My sister went to St. Olaf; I went to Wheaton. The differences are many--she chose Olaf after hearing both orchestras--but one that's always struck me is the fact that she was able to study world religions with tenure-track professors who actually practice them. I was not, because Wheaton requires faculty to sign a statement of faith--a model that has upsides but also pretty serious downsides.
I have no problem with people of faith who maintain, in a pluralistic world, that their particular tradition offers something crucial and unique. I am one. But when it comes to learning about another faith tradition, given the option why would you want to learn from someone who isn't personally invested in it?
On more than one occasion, pastors and laypersons from progressive congregations have confided in me, “We are a little weak in our theology; we know what we don’t believe but have trouble articulating our own faith to one another and to newcomers.” They recognize that a vital faith lives by its affirmations as well as its negations, especially in times of crisis and uncertainty.
In 2006, New Testament scholar Robert Wall and pastor Anthony Robinson coauthored Called to Be Church, a study of the book of Acts. Each chapter of that volume has two sections: Wall provides an interpretation of the biblical text, then Robinson reflects on how the text bears on the life of the church. The format is not unique.
Nothing outrages students in Jonathan Sheehan’s course on the history of Christianity at the University of California at Berkeley more than the writings of John Calvin. What kind of God is it who would predetermine the ultimate destiny of all humans before the creation of the world? students wonder. Reading Calvin, he says, helps students see the power of an argument and consider the consequences of their own beliefs and commitments. Sheehan wants students to wrestle with Calvin with “integrity, reason, creativity, and charity . . . intellectual virtues that we need in our modern world” (New York Times, September 12).