"Instead of coming into the stuffy air of theological bigotry, I entered a world that united many things that I love and need: accurate theological work on the common ground of fellowship, in which one's own inabilities were never noticed in a hurtful fashion, but rather which turned work into pleasure; true fellowship under the Word that united all “without respect to person”— and nonetheless with open mindedness and love for everything that makes even this fallen creation still worthy of love: music, literature, sports, and the beauty of the earth; a generous style of life that favourably combined the culture of old homes with the uninhibited forms of a community of young men— last, not least, a man in charge whom one can indeed admire without reservation."
- Gerhard Lehne, writing to Bonhoeffer -
Usually, a budding theologian is left to do all that ‘life’ stuff outside the classroom: life = ‘extra-curricular’. The result of this strange equation? Lop-sided, self-appointed academic theologians, who often end up being more of a hindrance to the Church than a help (did I say that out-loud?). But didn’t someone once say something in a letter somewhere about watching one’s life and doctrine, as though the two were, sort-of, linked? The question is, how bold are we actually willing to be in imitating Paul’s (or Jesus’) more comprehensive approaches to theological education? Some institutions patchily try to plug this gap, often with good intentions, lethargic results, and pragmatic excuses. “Yes, yes; we know, we know; theology and formation, etc. We agree; we agree. But at the end of the day, people need to learn the stuff, they need to be assessed, there are only so many hours in a day, and isn’t the Church supposed to do the pastoring?” Such an attitude is entirely understandable, but it is not one that can claim to be truly committed to theological education. Because theological education makes no sense if it’s not entirely formative, and it makes no sense if it does not lead entirely from (and to) the mission of the Church.
Why is it that a place like Finkenwalde might be occasionally remembered (even rose-tintedly) as though it were a place like Rivendell? Perhaps a ‘Rivendell’ is actually something that theological education could hope to be: a place to prepare the disciple for the perilous journey ahead, whether a theological life in the academy, the pastorate, Jupiter, or wherever else they end up. The important thing about such a place is that, however experientially beneficial it is, however refreshing, however stirring, it cannot keep you there forever. Indeed, to stay there would mean you hadn’t really learned the most important thing to be learned there: that you ultimately need to go. Indeed, to be there is to be going. Like the fishermen who dropped their nets, like the students on the Emmaus road, like the hearers in the hall of Tyrannus, things are supposed to happen afterwards. The focussed season of learning (though it never really stops) should be a time of challenging and building-up in the context of real peace and joy, where all of life is permitted to encroach, so that the theology that is learned is both lived and life-giving.
Even if we dare not set up another Finkenwalde today, we might learn something from its rigorous conflation of sacrificial discipleship, baptised imagination, rigorous learning, earthy delight, and unashamed faith – a place where life (all of it) and theology (all of it) lived happily together, the one advising the other. It could be naïve to imagine that such a place were possible in theological education today; but might it also be the case that those with the power to do it perhaps lack the courage to try?