What I didn’t know

An old antiphonary from about 1270

Yesterday, I had lunch with a PhD student who had just successfully defended their dissertation proposal the day before. As we talked about why we do what we do in grad school, it prompted me to think through my own reasons for pursuing another graduate degree, this time in theology. There were things discussed in our lunch that previously, I would have had no concept of, but that I immediately understood and was conversant about. It prompted some reflection on what I didn’t know before I started the program:

  • I had heard of the Nicene Creed but did not really know what it was and why it is important.
  • I didn’t know how badly certain scriptures are misinterpreted or twisted.
  • I didn’t know what it means for someone to call themselves “complementarian” or even whether I was one or something else (I’m not complementarian, for the record).
  • I had no idea about the Council of Chalcedon and Nestorianism or Monophysitism.
  • I had never definitively documented reading the Old and New Testaments all the way through.
  • I had no concept or awareness of broad trends in theology such as modernism and post-modernism.
  • I did not realize the extent to which my fundamentalist, anti-intellectual church upbringing shared foundations with Anabaptists.
  • I had heard of “smells and bells” and high church vs. low church but did not appreciate why those differences exist and in particular, what might be attractive about a high(er) church tradition.

The list could go on and on. The point is, five years after starting my Master’s degree in theology as a part-time (and admittedly less-than-stellar) student, I am feeling a lot more confident about this new chapter in my education. And confirmed that it was a good and right thing to do in spite of all the difficulties. I have benefitted tremendously, and I am thankful it has been possible for me to do because of the educational benefit of my employment. I could never have afforded it otherwise.

Perhaps most of all, I have benefitted from the personal connections, especially to Bible and theology faculty. There have been some notable duds but mostly, they have renewed my faith in my faith and greatly expanded my horizons. There is such a deep and rich tradition to Christianity, including an enormous amount of warts and blemishes and downright evil. But my own faith has been deepened and widened throughout my time in the program. Another benefit has been to learn, as a teacher myself, about the craft of teaching from others.

People (including family) often ask me why? Why would I do this? Why add so much additional workload to an already very full professional and work life? It is not technically necessary at all for my career, nor is there an explicit career motivation to it, although it might be beneficial in that regard. I hope this post gives an appropriate response to such questions.

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