That’s the task of ministry: using words, frail things really, to make sense of the incarnate God who’s beyond our sense.
Seminaries, at their best, are strong ecologies of reading and writing. They’re about setting students on a course for a ministry of abundant life for the sake of the church’s flourishing. They’re about helping students and their future flocks inch slightly higher in love of God and neighbor. Saint Basil the Great in the fourth century situated this mission in the context of reading and writing, and he put it really well. In Basil’s day, people were arguing over how exactly to describe the relationship between Jesus and the One who sent him, between the Father and the Son—are they the same, different, or sort of both? And there were of course the naysayers, the people who said it didn’t matter, who argued that we should be out there helping the poor instead of poring over this esoteric academic nonsense. Basil had an answer:
Those who are idle in the pursuit of righteousness count theological terminology as secondary, together with attempts to search out the hidden meaning in this phrase or that syllable, but those conscious of the goal of our calling realize that we are to become like God, as far as this is possible for human nature. But we cannot become like God unless we have knowledge of God, and without lessons there will be no knowledge. Instruction begins with the proper use of speech, and syllables and words are the elements of speech. Therefore to scrutinize syllables is not a superfluous task.Sure, Basil says, those who don’t care about holiness don’t care about language. But those who want to love God know that our only way to do that is to love language—as theologians, future pastors, and educators, as writers, all we have is words from God to give out to other people. And words are enough.
Read it all.
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