk about job scarcity and inadequate compensation as about God, God's relation to the world or the world's relation to God. Many folks working through this program or a future graduate students don't yet appreciate the crisis the way you too would working on the inside of academic theology. What is driving this large scale change in our academies?
We want one simple thing on that particular comment is humanities broadly are really are really struggling. The speaker here is a young academic jobs are hard to come by, for for young folks working in in the humanities. And that's unsurprisingly, something that's also experienced by young theologians. And again, we describe this in the second chapter of the book, a lot of the dynamics that make this particularly if it's hard for folks working the humanities in general, it's particularly different For those working in theology, the job market, the job market is rough that the other thing, of course, is happening there. And we're, again, always pointing the finger back at ourselves. And again, I'll speak here as a young scholar. The concern here is, of course, not just that, Oh, well, there's a tough job market, so we're all going to complain about it. But but there's there's a tough job market and there's a formation process within the guild that has itself cast a vision of what flourishing life looks like that is relatively narrow picture of professional success of, you know, the life of a an r1 scholar and if that sort of life is hard to find, again, there aren't the sorts of resources of what I would hope would come from a sort of theologically lived life that would have a broader vision of what a good life even a successful life of a theologian lived for the sake of the church live a life lived for the sake of the world, perhaps outside the the walls of of academia, but it's this combination of the sort of dire circumstance within academia. And I think a loss of vision for a broader vocation a broader calling, beyond just the replication of the sort of specialized knowledge production within the theological Guild.
I mean, just just to add a little bit to what Matt said, For from my own perspective of for me at the heart of it is, in a sense, what Matt just finished with the witch's kind of a sense of loss of a true vocation, and the passion for the kind of kind of work or the theology that theological work is. I mean, I think if you count the students of theology as theologians, and I know that there are theologians who count themselves as students of theology and would never describe themselves as theologians, and both of these are true. schleiermacher never signed himself as a theologian but as a student of theology, right. But it's also true that that aspiring as students of theology are always already theologians. And if you can't this, then then then I've been a theologian for some 45 years or so. And I can say I haven't regretted a single day of being a theologian, and I've always experienced it as a calling, above all, with all the difficulties that that entail, including for me working in an environment which I had to fundraise in order to have my salary paid when I was working in former Yugoslavia, but it was it was a passion. It was a calling and I think for theology that's really, really fundamental, because it is not about our intellectual explanations of theological dimensions. of reality, but it's about God's calling, to make this world into the home of God to for us to achieve however construed are final and, and I would want us as theologians to continue having this passion for theology, which is a passion for God's reign, which is a passion for God. But most men said, I don't know whether we quote that in the book and said, we're theologians for the sake of God, God is our passion and God is our agony as well as something of that sort. is what I'm what I'm hoping for.
You described the book as a manifesto. This is a robust call to action, and you identify human flourishing as the key to theologies revitalization. human flourishing. Dr. Wolf is a concept that you have worked with extensively I'm thinking of your 2015 book titled flourishing why we need religion in a globalized world. When you professor won't be Be willing to define for us what is it that you're speaking of when you're speaking of this concept of human flourishing?
You know, we can use a multiplicity of terms to express what flourishing from one angle, expresses. And I would say that in the in the New Testament, it comes under the rubric of the true life. It comes in a rubric, Kingdom of God, reign of God, it comes under the rubric later in the church tradition, building on the Greek philosophical tradition, under the rubric of the good life. We can name use various names to describe this. But it is that kind of vision, that of human fullness, which is God our God's calling upon our lives and God's plan God's gold for the history as a whole. So ultimately flourishing for me means Coming of God to the world, to make out of the world, entire world, the home of God when every creature and every human being flourishes and flourishes together in the presence of God. Now we parse that out in the book, and especially last chapter tries to illustrate how one might do that by looking at the writings of Apostle Paul. And we have our formal definition also a flourishing that is then filled out with content. That formal definition of flourishing applies to other traditions as well, but specifically, has cred deeply Christian content and as well,
Dr. Crossman, if I can address this question to you, where is it that you see the most hope for the future of the study of theology and formation of young theologians?
I think that increasingly, theology is being drawn back to the church. In part, we see this When, in the in the ways that church, church training programs are, are filling in gaps for, for people who can't go or haven't had the opportunity to go to seminary. We think about our colleagues in the UK at Saint mellitus college who are, who are where theology is really, I think really flourishing in the context of, of, of the renewal of the church. And so, academic theology and sort of church theology, I think, are coming closer together in various sorts of places. Not that that is a that is always a silver bullet, and that, that, that that that always works, but I think that there are, of course, there are church theologies that that have lost their way alongside academic theologies that have lost their way but I think that the extent to which the concerns of the of the church the concerns of the people of God Come back to the center of theological concern. And that's, of course for us, never separated from taking the concerns of just the fundamental human concerns back to the heart of theology. I think I think theology will be enriched the church is I think Christian theology is first interface with those human concerns. And I think there's, I think there's a lot a lot to find hope in in the way that theology is being drawn back into the heart of the church and that the church, I think is the is the fruitful is the is the fertile ground, in which theology really can flourish.
Like a bowl fan, may I address that question also to you? Where is it, sir, from your perspective that you see the greatest hope for the future of the study of theology?
Yeah, I'd have to agree with with Matt. I think that the interest in theology which is to say interest in Kind of the thinking side of the practice of faith, which is I think what theology is, comes properly out of the practice of that faith itself. And the place where that faith is practiced are the communities of faith. So I think the hope for me comes comes comes from there, I think it presupposes a certain kind of renewal. renewal of the church vibrancy of the church, presupposes also the churches about what matters the most rather than the church itself has gone the way in which in a sense theology has gone and we note some of the tendencies in that direction as well. And so I suppose I would say, without one without kind of wanting to sign sound pious I I would say the hope of theology is in God hope of the ology is the Spirit of God that vilifies our own lives. It's capturing of this vision, which about which Christ live was a life was all about. And once that vision is, is captured, kind of intellectual attention to that vision, hopefully we will will follow. That's how theology developed. I want to always remind, remind myself that actually, you know, the heart of theology is about ties, my practice my former heart of confessions, which is the heart of theology is baptismal formula, baptism in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, who's the father, who's the son, who's the Holy Spirit, what is it the life What is that life into which we have been inducted by the act of baptism? Once that's taken very seriously, I think theology will will follow and I think it will follow the course just the kind of course that we are sketching for it in this book,
this text for the life of the world theology that makes a difference. You work through the theory of this change in academic theology and the necessity for the the reengagement with these fundamental questions that are part of theologies history. But But you don't speak directly to the practitioner, you don't speak directly to the guy who's going to start a church Training Institute and and and go with this, would you take a moment and address that person for us here? What are some of the advantages that that practitioners should be alert to, as they anticipate engaging those fundamental questions of theology within a church training program as an example? And what are some cautions that you would also give to that person?
Well, what a wonderful question and a difficult question for kind of a question Bartley beyond my paygrade If I were a dean, say, of the theological faculty, that's what I'd have to think about it if I were an atheist. theological Entrepreneur of the time that you're describing in the church just that's exactly what I would have to think think about. And of course, it is it is our constant concern. And now as you speak about it, I think, oh, that would be, it'd be great actually to be able to sit with, with it with a group of people dedicated to church education with a group of folks who are that theological education in the church with a group of folks who are Dean's of theological seminaries, or even have chairs of Christian Lee inflected Religious Studies Department and try to think what kind of agenda would have to be set for the transformation of the theological educational programs that that are already underway and how might the new ones be best best organized? I think one thing I'd say is that I would want to make sure that the ology Doesn't splinter into two multiplicity of sub disciplines. I understand specialization, but I think theology at the same time, lives out of addressing the whole of the Christian life and the monetizing of the whole of it. And so a certain kind of amateurish ness is required of all theologians, almost like being a dilettante is is a condition of possibility to specialize in a specialist in one area and dilettante in all others, as a condition of possibility of theology. And you may know that Karl rahner and his foundations of Christian faith with a famous praise of this, just this kind of dilettantism, and that's the guy who was one of the most erudite of theologians who have written in 20th century.
I think the other thing that I absolutely agree with especially the The integration of the sub disciplines I think, often we sort of think about an academic theology, we think about theology as, you know, a collection of five or six, almost unrelated. guilds, that each have their own specialization, I'm trained as a New Testament scholar. There can even be little, you know, struggles of pride, competition between the sort of guilds, but but more importantly, they seem to each have very different sort of, there's a different sort of intellectual formation offered in each one of these guilds, in very different sorts of directions in terms of historical, historical, sort of questions alone, anthropological questions, sometimes alone, you know, ethical puzzle solving on its own sort of particular sort of systematic theological questions that maybe feel like they're stuck within a sort of a set outline, and we're just trying to describe Each question sort of as they come to us, I mean, these different sorts of disciplinary orientations, I think I need to find integration and especially as you, I think it's one of the fruitful things about re conceiving of theology in the context of, as you said, a sort of church training program is that the church, the practical life of ministry, the life of indeed the life of faith, won't allow us to sort of divide our reflection in our practice, quite so profoundly, of course, will slide into different modes and avail ourselves with different sorts of disciplinary thinking. But, but really quickly, it's going to need to be integrated. The thing I'd want to add is, I think also what you would see in those sorts of environments is you need to figure out some sort of way in which the cultivation of certain sorts of mental certain sorts of intellectual practices and and sort of induction into these sorts of scholarly guilds and scholarly discourses would need to be paired with personal formation. And the sort of formation of the, of the of the whole person. And I think that comes in part we see in the classroom that comes by setting sort of existential stakes for theology, right, where theology for me is most alive, when it's not just something I'm studying about what, what this person over there has thought or what this person over here has thought. But the questions are being posed to me in the second person what to, as Jesus turns to the disciples and says, After he asked, you know, what, who do people say that I am? That's a good important question to ask and get a handle on. But more importantly, he then follows up and says, What about you? Who do you say that I am? And I think when we can get that sort of those personal existential stakes at the heart of our, of our theological inquiry, and that's when it really starts to get some traction in our lives. And that will necessarily then mean that our theological inquiries can never be divorced from our own processes of personal formation. Our own processes have to discipleship, our own processes of allowing the Holy Spirit's are in us and inform in us the likeness of Christ.
in me, sure God as a footnote, that one of the one of the aspirations was to include the chapter on education, on theological education in this book, and we gesture toward it in the in the introduction, but in the end, it's proven to be too difficult to write just the chapter. It deserves a kind of self standing book that will take up the vision and then ask, Well, what is the pedagogy? How do we operationalize that in pedagogical kinds of way, all the way from building institutions to what happens to in the classroom and even outside of it,
gentlemen, if I can close with one question, that we have been asking all of our interviewees on this program, and that is this, how can Christians today pursue the unity that Jesus praise for in john 17.
And one of the one of the things we take up in this in this book is that this question of flourishing life, the nature of flourishing life, the shape of a good life, this is a fundamentally human question. So in that sense, it is a uniting question. If we share this quest, then we have I think, something like a sort of friendship that CS Lewis points us to he says that those who share our answers may be our companions along the way, but those who share our questions who think that some question little regarded by others is of great importance, these people will be our friends. And we can see that this in the book and as a sort of framework for a grand human project, understanding human sociality, human culture, writ large as a sort of contestation over the truth of the question of the good life. But also of course, the church is is is itself A sort of, we describe Christianity as a coral, some family of visions of the good life as Christians, we don't all have exactly the same sort of answers the same sort of way of understanding the good life in light of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. But if we have this question in mind, and if even more so, we asked this question precisely in light of the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, and that quest that pursuit itself I think can be a truly, truly unifying sort of truth crucial sort of common ground and common pursuit for us to share together as Christians.
Yeah, no, only to echo some of the comments that that Matt, Matt made one God for the whole world, one trial and God for the whole world. One try you and God revealed in Jesus Christ for the whole world. That is According to certainly john 17, the foundation of the unity of the church, but from that potentially foundation of unity of all because Jesus prays there for all who will believe, later on, and that prayer is, I think, a good, high priestly prayer in john 17. It is a good charter of, of unity of the church and that unity is found in the unity with Christ and unity of Christ with the triune Triune God. I think
the ends of God with a world are
but one world that is differentiated in multiplicity of the Different cultures. And one world that speaks as we see in Acts too many languages. And so we can keep the Unity centered into oneness, while allowing both individuality and speaking of culturally different languages will have kind of unity and diversity, for which I think Christ prayed there in john 17.
Thank you both. Dr. Crossman, thank you so much for your time today and for discussing your work with us.