I have had a couple of questions from someone which I’m struggling to answer. He grew up and still lives in Texas, has a “hyper-conservative, mainstream” evangelical background, but has recently been exploring new ideas about theology and doctrine, in particular the sort narrative approaches to the interpretation of the New Testament and the construction of beliefs that I’ve advocated here. He is now looking for somewhere to study but is having a hard time finding a school that will “challenge the systematic/neo-Calvinist theology” to which he has been exposed for most of his journey with Jesus. So the first question is: Can anyone recommend a graduate school or seminary that embraces narrative theology?
I’m not American so I’m not really in a position to offer much in the way of sensible advice. Daniel Kirk is big on narrative and is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Fuller, so that might be a place to start. My friend Barney has been at Regent College, Vancouver for the last couple of years and he seems to think that it’s a pretty cool open-minded establishment. I tutor for the London School of Theology’s distance learning MA in Aspects and Implications of Biblical Interpretation, which has a good core hermeneutics module but may not meet our friend’s broader needs. So can anyone help out? Is there a school or seminary in the US that gets the New Perspective and narrative-historical approaches to scripture and such like?
The second question is more general:
Do you have a recommendation regarding whether or not seminary is even necessary for a theologian/minister in our post-Christendom culture?
If all a theological education does is perpetuate outmoded and misleading paradigms, then the answer is probably no, in my view. It seems to me that there is a lot of informal self-educating going on at the moment, and although the potential pitfalls are numerous and obvious, I would certainly not want to discourage people from opening their minds to the range of new perspectives that are out there. It seems to me that a lot of people, young and old, have a great passion to renew the evangelical mind, to ground their faith in a much more cogent, realistic, intelligent, and challenging worldview. How well the institutions are responding to this I don’t know. But it has to be a healthy development that there is such a vigorous grassroots conversation going on.
In the longer term, however, this conversation needs to be properly informed. It needs to feed off good disciplined, educated theological reflection. So we need people to get the PhDs and write the books and blogs, do the teaching and preaching, establish some benchmarks, raise the bar, prick the bubbles of vanity theologizing, and so on. As long as scholarship remains self-critical and willing to engage with and serve the broader community, I think we still need the “experts”. Others, however, may disagree.
I’ve heard good things about Richard Hays at Duke University. He is in dialogue with Wright and they admire one another, and there is a lot of overlap in their views, but they do spar from time to time. He has done some really good work on the structure of scripture, as well as the historical aspects.
I think these 3 seminaries would be open to other hermeneutical approaches like the narrative-historical approach:
1) Northern Seminary — where Scot McKnight is now and David Fitch
2) Duke Divinity School — where Daniel Kirk studied and EP Sanders has been a guest lecturer
3) Western Seminary
I agree with Andrew. Daniel Kirk’s approach to the New Testament is not too dissimilar from Andrew’s. However, Andrew seems to focus a great deal more on the historical dimensions required in New Testament exegesis.
The Theology & Letters M.A. course at New Saint Andrews College in Moscow, ID might be an option for him. Dr. Peter Leithart teaches a lot of the courses, and recommended to me Andrew Perriman’s book on Romans for research. I completed the program and can say from personal experience that this place is up to speed with what’s going on in new theology, even if the professors disagree with it. If you care to challenge a well-held paradigm, they would be open so long as you can defend your position. I’ve written some pretty provacative and bizarre papers, and have been surprised by how open they were about discussing my ideas. Here’s a link to the site:
I hear from John Drane that Fuller has a Texas branch, and also does online course “with this very emphasis”, which he and his wife help teach.
Fuller seems to be way ahead of the game in theology. In particular it has a strong focus on Process theology which is a fascinating new field, one that answers the old questions about God that a purely narrative-historical reading of scripture often fall short. We need not only a new approach to scripture such as espoused by Andrew, but what we say about God has to move beyond the old substance meta-physics that is holding Christianity in the dark ages.
Sorry again, ‘Fuller should have read Claremont school of theology
The PhD’s (and plenty of other interesting people) are already writing books and blogs. It seems to me that a reading list, coorespondance relationship (email or preferably private blog), and some documentable practical application would be adequate for most religious education. Back in the old days you used to “sit under” a particular person for a degree. I think it’s likely that this is coming back via the Internet.
I attend Redeemer Seminary in Dallas, TX and while it is strongly Reformed and so does a lot of redemptive history, I can see it moving toward a much more narrative approach. I love it. It is conservative but progressive, open, and Christocentric.
I’d be happy to talk with the guy about it more.
I’ll chime in just to offer a note on Fuller as both a grad and current DMiss student. Fuller (Pasadena) still teaches a straight systematic approach to theology — it’s good, but that’s what it is. Ray Anderson offered courses in theology that were much more akin to narrative, but sadly he has passed away. I ended up having to do an independent study (which is pretty easy if you get in good w/ the right professors) in order to delve into narrative approaches to theology.
It’s a smaller school, but I think Biblical Seminary in Philadelphia, PA has made some excellent moves toward narrative (they use missional language) approaches to theology.
On the topic of theological education…
This is a central interest of mine. Most recently I divied up a paper (Toward a Mission-Shaped Vision of Theological Formation: Implications of the Misio Dei for Theological Education) into 10 blog posts — last one w/ links to the rest is here, http://j.mp/MZs259. I also contribute to the ongoing project at thefutureoftheologicaleducation.com.
My summary of the issue is essentially that just as Christendom-shaped churches are struggling for existence w/in an increasingly Post-Christian and secularized context, out domiannt forms of theological education (which are similarly shaped by the assumptions and characteristics of Christendom) are increasingly being seen as unable to faithfully prepare leaders for the current and future realities of Christian life and ministry — this includes mere scholarship, though that will lag even further behind than practitioner-oriented programs.
Thankws. They look like useful resources. I will pass them round.
Any updates on this issue? anyone know of schools that developed a “formal” Narrative Theology emphasis??
I’m about to start at Western Seminary. Which definitely leans conservative, but their whole approach is that they don’t claim any denomination or principles you have to align with other than Jesus’ reality, and let the students flesh out all the details as growing theologians. The faculty has diverse views on most topics. Their whole curriculum is designed around Biblical (Narrative) Theology. Multiple electives in the topic, required coursework in the topic. It’s an amazing approach and so far I haven’t found another school that revolves around the school of thought as much as them (though Duke Divinity and Fuller come close). Other schools — Regent, TEDS, Iliff (Denver) — have courses over it but don’t have a coursework philosophy that revolves around it. I will say, John Goldingay and Nancy Murphy are both at Fuller, and they’re designing a broad and effective approach to narrative theology. John Goldingay literally wrote the book on Biblical Theology, and Nancy Murphy focuses on narrative theology as her understanding of the Word.
Also, for people getting confused, as far as I understand Biblical and Narrative theology are synonymous. I prefer the term Narrative Theology because Biblical Theology sounds too vague and is a bit weighted against other considering.