March 4, 2010

Theological Improvisations

Yesterday morning I presented the 2010 Ecumenical Lectures at Myanmar Institute of Theology, which focused on “Reading Scripture with the Spirit.” About 100 faculty and students from MIT and Central gathered in a large hall for the lectures; the windows were open, so the chirping birds added their voices to the intellectual pursuit. The best part of the event was the time open for questions, which were thoughtful and probing. Here is a sampling of the wide ranging queries:

1. What are the dangers of reading the Bible only from one perspective such as a liberationist reading?
2. Are other sacred texts besides the Bible inspired?
3. How should the context of Myanmar shape the reading of biblical texts?
4. What about those who think a literal interpretation is the only “correct” way to read?
5. Is the Spirit different from Christ?
6. Do we have something to learn from other ways of faith?
7. How do we use what we learn in seminary to move the churches forward in deepened faith?
8. How should we deal with the encroaching fundamentalism on the one side and flourishing Pentecostalism on the other?
9. Why has the Spirit been neglected in Baptist churches?
10. Why is it so hard to turn aside the fundamentalist claims about the subordination of women?

It was a lively exchange. I was impressed by the level of engagement and earnest “contending for the truth.” I had been preparing for this opportunity by reading books and essays written by their distinguished faculty—not only so that I might cite them, but so I would have some sense of their theological concerns and construction.

The continuing challenge for Myanmar scholars is to allow the biblical narratives to be read contextually in culturally sensitive ways. In many respects, it is a work of improvisation as they modulate the tones of the story of God’s compassion that it might be heard. I respect the work of faithful scholarship sustained in this school and am grateful for the partnership our schools have.

Yesterday was also the opportunity for our students to meet with their students to understand how theological formation and preparation for ministry occur in our discrete settings. Our students were eager for this time and had prepared judiciously for it. [I trust their postings will convey some of what they experienced.]

Today offers an opportunity to meet with the D.Min. Committee of MIT to further our collaboration on this degree. What a remarkable opportunity we have to forge a new kind of educational opportunity that will call us to a wider understanding of Christian ministry in a time of rapid globalization. Surely theological improvisation will be a needed competence in this endeavor.

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