We are currently considering some new textbooks for an Intro to Christian Theology course at the University I teach at. The process entails reviewing ‘desk copies’ (free books sent by publishers hoping and praying that you adopt their ‘complete’ and ‘exhaustive’ tome and require students to buy it – believe me, it is a symbiotic relationship) and then choosing a text or texts to build a course around.
In decades past, this seemed so easy – there was a central core of texts to draw from (what theologian David Tracy in his book “The Analogical Imagination” has called ‘Christian Classics’) and these would be almost uniform throughout Theology programs. Now, things are different and diffused. Given the shift away from a uniform understanding of what we mean by ‘theology’ – the ‘texts’ we appeal to (outside of creeds and the Scriptures) go the gambit from writings in fundemental doctrinal history to playing Death Cab for Cutie’s ‘Lightness’ in class. It amy not come as a big suprize that I celebrate this shift away from an essentialist understanding of what ‘wells’ we draw from (John 4) in regard to helping us to think about God (the task of theology). As with the women at the well Jesus dialogues with in John 4, I think theologians are being challenged to where is one to be true in faith – is it on the Mountain (Mount Gerizim was considered a holy mountain to the Samaritan people – some idealised place far removed, as Thomas Hardy would say, “from the maddening crowd“akin to high and lifted up places like Colorado Springs or 121 Geroge Street in Edinburgh) or is it in the City (in this case Jerusalem which was the center of faith for the Jewish nation which serves as a typology for the gritty, material realism celebrated by the masters of suspicion Marx, Freud, and our beloved Nietszche)? The question of the place of worship is a theologically astute question. The women, like many of our students, are noodling on the question of sources. The sense of place where to draw our reflections about the nature of God has split the people of God into factions, each group claiming solidarity with a certain “sacred place” and creating exclusive collectives around these locales that people “not of the place” would have difficulty getting to without “being in the “in crowd” as it were.
All this to say – I am beginning to hate textbooks and love the Bible again. I just completed teaching a Hermenutics course and was struck with how strange, how wild, how unpredictable, and how illiminating the ‘Book’ really is. I have grown weary of the safe publishing machines in Grand Rapids and Downers Grove, but still appreciate what they are trying to do. In the same vein, I am tried of the over-priced, hypocritical, whining, cynical attempts at so-called revolution pouring out of the ‘elite’ publishers such as those found in the Cultural Memory in the Present series of SUP.
I think we really need new ‘wells’ that dig deeper than safety and more fulfilling than a cynical pinch on the cheek (that’s about all you get after 35 – 70 pgs. in the Cultural Memory books – little tweeks of insight that fades like a bruise from an Indian burn…)…
Any suggestions from the collective mind always appreciated here – how should we be teaching theology and what should our resources be?