This is a question I never cared to ponder until seminary. I have a business background as well as an ecclesial one but defining a theologian was never a concern … until now. Who constitutes the classification of theologian? Before coming to Candler, I may have answered that question with a list of erudite scholars, many of whom are no longer living.
A theologian is someone who dedicates her or his life to the scholastic vocation of seeking after knowledge of God and the things of God….
For some, that may have been a sufficient answer but life has taught me differently. While I have learned a great deal from the noted theologians of the past, I have learned, perhaps most deeply, from the theologians who would never classify themselves as such. Some of the most impactful learning experiences I have had over the course of my time in seminary have not been from books but from lived experiences.
A few weeks ago, the Voices of Hope Gospel Choir of the Lee Arrendale State Prison for Women came to sing during chapel service. The ways the songs soothed my soul and the way the melody wrapped me in comfort is something words cannot adequately convey. Excuse my colloquialism but you just had to be there. One song in particular struck me in a way no scholarly reading ever has. The choir full of women who were incarcerated for crime sang the words I AM FORGIVEN, I AM A CHILD OF GOD. It was as if all of the theological discourse in my being came to an abrupt halt to listen again to these words of truth. What does it mean to be forgiven? To belong to God? To be children of grace? By singing these words, these women became for me at that moment, theologians, encouraging me to learn something new and think about God in new and fresh ways.
I am teaching a class this semester at the same prison the women in the choir are from. On the first day, I began class by saying – “whether you know it or not, you are all theologians.” I wanted to affirm the voices of these women relegated to the outskirts of society. I wanted to do for these women what my theological education has done for me – affirm the voice within. God in Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit speaks to me, in me and through me…and to these women as well. I have a voice, I have something to say and my words matter. So do theirs. So does yours.
The pursuit of theological education is a blessed one. It will often times lead you to the wonders of great writings and texts and if you are patient enough, it will lead you to the lives of people whose experiences will stay with you for a lifetime. These people will never call themselves theologians but you and I know better.
- Rachelle Brown
Rachelle is a second year MDiv student from Cincinnati, OH and a Candler Student Ambassador.
You can see an earlier blog about the Voices of Hope here.