Matthew Koh’s editorial on silence is an important one. As a fourth year student at CTS, I have participated in my fair share of serious conversations with strenuously argued theses. That being said, Koh’s experience has caused me to ask questions about my own experience.
The reality is that most of the difficult and opinionated conversations in which I have engaged during seminary have been outside the context of the Student Center and with people who are more than mere acquaintances. I am typically not one to shy away from offering an opinion, so to the degree to which my reflections are accurate they will be primarily empathic.
To add to Matthew’s list, a serious concern on a broader level of community culture is the perception that a person will be rejected out of hand for the perceived content of their opinions. In the context of the come and go of the Student Center, there may not be time to adequately ask questions and work around an issue. A far easier and more efficient method is labeling. If someone believes A, he’s an A-ist, and we know that’s ridiculous.
A philosopher named Schelling had something to say about this:
“It cannot be denied that it is a splendid invention to be able to designate entire points of view at once with such general epithets. If one has once discovered the right label for a system, everything else follows of its own accord and one is spared the trouble of investigating its essential characteristics in greater detail. Even an ignorant person can render judgment upon the most carefully thought out ideas as soon as they are presented to him with the help of such labels.”
That’s why I have found the leisure of library conversations or off-campus hangouts to be more conducive to a give-and-take conversation. It invites openness, creativity, depth of thought, and lack of labeling. To the degree to to which we can bring that environment with us into the Student Center, we should be well served with loving, productive, and opinionated conversations.
Kyle Brooks, ThM ’13
Dear Kerux editors,
I really appreciated the editorial on silence. It expressed quite a bit of what I’ve felt as a student at Calvin. I’m a theological conservative, and I’ve felt as though my opinions would be unwelcome in most conversations at the seminary. Some pastors have even recommended that I keep my mouth shut during my seminary studies, lest I be placed on some sort of denominational blacklist for believing that only qualified men should be ordained to the office of pastor and/or elder. I have no idea if such a list exists, but I do feel as though I’d be put on something of a social blacklist if I were honest about my theologically conservative beliefs. Thanks for turning our attention toward this important issue. Learning to dialogue well about difficult issues will be important for us as we strive to live in unity within a complex body.
Matthew Koh’s editorial, in my opinion, pointed out a significant issue in CTS’s student culture. We as students tend to draw back from significant issues instead of engaging them. While Mr. Koh makes this observation about the whole of the seminary culture, I think that critique may not be fair of many of us in regards to our conversations with our friends away from the Student Center and classrooms. Many of us have relegated discussions involving anything off-center from the culturally established norms to private contexts among people whose agreement or charitable reception we feel assured of. This is appropriate and natural to a certain degree, but it is singularly unhelpful for our own learning and the learning of others when it exceeds that appropriate degree.
I have heard (and been a part of) significant theological discussions both in the student center and in the classrooms. Those discussions have been some of the most fruitful discussions I have had here at seminary, a fact I largely account to the wide range of interests and backgrounds that are represented here. And this diversity is one of the most important ingredients for our education.
We need diversity for two reasons. First, we need to put ourselves “out there” in order to allow ourselves to be refined. We need to identify and discard those elements of our thinking based on incorrect thinking, mistaken assumptions, or simple prejudice. But openness is hard because of our communal penchant for pride. We love to be right (or at least to appear to have it together). To admit we need refining is to admit weakness and ignorance, to allow our fellow students and professors to see our inner selves, our intellectual nakedness. Yet, without putting ourselves “out there” we keep the very thing that is supposed to be in development during seminary (our theology and, subsequently, ourselves) away from the helpful light of the public square. This is deeply ironic since we are all training to be the “experts” in the room, holding forth our theological understanding from lecterns or pulpits for the entirety of our careers. How can we justify our silence in light of this irony? Talking publicly about theology is what we all are training to do.
Additionally, the disagreements that arise from our diversity here at seminary train us as individuals to remain charitable and Christian while discussing controversial issues. I do not have to mention how much this skill is needed in every council room, lecture, and Sunday school classroom. We need diversity in order to develop our theology and ourselves, the very things that will enable us to fulfill our various callings.
Secondly, we need diversity for the sake of the bringing the “real world” into the classroom. I have never agreed with those who distinguish between school and the so-called real world, but they are proved correct whenever our classroom discussions are falsely homogenous. There is much more theological diversity at the seminary than is apparent from the average classroom or student center discussion. We allow a select few narratives to color most of our discussions. If we would bring our true opinions out into the open, we could accurately reflect the diverse social, racial, and theological contexts in which we will all do our work. We owe it to our fellow students to bring to the table our diverse selves so that we can all learn from and in light of each other. Diversity is a gift we can give to the community to enrich and enliven our training with the full spectrum of reality.
Joshua Smith, ThM ’13