DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Ideas & Questions

Written by: on April 17, 2015

Have you ever gone to a movie based upon the title only to discover the title doesn’t quite match what you thought you would be seeing? Have you ever picked up a novel based on the cover design only to discover the story exceeded your anticipation? Have you ever been intrigued with ideas, where they come from, how they might be connected, what they mean and where they might take you? A Brief Guide to Ideas by William Raeper and Linda Edwards is a little like the answers you might give to the questions I have posed. In short form, the answers are yes, yes and yes.

 

When I first ordered the book I thought the subject matter would be about something else. I have had my “head” and thinking clearly in the realm of “place,” environment, and contextualization. I wanted to locate my ideas there. Perhaps I thought it would be along the lines of reading Margaret Wheatley. Whatever I thought this book would be about, it was not. Surprisingly the book exceeded the expectations I had for its content. It is not that I was “wowed,” rather I clearly sensed the appropriate timing of this book in our reading list for this time. When you have looked at different topics and subject matters as vastly and as deeply as we have over the last two years, this is a book that gives you a chance to gain a birds eye view, one that gives you distance from intense scrutiny.

 

This is a book about questions. Every chapter begins with at least one and more likely more in the opening paragraphs. If you wonder where ideas come from, the authors suggest that they arise from within the area of philosophy. It has been many, many years since I was in an introductory philosophy course. When I was I frankly did not enjoy it all that much. I just couldn’t keep the ideas straight in a logical sequence. Now many years later, it seems I realize how intricately connected ideas are with our early philosophers. We are reminded that philosophy is “not ‘what you know’, but ‘how you think.’ The point of philosophy is to frame the right questions, not to find the right answers.”[1] For too many years I have thought I had to have the right answers. What I need to today is perhaps fewer right answers and a great deal more skill in asking the right questions. To do so means the ability to discern and listen, to see and make connections, to compliment logic with intuition.

 

Looking at the pages of my book where I write notes that I hope to read later I had a few of my own questions as I perused the writing. Hopefully they will lead to asking the right questions. The authors write, “In order to develop a Christian theology, the Church Fathers had to turn to Greek philosophy to provide a philosophical language and framework within which they could explore their ideas.”[2] The question I have is: What do we turn to today? The early church was turning to Greek philosophy to help them determine and answer their questions concerning God and creation and how could Jesus be both God and man?[3] What are the questions that need answering today? I wonder if the answer to that might depend upon whom you ask.

With such a vast overview of topics, the authors move through more ideas than Carter has pills.[4] There is something here for everybody. In fact that is the strength of the book. It is true to its name by being brief. And by being brief this is a book I will keep on my shelf to pick up when I need a reminder or a quick introduction to a philosophical or religious concept.

 

There is also something else I realized in this book. In the challenge to be brief I wonder how one remains objective and does not infer bias. I am in the ordination process with the Presbyterian Church-USA (not to be confused with the Presbyterian Church-America or the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, etc.). The Presbyterian Church is rooted in Reformed Theology. So you might be surprised to know this has been a shift for me; one that I will hold with an open hand. For many reasons I am finding a generous outworking in theological praxis. However the authors’ treatment of both key Reformation figures, in particular Calvin was hindered by their briefness. To refer to ‘limited atonement’ as a doctrine in which Christ did not die for everyone but only for a certain number of the ‘elect’ and the doctrine of ‘predestiniation’ as a grimmer doctrine than purgatory might have stretched things just a bit, at least in how it is presented within my denominational experience.[5] They opened a can and the contents seem to have spilled out, several sentences failed to provide adequate explanation. That is one of the challenges when so much is covered within just a few pages.

 

One other thing I discovered in reading this week. I am a radical feminist. “’Radical’ feminists wish to find a new understanding of what it means to be a woman, and a totally new way of living for women in our world.”[6] I would also add that my radicalness extends to men as well, for they too need a new way of living in the world.

 

In a book filled with questions, my favorite question the authors’ asked is simply this: Have you ever had to change your way of thinking?[7] The answer to this question is yes, yes I have! And that is a very good thing.

 

            [1] William Raeper and Linda Edwards, A Brief Guide to Ideas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), 15.

            [2] Ibid., 31.

[3] Ibid.

            [4] “More (fill in the blank) than Carter’s has pills” is a saying that refers to Carter’s Liver Pills, a supplement given to supply iron dating back more than 50 years. Here’s a YouTube video link. Accessed 4/16/15. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-v2WRcfu5Yg.

[5] Raeper and Edwards, 212.

[6] Ibid., 299.

[7] Ibid., 191.

About the Author

mm

Carol McLaughlin

Carol walks this DMin journey from her locale in Gig Harbor, WA (USA). She is preparing for pastoral ministry in the Presbyterian Church (PC-USA), as well as teaches in the Online Learning Community programs at GFES. Part of the DMin Leadership & Global Perspectives 4 cohort (dminlgp4) her research and dissertation focus is exploring why baby boomers leave the church and what it means for their faith development. The views expressed here are her own.

14 responses to “Ideas & Questions”

  1. mm Ashley Goad says:

    Carol, I love your love of questions! I, too, love questions, and I, too, loved the question of the book – have you ever changed your thinking? So many believe a changing in the way of thinking is weak. When a politician changes a stance on a hot topic, they’re labeled a flip-flopper. I, however, think a change of opinion is a sign of learning and growth. Perhaps the first way of thinking was a “shot-gun” response. I believed that way because that’s what my parents believed. I voted that way because everyone in my family is a Republican. But then, when I took the time to understand the issue, researched it myself, and peeled back the layers, my opinion changed. My thoughts evolved. I don’t think the same way I did when I was an 18-year old. I don’t think the same way I did two years ago! Worldview, travel, meeting new people…my thoughts have changed! (I prefer to think I’m much wiser 🙂 ) Shouldn’t we always seek to learn and grow, and if that provokes a change, that’s ok?! …. I love questions!

    • Ashley…
      I think it is wonderful that you are one that asks questions and lives into the questions you ask. You follow them and in the process you life has expanded. You “see” and understand so much. Thanks for encouraging me (and us) along the way to keep asking. BAM! 🙂

  2. mm Deve Persad says:

    Carol, thanks for sharing your thinking with us. I appreciate your willingness to ask questions of the questions being asked. In particular: “What are the questions that need answering today? I wonder if the answer to that might depend upon whom you ask.” I wonder, in consideration of the different experiences and challenges to your thinking over the years, what are some of the common questions being asked? I guess, I’m thinking that if there is some cross section then perhaps we might be able to hone in on a greater understanding of truth rather than one particular perspective on it.

    • Deve…
      I am with you, it would be so good to be able for us to sit down and list out the questions we are hearing from others, the ones that are stirring for us and maybe the ones that are yet questions but things we are just wondering about.

      Yet in some ways we have continued to develop those questions in this program. May we continue to reflect so we can understand the Truth that is yearning to be spoken.

  3. mm rhbaker275 says:

    Carol,
    I appreciate your reflections on our reading, “A Brief Guide to Ideas.” Like you, I find the book to be a wealth of knowledge (ideas) and perhaps its greatest asset is in its brevity. I see it not as an answer to all questions which the authors also claim, but a guide that does help us seek more, reflect more deeply and in the end, be better prepared to ask the right questions without jumping to quickly to the answers.

    I am intrigued by your theological shift … to reformed theology. I have always been aligned with the Wesleyan “strain” of Arminian theology. I have always engaged reformed theology and I have found ways to accept many of the doctrinal differences, especially on election and predestination – by accept, I mean understand their scripture interpretation. There have been some doctrines more difficult … such as, women in ministry. With your position as a “radical feminist,” how do you understand the leading reform voice, John Piper, on the place of women in ministry? I greatly respect your “open hand” position as you seek ordination credentials.

    • Ron…
      I am definitely not in the neo-Reformed camp of the Gospel Coalition, nor with John Piper at all. Stanley Grenz & Denise Muir Kjesbo (Women and the Church) would offer a good place to explore a more egalitarian understanding of Scripture. The key for me really began to turn as I understood that God is not one that shows partiality. I learned to “see” the abnormalities in Scripture, when God seems to stretch the human understanding of who God is and how God works.

  4. Carol,

    Lovely, healthy work here. I love your post. I, like you, am convinced that the questions are the most important part of philosophy, and of theology as well. Perhaps I am too confident in myself today (I hope it is not arrogance), but I like to ask hard questions, deep questions, controversial questions, open-ended questions, and questions that make people (especially Christians) think. So often, the Church has been the place to get answers: theological answers, philosophical answers, all the answers. But perhaps that is to miss the point completely. We need to, rather, be cultivating an atmosphere of mystery, creating an atmosphere of humility and uncertainty. I know some would disagree with me. But God loved Thomas; thus he could love (does love) those of us who have more questions than answers.

    By the way, I think that “systematic theology” is the greatest oxymoron in the English language. How can anyone systematize God? This is a great topic of conversation for Hong Kong.

    • Bill…
      I love the questions that you ask and the thought that it invites us to consider. I am with you on the thinking about systematic theology. On one hand we need it, it helps us organize our thinking about God and who God is, yet as with many things we can become too aligned with it and end up hindering the mystery of the God we know cannot be fully known.

  5. mm John Woodward says:

    Carol, your post this week was a delight to read. I often find when I read your post a fellow traveler (maybe it is our similar maturity!). I too remember learning philosophy earlier in life and being confused most of the time and trying to keep it all in order. I am glad you brought out how this book showed the interconnectedness of philosophy through history, as thinkers and ideas reappeared time and again in the strangest place. It really is complicated tapestry that takes a lot of time (more maturity?) to follow different threads to make sense of the where they came from and where they lead.

    I also also appreciated your question on “What do we turn to today?” I am finding (especially after two years in our program) that I am finding new avenues of though that are enriching my thinking (I just started a new theology book that attempts do to truly inclusive study of theology, including non-Western theologians, and other theologies like feminist, environmentalist, liberationist, etc.). Do you think that as time goes on, where you turn are places you never expected to turn years ago? And is it more fun to draw from a wider pool than what you drew from earlier in life? Just curious to know you thoughts! Thanks again for a wonderful and thoughtful post!

    • John…
      I am so grateful to be the age that I am (well for the most part, my arthritic knee might disagree a little! :). There is something freeing in maturing. Richard Rohr’s book “Falling Upward” put words to this so very well. I remember when I started seminary (2007) I really did not know “who” to read. That has definitely changed, yet the challenge will be to continue to develop a reading list after we complete our courses with Jason and finishing our reading for our dissertation work. Where will I turn. For starters I should probably read the books that I have that I haven’t! 😉

      Seriously though John, I never expected that I would be reading Catholic theologians, that I would grateful for the heritage of the Catholic church (having been raised with the opposite viewpoint). My bias and my ignorance has been exposed (and that is a good thing).

  6. Michael Badriaki says:

    Carol, great post! Ron, Bill, Miriam, John (in his comments) and yourself, shared about the previous challenges with philosophy. Thank you for the question, “where do we turn today?” You’ve helped me understand and put in words what I have practiced for a long time. In fact, I will need to ponder in this for a while and I hope I can remember to talk with you about this in person since my observation might even connect with your realization of being a Radical feminist. I have found it curious that there a number of people like I mentioned in the beginning who struggled with Western philosophy because as a non-western trying to get a grip of western theology, I almost always turn West. Like the church fathers who turned to Greek philosophy, I always find myself turning to ancient Greek philosophy, western civilization history and Western modernity history. Very interesting Carol. Your question is a cool one friend!!

    Thank you!

    • Michael!
      One of the things I appreciated about the book was the recognition that for western theology to develop it had to interact with Greek philosophy. The opportunity that this book did not explore Eastern theology, which would have more “Spirit” orientation.

      Good conversations to come, yes!

  7. Miriam Mendez says:

    Carol, BAM! You got my attention when you wrote, “For too many years I have thought I had to have the right answers. What I need to today is perhaps fewer right answers and a great deal more skill in asking the right questions. To do so means the ability to discern and listen, to see and make connections, to compliment logic with intuition.” Yes- the ability and skill to ask the right question is one that invites others to reflect, engage and connect rather than coming up with what we think is the right answer which sometimes what it does is shuts others down. Have I ever had to change my way of thinking—absolutely! And for that I am thankful and I’m sure others are as well! BAM!

  8. Miriam!
    There is one huge advantage of writing and that is that you can backspace, rethink, and rewrite. I have much to learn so that I might listen more clearly. The learning that has happened has your influence on it … going back five years ago (yep). BAM!!!

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