Over the past few days I’ve had occasion to move my library. The microcosm of the whole experience was three big boxes I found in the back of a stack. They were all three full to bursting with notes, handouts, and readings from my seminary education. I sorted through them, and ended up discarding two thirds of the stuff. What I kept was mostly comb-bound copies of long out of print books, and a few sets of notes from classes where those notes are still the best resource I have.
Some of what I threw away was good material, but I’ve long since assimilated it and I don’t need it in writing anymore. A bunch of it, though, was completely useless to me. I would never teach those subjects in that way, nor would I recommend that any student learn them that way.
For example, I am about half-convinced that systematic theology is mostly useless. As a quick introduction to what Christians believe, perhaps a systematic theology has a place. But in my seminary education, we had 4 semester hours of church history, 6 hours of history of doctrine, and 36 hours of systematic theology. That’s ridiculous. If you’re going to spend that kind of time, sink every bit of it into church history, with a heavy emphasis on reading primary sources. You’ll get all the same stuff, and you’ll get it in context, to boot.
Except don’t approach it as ‘church history.’ Approach it as the story of Our People, the continuous story of how we came to be, and what we shall become. Learn the stories as episodes within the Story. Tell the tales when you lie down, when you rise up, when you walk in the way, when you sit around the campfire at night. Speaking of which — make time to sit around the campfire at night and tell stories. Tell your little ones about Boniface and the sacred oak. Tell your middle schoolers about Athanasius and the Arians, about Palamas and Barlaam. Tell your seminarians about Kate Youngman and the lepers — and send them down to the river to work with the homeless.