One of the better publications that crosses my desk is the Union Seminary Quarterly Review. Like some of the readers of CHRISTIANITY TODAY I am a “freeloader”; the Review is passed on to me by a friend. I cannot say, however, that this lessens my pleasure or profit in the reading.

An issue which you simply must read is that of May, 1962. If the editors of the Review would care for my advice, I would like to suggest that this particular issue be put out in book or booklet form. The issue carries articles by James Muilenburg, John Knox, Robert T. Handy, Edmund A. Steimle, Wilhelm Pauck, Roger L. Shinn, and Daniel D. Williams. All these names gathered in one issue of any publication would insure its success, and just for good measure there is a book review (“An Assembly of Solemn Noises”) by Robert McAfee Brown which could serve as the last word for anyone who wants to know how to write a book review.

Interest in this issue involves more than just interest in the authorities who have written, however, and this is the reason why the issue of last May is still “current” in religious thought; these men of Union Seminary have been led to write on subjects of perennial interest which are always “current.” Under the aegis of a man named Thomas Laws and the Student Worship Committee of the seminary, these men gave informal lectures, which were taperecorded for publication, on such subjects as “What I Believe It Means to be Saved,” “What I Believe About the Activity of the Holy Spirit,” “What I Believe About the Way God Answers Prayer,” and “What I Believe About Life After Death.”

The discussions and the articles grew out of a sense of need which I think is common to all our seminaries. Allowing that a seminary is called to serve the faith by solid academic achievements, Thomas Laws, in his introduction to the Review, along with his committee of students “would assert that these intellections do not constitute the whole faith.… Many theological students do have an immediate concern for the more ‘confessional’ elements of the Christian faith.” The Student Worship Committee (I am still quoting Laws) “sensing within the Seminary community a need for explicit discussion affecting personal beliefs decided to sponsor a series of informal Lenten discussion meetings.” Four meetings were planned, and two faculty members spoke quite frankly at each meeting. Where there had been an expectation of 30 to 40 students, the issues were taken so seriously that over 200 students regularly crowded the Social Hall for the meetings. President Van Dusen is quoted as having called these meetings “the finest, most meaningful, and most helpful series of talks by faculty in the past 40 years.

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Now the question is: Just why in a theological seminary do students feel the need for this kind of material (and the need is felt in every seminary), when the professors spend their days teaching theology, the things of Christ, the Word which we preach, and like matters? A second question is: Do the intellectual pursuits of an academic institution destroy the possibility of communicating the more “confessional” elements of our faith? These outstanding men of Union, recognized for their scholarship the world over, always have this warmth of personal conviction; yet the students feel the need of meetings outside the lecture hall in order that this warmth of conviction can be communicated.

If you think this is a criticism, then you have certainly missed the point. The problem is present in every seminary, and most professors and most students recognize it; at Union they did something about it. Kierkegaard raised the question long ago whether it is possible to “teach” theology. How does one “teach” redemption, or the presence of God, or the divine-human encounter, or communion in prayer, or the forgiveness of sin? The Swiss psychiatrist Tournier in his The Meaning of Persons shows how contact between doctor and patient is impossible until spirit touches spirit or person meets person, uncluttered by the trappings of “personage.” When C. A. Anderson-Scott returned to replace Hoskyns at Cambridge University, I heard him address his opening session, and I remember these words: “I want to keep one eye on the tripos (the English term for a final comprehensive exam) and one eye on the Kingdom of God, but I propose to keep my good eye on the Kingdom of God.” C. S. Lewis warns us about confusing a map with the journey; we can master the map and never take a trip. Robert Clyde Johnson, the great theologian at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, has a letter published in a recent issue of “The Pittsburgh Perspective” in which he treats at length this hardy perennial: What is the relationship between theological discipline and spiritual experience? A young minister told me one time, “After three years at the seminary it took me three more years to get my religion back.”

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Another question that arises somewhat indirectly from these articles in the Review has to do with the backgrounds of the men who wrote them. It is surprising, or maybe it is not, that so many of them refer to early training in home or college which was limited and narrow in what they think of as the “fundamentalist” approach to the Christian faith. One could do an interesting study on the number of men teaching in theological seminaries who have such a “fundamentalist” background; just to make the thesis more exciting, one might analyze also the religious backgrounds of editors and missionaries, not to mention board secretaries and ecumenical leaders. I resist the temptation to name names, but outstanding men in every denomination come to mind readily. Does this not raise the question (it does for me, anyway) whether we can find men coming into the ministry at all unless there is something of this fundamentalist “seriousness” about heaven and hell, the imminence of the Second Coming, sin and salvation, and the like? The desperate need for men in our seminaries may be related to the disappearance of the family altar, the sophistication of our church schools, the lightheartedness of our summer conference programs, and the reluctance of our church colleges to say anything too challenging about Christ for fear it will be intellectually shameful. Maybe it is time again for some old-time religion.

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