his past summer, a Winnipeg Free Press column by John Longhurst generated a small flurry of letters from readers, debating the relative merits of the study of theology. Strangely, the original column that started it all – U of M helps keep religious studies students here – wasn’t even about theology; it was about how the University of Manitoba had made some policy changes that were advantageous to students from local Christian post-secondary schools looking to transfer credits. The original letters to the editor were all about how the phrase “religious studies” was used in the column’s title, and basically suggested that it was best to reserve that phrase for the academic study of religion as it is carried out in secular universities. Fine.
Then a letter to the editor arrived that raised the stakes. The writer of that letter – citing Richard Dawkins, “chapter and verse” – suggested that theology was a hollow and useless discipline; a meaningless study of a non-reality. A few more letters arrived at the Free Press, commenting on that letter, and so Longhurst decided that he would ask a few theologians to respond. The result is a column that appeared on the Faith page on Sunday September 20, and to which I was one of the four contributors. While I am not by vocation a scholar or an academic theologian, as a priest of the church and the pastor of our church community I am entrusted with the work of “doing” theology; of attempting to speak coherently of the things of God and humanity. Given that understanding of my ministry, I was pleased to respond to John’s invitation to write a response to the question of why theology matters. I was equally pleased to see that one of the other respondents in the column was Dr Christopher Holmes, who is not only a professor of theology at Providence Theological Seminary but is also currently a part of saint benedict’s table, having been assigned to us for an eight month ministry placement in preparation for ordination.
So, if you’re interested in getting a neat and readable summary of how four theologians think about the work and purpose of theology, you can access it online here. But of course, theologians and preachers aren’t always given to keeping things to a tight word count, and all of us submitted a good deal more than could be accommodated in a newspaper column. Those longer responses are also available online.