Yesterday I needed to buy some goodies at Wawa. As I was standing in the cashier queue the woman behind me noticed my PTS sweatshirt:
'Ah, are you from the theological seminary?'
'Emm, yes, ...'
'Oh, wonderful. Good for you. What do you study?'
I've been asked this question before, and I never know the best answer. In this instance I was sure that 'theology' was not the right reply. At a party a few years ago, while chatting to some medical students, I struggled to describe what theology actually was. I didn't think it would be any easier this time round. So, I tried to change the subject, giving the woman the benefit of the doubt that she already knew what theology was:
'Oh, bits and bobs. I'm doing a one year course, doing different courses and modules. I'm from Scotland.'
'Ah, that'll be where you got your accent from.'
Brilliant! I had managed to change the subject using my well tested 'I'm from Scotland...' fall back, always a winner in New Jersey. But I'll need an alternative fall back when I return to Glasgow in June. Although, by then, I'll no longer be a theological student. Instead, I'll be a student assistant minister in the Church of Scotland. 'Eh? What's that all about then?' 'Emm, well, I used to study theology at university...'
This morning I read the first three chapters of Paul's letter to the Corinthians. I think Paul might have experienced something of the same struggle Christians have today in explaining our faith. Paul was not sent to Corinth to administer the sacraments, or to manage the church. He was not sent to help the poor directly, or challenge the powers and authorities directly. Although it was the poor, for the most part, that God called through the gospel proclamation, 1Cor1:26-29. And it was the powers and authorities that were doomed by the revelation of God's wisdom in Jesus Christ, 1Cor2:6-8.
I'm not sure he was sent to teach theology either. He was sent, by Jesus Christ, to proclaim the gospel, to proclaim the foolishness of the cross, 1Cor1:17-25. I once preached from this passage at a midweek bible study in my home church. I got into a real exegetical and homiletical mess. I struggled to explain what Paul was on about. I tried to illustrate the Jewish demand for signs, and the Greek desire for wisdom, in current terms. But I couldn't do it. I still remember the glazed look over the eyes of my audience. I remember giving up, in silent despair, saying, 'I think I'll just leave it there...'
Given my conversation yesterday at Wawa, I'm not sure I'm any better prepared to spread the good news of the cross of Jesus Christ:
'... What do you study?'
'A story about a man born of a virigin, who was crucified at age 33, and who then rose from the dead three days later.'
Who would believe such a thing?