Dec 16 2011

Candler Warmth

I have now spent four months as a part of the Candler community.  My first impression of Candler has now been confirmed several times over – it is warm here.

My first encounter with Candler was two days removed from a February day in Chicago that refused to climb above seventeen degrees below zero; the sixty-degree weather I encountered in Atlanta seemed downright tropical. That balmy day left an impression – of that you can be certain – but it is not the warmth which left the strongest impression upon my mind. The warmth of which I am speaking characterized the encounters and conversations I enjoyed with many faculty members and several students. I flew back home with the strong impression that Candler is one of the few places I have encountered where people successfully combine the academic study of theology and religion and a commitment to live out their understanding by caring for each other.

This initial impression was strengthened during the summer months as my family and I prepared for our move to Georgia. Two weeks before the moving truck arrived at our door, a routine physical suggested my wife had a serious cardiac condition. Dean Love and several members of our faculty and staff arranged for a temporary place for us to stay and connected us with a desperately needed physician. We are grateful that the feared prognosis was overturned, and while we can’t say we enjoyed going through that experience, we are grateful that those stressful days were the occasion for continued insight into the people who make Candler what it is.

The many formal and informal conversations and meals shared with colleagues and students during the course of the Fall semester repeatedly confirmed my first impression. Candler is a special place. Not primarily because of the ecumenical vision which permits the coexistence of differing theological perspectives, or because of the commitment to influence society through Christian convictions, or for many of the many other values espoused at Candler, but rather because of the very people who hold those perspectives. It is the people who make a community, it is the people who make it warm and welcoming, and I am pleased to be a member of this one.

For those of you whom I have not yet had the opportunity to meet, I suspect it might be helpful for me to briefly discuss my professional role in our community.  My particular contribution to understanding the Christian faith lies in my focus on early Christian life and thought. I hope that my presence at Candler will enable the members of our community to better grasp the earliest ways that those who followed Christ understood and lived out their beliefs.

It is my conviction that having a thorough understanding of the differences and similarities that exist between today’s church and the church of the past will enable a better understanding of one’s own theological commitments, as well as a better understanding of the variegated nature of our churches and those throughout the world. To be specific, I believe that studying the early church should improve your comprehension of today’s Christianity  and your own faith in at least three ways. First, most contemporary theological constructs engage in some way with those of the early church (even if simply to stand in opposition to them). Studying early Christianity should enable you to better understand your own theological commitments and other theological positions advocated today. Secondly, the social, economic, racial, and theological diversity that exists in our churches today is not new. Studying early Christianity should enable you to better understand the people you encounter in your churches today, for you will learn that diversity of thought has always been a part of the Christian tradition, and you will discover that many traditions of thought that exist today have their roots in the earliest church. Finally, one of the primary goals of a theological education is to learn how to interpret and understand Scripture. Studying early Christianity should enable you to approach Scripture with a more nuanced perspective, for the theological debates of the early church brought to light many possibilities surrounding the interpretation of Scripture.

I’m happy to be a part of a community interested in both understanding and living out the Christian faith. I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of you during this past semester, and I hope to get to know many more of you in the upcoming months and years. I particularly look forward to thinking through the Christian tradition with those of you I find in my classes.

I wish you a blessed Advent season,

- Anthony Briggman

Dr. Briggman is Assistant Professor of the History of Early Christianity.  His research interests focus on binitarian and early Trinitarian theology in the Apologists, especially  Irenaeus of Lyons and Justin Martyr, with special attention to the influence of contemporaneous Jewish thought on their theologies.  Briggman’s book entitled The Theology of the Holy Spirit According to Irenaeus of Lyons is now in press (Oxford University Press).

Dec 9 2011

How the Parables of Jesus Taught Me How to Read Theological Training

A ParabolaIt’s the other way around, isn’t it? A school of theology should teach the aspiring biblical scholar how to read the parables of Jesus with the correct exegetical tools and provide the necessary skills for aptitude in interpretation. While this has been the case for me via a number of exegesis courses at Candler School of Theology, I would also like to use this space to illustrate in broad strokes how my experience with New Testament parabolic literature has trained me to read (perceive, examine, and indeed, exegete) the form, function, and nature of my seminary/theological training.

If the reader will forgive some generalizations, I’ll begin by commenting on a few things that characterize Jesus’ parables before demonstrating their application to my experience at CST. I have gleaned much of this from Steven Kraftchick’s Parables of Jesus course during this semester. First of all, parables are perhaps the best locus for seeing one of the foundational elements of language, namely metaphor. As is indicated in the term itself, a parable casts one (imagined or innovated) reality alongside another. In the case of Jesus’ parables, metaphoricity creates, via fictive (and often extended) analogy, another way of seeing a present reality like the Kingdom of God. Parables also often take the form of a narrative. A story is constructed with particular narrative dynamics, grounded in modes of being and thinking not unfamiliar to the intended audience, and with certain parameters that act to focus attention on one thing or another. An effective parable will meet the requisite cognitive and affective conditions so that the reader/hearer will at first find herself comfortable in the world constructed by the narrative analogy. It will then, either in the body or conclusion, shift typical cultural evaluations of meaning, most often by proffering unanticipated behavior by one or several of the parable’s characters. This shift allows (or perhaps forces) the audience to rethink their present reality in light of the slanted perspective of the parable. This is similar to Kierkegaard’s notion of “wounding from behind.”

The aforementioned characteristics of Jesus’ parables and my meditation on them in and outside of Dr. Kraftchick’s course have helped me to rethink precisely what I am doing and, more importantly, what is happening to me at CST. I have come to see that my training here is more than a 2-year data acquisition program. My relationships here, the coursework, the reading assignments, the papers and projects all cast alongside my vision of life an alternative and fictive account of reality. Furthermore, it is cast in the structure of a narrative. I don’t think in binary. Rather, I recount and contemplate my experiences in the form of story. My participation in Timothy Jackson’s Christian Ethics course begins with a relative feeling of ease concerning my certainty about morality, the ethics of war, Christian character, etc. But it is not long before I find myself “thinking it slant,” being cognitively coerced into reformulating the ethical boundaries of the Christian life. The conversations I have with friends after a day of class take me to the liminal spaces of my theological imagination and I am given a glimpse of an alternative world, wherein the life-destroying and oppressive systems of violent domination have lost their dominion. In short, reading parables has taught me how to read my time at Candler School of Theology and, for that, I am indeed grateful.

- Justin Rose

Justin is a 2nd year MTS student from Florida and a Student Ambassador.

Dec 7 2011

We are the Present of the church!

On November 11 I attended Exploration 2011 as a representative for Candler. The conference, sponsored by The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church, is designed to help 18-26 year olds discern their call into ministry, specifically ordained ministry. Over 600 people responded to this opportunity as participants in the event (not counting seminary and General Agency reps and the event planning team). It was an amazing experience to see so many people actively searching out God and the call God has placed on their life. It was also wonderful to learn more about the state of young clergy in the church. One of the speakers shared the statistic that The United Methodist Church, and other denominations, desperately need young clergy; the UMC only has 950 clergy under the age of 35 out of 30,000 total clergy. The church desperately needs young adults who are actively seeking out God in their lives and who are able to help people discern God in their life.

Jon at Exploration 2011

However, what I saw was a lot of young adults who were looking exclusively into missionary work, chaplaincy, or youth/ children ministries. I spent the first 7 years living into my call to be a Military Chaplain, so this observation did not surprise me. It did scare me. We need clergy who will be in ministry to people who are sick, in prison, young, old, citizens who are foreign and domestic. While there is nothing wrong, and great value, with the specialized ministry of Chaplains, Missionaries, Youth/Children’s directors, etc. we need people to lead the local church. The church is the center that brings all of these people into community and dialogue. It is the organization that sends missionaries and chaplains forth, where the space is made for the young and old, and the one place people should be able to go and feel completely accepted.

The church does not always live up to this, and many pastors have become burned out trying to make the church the open, accepting, and welcoming ministry it should be. Young adults see this and turn away from the church, looking to minister in one area, to one population, free of the structures of the church. We as young people of Christ, need to take a hold of the promise that is given in Baptism and Confirmation. A promise that states we are full members of the church, with a full voice. We cannot abandon the church. It is the place where differences are reconciled, and different backgrounds are brought together. If the church is broken we must not run away, we must stand and fix it. We must claim the authority God has given us and lead.

Often I have heard clergy or lay members of the congregation tell young adults and youth that they are the “Future of the church.” At Exploration I saw people who were living that out; I wish they wouldn’t. We are the Present of the church! Along with the people who are leading the Church now we must insert ourselves into leadership. Be the present of the church; if you hear God’s call in your life don’t hold yourself back from finding the strength to acknowledge that call! Don’t run away from the church because of its human faults, plunge in, change what needs to be changed and lift up what is being done right. In order to have missionaries, youth/children’s directors, and chaplains there must be a church to send them. Do not be afraid to take your place, as a Local Pastor, Elder, Priest, or Preacher! Find a place to cultivate those gifts, dive in, be strong, and remember that God has called you and will be faithful.

- Jon Gaylord

Jon is a second year MDiv student from DeLand, Florida and a Student Ambassador.

Dec 1 2011

Finding One’s Place at Candler

Candler group at Explo2009During my last Thanksgiving at Candler and as I approach graduation in May, I couldn’t help but think of the diverse communities of friends that have touched me and shaped me during my time here.  My first year, I had the opportunity to travel to Dallas, Texas as a small group leader for Exploration 2009.  Through this trip, I became connected to all of the staff in the financial aid and registrar office, as well as some other student leaders within Candler.  Despite the fact that I knew no one on the trip prior to arriving at the airport, we were instant friends only a few hours into our weekend together.  We remained friends through the time that they graduated (as I was the youngest one on the trip), and still have lunch dates to this day!  Furthermore, I became involved with the Student Ambassador Program, which provided yet another community within which I found great friends and support.

Mia's ConEd 1 GroupAnother community that fully embraced me in my first year was my Contextual Education (ConEd) community.  The group of seven of us who worked four hours each week at the United Methodist Children’s Home was pretty much inseparable.  We shared “brother/sister”-type relationships with one another and had an incredible chemistry.  By the end of our first year, we were truly family to one another – we laughed together, cried together, and supported one another free of judgment, no matter what the situation.  We truly carried one another through a year full of both trials and celebrations.

I was anxious entering second year, because I knew that the people in my ConEd group would change and I would not see those from my first year group as much as we had the year before.  What did I have to fear, though?  Yet again, I grew incredibly close to a whole new group of people, while maintaining my previous friendships.  That year, we worked eight hours each week in an ecclesial setting.  I began to really wrestle with whether or not I wanted to continue with ordination in the UMC.  Hesitant to share these doubts with many others, my ConEd group embraced me and provided a safe space for me to continue my discernment process.  They challenged me as to what I would have to lose should I not follow through in the process, as well as what the Church could lose if I were to give up.  Having help in thinking through some of these things was really beneficial for me, and formational in my ministry.

Mia and Friends

Finally, outside of the small groups I was placed in as a result of my coursework, I developed a strong friendship with a group of five girls that I have no doubt will be lifelong friends.  During the stresses of second year, we became close, realizing we shared a lot of things in common as well as a similar sense of humor.  We spend a lot of time together both inside and outside of classes.  I have truly been greeted with open arms by each and every group I came into contact with at Candler.  I firmly believe that there is a wonderful and affirming place for everyone within this community.  I have no doubt that each individual who passes through this special place is touched and transformed in a way that will positively impact the future of their ministry, whether it be inside or outside the church, and for that I am very thankful.

- Mia Northington

Mia is a 3rd Year MDiv student from Tennessee and a Student Ambassador.