Reflections on Spirituality in Anglican Theological Education

By van den Blink, A. J. | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 1999 | Go to article overview

Reflections on Spirituality in Anglican Theological Education


van den Blink, A. J., Anglican Theological Review


I. Introduction

What I would like to do in this paper is to share some reflections on the role of spirituality in Anglican theological education. This is an enormous topic and I can only touch on a few points that I have found particularly important, namely an understanding of the present context of theological education, an awareness of the contributions of the Anglican tradition, and a need for a theological grounding of Christian spirituality. I want to begin with a discussion of some of the factors at work in the present crisis in theological education as I have experienced them. This crisis cuts across all denominations and faith groups, including our own. I bring to this examination a basic theological assumption that many would agree with but that is anything but assented to in the wider world of theological education as I have come to know it. This assumption simply is that spirituality is not an add-on to theological education but is the matrix in which and out of which all Christian theology is and needs to be done. Evagrius of Pontus spoke to this point long ago when he defined a theologian as a person of prayer.1 The teaching and learning of Christian theology and the doing of ministry always need to be done by men and women of prayer in the context of a community of prayer. I also want to touch briefly on the unique contribution that the Anglican tradition brings to any discussion of spirituality and theological education. This contribution is possible because of our continuing rootedness in historic catholicity and our indebtedness to the evangelicals in our tradition who have helped us understand the importance, within a believing fellowship, of not just talking about, but experiencing the risen Christ. But then, as Brother Martin Smith, the Superior of the Society of St. John the Evangelist has recently reminded us, "the spirit of orthodoxy [itself] is evangelical because it is concerned with how Christ is encountered in faith by contemporary human beings in all the fullness of his life and being."2

In the concluding section of this paper I want to say something about the risk that the very success and appeal of spirituality in the wider culture poses to a recovery of Christian spirituality and the practice of spiritual direction. I am referring here to spiritual direction not as a full-time specialty, although that may be the vocation of some, and certainly not as the province of a spiritual elite, but always as an important and regular part of pastoral ministry and of living out faithfully our own discipleship.

I will close with some thoughts on the importance of a theological and ecclesial grounding of spirituality, especially for those doing spiritual direction, not only as a way to root spiritual direction in Scripture and the tradition but to aid us in perceiving things we otherwise might not see, and also to help address the various destructive, usually implicit, theologies that so many of those who seek spiritual guidance have internalized.

II. The Crisis in Theological Education

It is no exaggeration to say that theological education in our time is in a state of crisis. The widespread lack of grounding of theological curricula in any authentic spirituality, especially in seminaries in the liberal Protestant tradition, is, as I have already suggested, a major contributing factor to this state of affairs. My own realization that there is something wrong with the way theological education is being done is not an insight that came suddenly. In retrospect I can see several influences that contributed to this growing realization. What first comes to mind are the deficiencies of theological education that I have personally experienced, my own in the late 50s and early 60s as well as, more recently, theological curricula with which I have become familiar since 1985 when I began teaching pastoral theology, and later ascetical theology, at Colgate Rochester Divinity School and later Bexley Hall Seminary in Rochester, New York. …

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