Thanksgiving November 24, 2011

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.  I know it falls on a different day in Canada and some countries don’t have this holiday at all.  However, I assume most, if not all, of you are thankful for something whether you father with family for a feast on this day or not.

May I invite you to post here ONE THING you are thankful for OTHER THAN the usual things Christians express thanks for (viz., Jesus Christ, salvation, family, health, etc.).  Be original, please.

I am thankful for the seminary I attended and from which I graduated.  After being thoroughly confused and abused (spiritually) at a fundamentalist college, I entered that seminary hoping for something–I didn’t know what.  As I look back on it now, I think I was hoping for a new way of thinking Christianly.  The seminary was pietist in heritage and orientation; it had not been corrupted by the fundamentalist controversy and so was not all about fighting liberalism.  It was solidly evangelical.  The anti-intellectualism I grew up with and experienced in college was totally absent.  One of my first experiences in seminary was given to me by a dear professor who is now in his 90s and who I visit as often as I can.  I dedicated one of my books to him. Sometime during my first year he took me aside and told me he wanted me to do an independent study in theology with him.  It was only one credit.  He assigned me to read and respond to the 1960s radical theologians–Van Buren, Robinson, Cox, Altizer and Hamilton.  I was shocked and somewhat dismayed.  But I carried it out and read their main books and many articles responding to them and met with my professor several times to discuss all this.  By no means did he want me to “buy into” radical theology; he wanted to shake me out of my taboo mentality that previously wouldn’t have even touched such books for fear of being possessed by something evil.  His approach, which became mine, was to find the good in them and leave the harmful behind while discovering how best to respond critically.  I knew this professor as a man of prayer; he was also my teacher in a course on spirituality.  He and other professors (Gerald Borchert, Lee McDonald, Sam Mikolaski, James Montgomery Boice, Steve Brachlow, et al.) lifted me out of my morass of confusion into a whole new way of approaching theology and thinking Christianly.  In a certain sense seminary was my salvation–mentally and theologically.  Later the seminary changed in ways I am not comfortable with.  It adopted an inerrancy statement and required professors to sign it even though many of them had been hired with the understanding that they did not have to espouse inerrancy.  The fundamentalist hammer came down on the seminary via certain constituents who had crept into the denomination without knowing anything of its pietist heritage and ethos.  For whatever reason I have never been invited back to the seminary even though I have returned to that city literally scores of times over the years (and the seminary’s leaders know that). Still, I am deeply grateful for the education I received there.  Probably it, more than anything else, is responsible for the whole direction of my theologian pilgrimage.  It was there that I came into contact with my theological mentors-at-a-distance Bernard Ramm and Donald Bloesch.  The professor I mentioned that I am most grateful for was not a well-known, published theologian, but he was like a surrogate father to me.  His name is Ralph Powell and on this Thanksgiving Day I am grateful to him and to the seminary as it was for lifting me out of almost total confusion about the Bible and theology.  It was there I discovered, for example, that one could be Holy Spirit filled and not speak in tongues.  It was there that I discovered that one could believe the Bible is God’s Word without believing in its plenary, verbal inspiration or inerrancy.  It was there that I discovered one can read the likes of Tillich, for example, and not be contaminated or lose one’s salvation.  I’m thankful for North American Baptist Seminary as it was in the 1970s.

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