Tony Jones and Brian McLaren teach the doctrine of creation to a Doctor of Ministry cohort from Fuller Theological Seminary in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota.
Carl Anderson is a Presbyterian pastor in Nebraska, and he’s also in the D.Min. cohort that I lead. He wrote the post below — unsolicited by me — and asked me to post it here. So I am. Enjoy.
Paradigm shift. There isnʼt another accurate description. Things are now different.
One year ago, our cohort in Christian Spirituality through Fuller Theological Seminary gathered in Pasadena to begin our journey in studying Christian Spirituality. We spent half of the week in a classroom on Fullerʼs campus and the remainder in a classroom in a monastery. But somehow, Year 2 dominated the questions and fears. “Are we really going to be camping? Outside?” “I donʼt like bugs. Or physical activity.” We were assured everything would be worth it. And so we left Year 1 with excitement and a little anxiety.
The online conversations over the past year tended to drift into the canoeing and camping. Each time, Tony assured us that the Boundary Waters would be challenging, but doable. And so, BWX provided packing lists and we dutifully prepared ourselves.
One by one, we arrived in the Twin Cities. The early folks got together at Tony and Courtneyʼs house, getting to meet Tonyʼs kids. We met the rest of our cohort at Solomonʼs Porch that night before finally being able to sit down and catch up as a cohort at the exquisite Pizzeria Lola.
We oriented at BWX the next day and it was time for the water; we set off in our canoes. Paddling, portaging, making and breaking camp, these were more than just our activities in the Boundary Waters. They became the means of prayer, the foundation of community, and declaration of solidarity. We connected with each other and creation in ways only made possible through this shared experience.
The intensity of our class time around the campfires and under the tarps was magnified as pretense was stripped away. We wrestled with the implications of Moltmannʼs theology of Creation. Tony pressed us, again and again, with the question, “Should pilgrimage to creation/nature be a requirement of Christian discipleship?”
The fervor of our class time conversations continued during our transition from the Boundary Waters to Tonyʼs family cabin. Since pretense had been removed, we were able to have vulnerable conversations, asking penetrating questions and listening to one another with genuine humility. We argued and agreed and asked more questions. One of the real joys of this cohort has been the beauty of discovery in searching for answers and finding perspective.
Tony has been upfront about his pedagogical method for our cohort. He will not stand up front and lecture, even though he is capable of doing so. We all benefit from one another when we each present and push back. Tony creates aspects of the environment and boundaries, but the cohort, including instructors, ultimately determines what the content becomes as we work through the materials.
Each of us met with Tony for some one-on-one time. As some of us were comparing notes, it became apparent that Tony functions much like the Oracle in the Matrix, telling each of us what we need to hear. Tony pulls no punches, but he also speaks encouragement and hope. We were given what we uniquely required.
As the time came to say our goodbyes for the year, something was different. People laughed a little deeper, hugs seemed a more heartfelt, and we reminisced over the adventures of Year 2. We have changed as a result of this experience, this doctrine, and this class.
I canʼt imagine learning any other way.