Saturday, October 14

I Heart Heartly

So I wouldn't have been so stressed this week if I hadn't volunteered for an extra newspaper editorial:

I Heart Heartly

I mean - Hartley. And the entire religion department. As I travel my final semester as a GC religion major, I become increasingly and exceedingly appreciative and excited about the education I'm participating in.
To be fair, we're not the biggest school. Unlike the music and ed departments, a whopping dozen students become religion majors, with a few more ministry majors. Our professors don't write books (that I'm aware of) and aren't quoted for their reviews of books. We're not famous and until I return on a chariot of fire and fame to teach myself, we never will be.
Yet I would confidently chose our faculty over legendary authors and orators. I hear the great authors regardless when I read and for much less money and without writing papers. The potential difference in school is an opportunity for flesh as well as words. The profs here are taking full advantage of that potential. They listen to students, seek to take on our perspective, ask questions and respond to our questions. Beyond that, they open their office. They eat in our dining room and invite us to eat in their dining room. There is a story of some students of one of those a fore mentioned legendary giants of academia. There was an extraordinary time when they actually visited his house. When they saw the bathroom, they stood in awe. "We didn't think you used a bathroom." Fortunately, I cannot share in that awe.
For instance, last Sunday a religion professor (who might wish to stay anonymous) attended a potluck with me, then engaged me in a two hour conversation about biblical inerrancy and ceremony, and then played with me in a giant parachute on Scott Field. And then talked about gospel hermeneutics. And isn't that exactly what Jesus did. Come off the pedestal; eat; talk; play; talk. Other schools' students boast of the one time in four years they had coffee with a professor. Bah!
Yet that might be said of any of GC's glorious faculty. (Personally, Dr. Iler throws the best parties.)
What seems to make GC's religion department shine is the particular approach to Christianity's sticky issues. At first glance, it does not approach them. There is no lecture debunking Calvinism or Six Day Creationism or affirming the Free Methodist doctrines of sanctification or Memorialism. I bet you've never heard of those doctrines. It's not laziness or poor planning and it's not a covert plot to wash you with their own doctrine while you're in a false sense of security.
In fact, you probably know religion classes (and their COR201, 301, and 302 counterparts) wisp us out from our security blankets. This is the typical criticism of unwary students. But pay attention to the method and I think you'll agree they're not out to destroy our faith: The method of destruction is to quote some high statistic or authority (probably Scripture) and show how incompatible your belief is with that source and therefore you're wrong. GC's method has an important but significant difference: they confront you with ideas, not facts. Facts have no feeling - you can't empathize with them and you can learn to ignore them. Ideas are alive. You might not like them, but they won't disappear. Either you become their friend or you leave. Profs don't want you to leave the faith; they want us to commune with these new truths. (A wise writer in the Technology Myth column this week says some nice things about this idea.)
Here's the clincher and my motivation for this editorial: Greenville's religion faculty taught me to listen. I don't know if I was bad at it before, but I think I'm pretty good now and I see GC's fingerprints all over me. In my various conversations, I occasionally encounter a person who simply cannot even comprehend something outside their previous ideas. That thought has recently scared me more and more. It's equivalent to going deaf, blind, or illiterate. Isolation from new ideas is permanent, academic death. Our two best courses are Foundations of Doctrine and Methods of Theology. They both don't talk about theology, they talk about talking about theology. They are interested in the deep assumptions of our faith.
GC religion department, you are my savior.

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