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When seminary messes with your simple faith

When seminary messes with your simple faith

The Rev. Wil Gafney, PhD., Associate Professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, and an Episcopal Priest, writes on a common experience for both those who go to seminary and those who do other extensive studies of the Bible (like EfM: Education for Ministry):

… It was so much easier when we had the translation of our childhood faith, our youthful devotion, our pastor’s teaching, our grandmother’s sacred trust. Now we’ve learned aleph-bet and alpha-beta and how to use software and the internet to find the root of words and it’s not so simple anymore. The words of scripture are beloved and treasured and strange and slippery all at the same time while remaining authoritative and compelling.

And it’s not just bible. Seminary messes with your theology and you didn’t even know that you had a theology, let alone that it was embedded. You knew what you believed and that was just the way it was. There was no interpretation. Faith was simple, not simple-minded. We had questions. Some of us were blessed with pastors and counselors and family and friends who honored and encouraged our questions whether they understood or shared them or not or even knew where to begin to answer them. For others of us our questions marked us as different, malcontent, uppity. Neither we nor our questions were welcome in places that should have been safe for us. Now our questions beget more questions like “why do you ask that?” And when we find answers they are satisfying and unsatisfying all at the same time. As God’s mind-blowing response was for Job.


I found in seminary a safe and challenging place to examine and challenge my own faith and I discovered that the God of my faith, my simple, sincere, honest, faithful faith, was not God. Or rather, I like Job, encountered a God who was more than I imagined. I received a religious education that included, multiple perspectives, unanswered questions, doubt, uncertainty, ambiguity and conflicting text traditions which left me with a supple, flexible faith rather than a brittle, unyielding one.

Read it all here.


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You might lose your simple faith…

…but you might lose your simple TERROR, too. That’s my memory of first really DIGGING into the Bible (w/ my campus Episcopal group, as an undergrad). I’d hung onto my Episcopal church membership from childhood but, from experiences w/ Fundamentalists, I was pretty terrified of the Bible.

The more I learned about the Bible’s complexity—its HUMAN construction—the less scary it became. *

JC Fisher

* I think this is particularly true for LGBTs: the more you know, the less you fear (and the less one will submit to the Fundies).


A fortnight ago, Thinking Anglicans linked to an article by Jim Macdonald about how the church and the Bible were assembled from random parts.

I was surprised that it drew no comments, because it illuminates current problems with institutional and biblical authority.

. . . The centuries passed much in this manner:

First century: Christ and the apostles are alive. People who knew Christ and the apostles are alive.

Second century: People who knew people who knew Christ and the apostles are alive.

Third century: People who knew people who knew people who knew Christ and the apostles are alive.

Fourth century: It’s anyone’s game.

So, the fourth century rolls around. We have Constantine (who’d seen a vision of Christ, “In this sign shall you conquer,” and went with it.). . . So, since Christ had delivered victory, Constantine said, “Okay, I’m a Christian now! By the way, what do you guys believe, anyway?”

To which the answer was, “Depends on who you ask. In which town. On what day.”

Constantine was a Roman emperor, and a military man. So he said, “Right. Figure it out and tell me. I’ll believe anything you say, but get it all in one sock.” He called NiceaCon One, a business meeting to hammer it out.

So, all the bishops of the world went to Nicea. Depending on who you ask, there were either “more than two hundred” (Eusebius of Caesarea), or 318 (Athanasius of Alexandria). Athanasius may have been counting non-voting members since he himself was there as the secretary of Bishop Alexander of Alexandria. Reportedly only five bishops from the Latin west attended, not including the Bishop of Rome (Pope Sylvester I — but he did send two priests as legates). . . .

Macdonald’s article offers much easy-to-digest history — and there’s more in the comments (look for bits on Luthor and Purgatory [No. 71] and on Irenaeus of Lyons [No. 106]. The article is particularly good on the influence of writings that didn’t get into the canon. (The discussion fragments into personal chatter toward the end.)

Check out the whole article. It’s fun and informative. –Murdoch Matthew

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