The following is the second installment of a seminarian’s observations after completing his second year at Princeton. For the time being, he will remain anonymous.
Hopefully this rather bleak picture demonstrates my frustration adequately. It is also the relief that contrasts with some of the good things I have learned.
For one, my disenchantment with theology has made room for my re-enchantment with God. Foremost has been a rediscovery of the centrality of what I learned in my childhood in the midst of the academy's attempts to displace it. Nearly all that I’ve needed to know, I learned in Sunday School as a child—‘Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so,’ ‘What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus’—or straight out of the Bible—‘Christ died for our sins,’ ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ etc. It’s not so much that I forgot these things, but have come to understand them and their significance more deeply.
When Jesus is central, all else falls into place. When we forget this, we lose our sense of place in the universe. At best, we replace God with our ideas about Him. And then it becomes a matter of who has the best theory. People become intoxicated with their own ideas. They listen in order to speak, not to learn. They learn, not to grow, but rather to be learned, or at least perceived that way. They grow, not to be fruitful and have something to offer that nourishes and betters others, but to grow great and influential, to gain credit and rapport. A full life here is a full wallet and a lengthy CV; a cache of accolades and collegiate connections; full life is being high on the totem pole and high on the hog.
When Jesus is central I become a lover of life, receptive to the daily joy and sorrow that is human existence, just happy and thankful to be alive with God. Full life becomes a moment by moment receptivity and thankfulness—God received and discovered through every aspect of life: mundane, exceptional, joyful, sorrowful, dull, exciting, rainy, sunny, alone, with others, among supporters or opponents.
Of course, I do not live this every moment, but I want to. I have tasted and seen. I’ve discovered that there is no situation in which God is not already available and working. So I can thank God for my life even here when I don't like it. Being in and among this group is a gift from Him. The struggle of being here is a gift from Him. They are gifts because through them I learn that life is not a game I have to win. It is not something for me to master. It is simply a gift for me to receive and respond to, the arena for me to give and grow in. I will never be a Master of Divinity, whatever awards institutions grant. But I can always be a learner, a lover, and hopefully, a friend of Divinity. And that is enough.
This is my re-enchantment.
Years ago I was learning theology in Calvin’s Institutes. Now I find God waiting for me in Calvin and Hobbes. This is not to pit one against the other, only to say that God, and ideas about God, are not the same. Plenty of profound ideas about God are out there, and I enjoy reading them (or some of them). But God is not limited to the realm of ideas, however good they may be. All things are held together in Christ. I find their significance by tracing them back to their Source. That is how I find my own significance. Another year here is not a big deal because God somehow breaks through the garbage and teaches me regardless of the curriculum offered here. He has His own curriculum.