The first course in my M.A. program in historical theology at Wheaton College is one that provides an overview of many primary theological questions. It is fascinating stuff and I’m enjoying it a lot, even if — perhaps as might be expected — I struggle with new terminology and many new concepts.
The past few weeks, we have focused on the creation story in the first few chapters of Genesis. For example, we have discussed what are the main theological points in these chapters, and whether the various positions in the debates about these scriptures can affirm those theological points. There is a lot of what I would term “theological heaviness” in these discussions. That does not mean such discussions are off-putting or negative but rather, that they are so weighty and important to the story of Christian belief.
How does one accurately read these scriptures? (I am not sure the word “accurate” is even the appropriate one to use in this context.) Are these important scriptures a literal description of a concrete, historical series of events? Or is it important to view them as literary and focus on the text’s genre? Do they support what is termed “old earth” vs. “new earth” theological positions relating to creation, or can they support or disprove evolutionary theory? What role do scientific theories have in relation to these texts?
Notice that I am posing these questions while not answering them. Not here, at least. In part that is because such matters are so complex, so weighty or heavy, that I do not believe one should approach them simplistically, quickly, or lightly. My understanding of various aspects of these scriptures is actively under evaluation and expansion. That is part of why I chose to pursue this new area of study in the first place.
Our professor for this class (who happens to have joined the faculty here at around the same time I did) responds graciously to the many what ifs and intellectual struggles posed by his students. Many of us feel like we are just scratching the surface of the complexities and the depth of theological issues in Genesis 1-2, and have expressed our frustration about that. This is not frustration aimed at the class or the professor but instead reflects, again, the deep topics we are asked to think about. And there is never enough time for us to cover so many important themes and issues within class to everyone’s satisfaction.
I have spent a lot of time in the past few weeks meeting individually with my Passage students, and one of them asked me to identify my favorite reading from this class. Without hesitation, I identified a particular book chapter (chapter 2 — “Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad?”). Written by Timothy C. Tennent in his edited volume Theology in the Context of World Christianity (see full citation below), to me, this chapter is a master class in carefully unpacking a highly complex and controversial issue with clarity and precision. If only I had read this at the time of the so-called One God controversy on campus about three years ago that received international media attention and resulted in Dr. Larycia Hawkins’ departure from the college. I think I would have been much more informed and cognizant of what was (is) at stake.