Well, I know not everyone reading this blog is in the Twin Cities. However, a bunch of you are, so I’d like to use this forum to announce a new venture: a church-oriented “medieval retrieval” study group. Here’s the skinny:
I am organizing a Twin Cities medieval study group. This will be a small group of Christian academics along with (perhaps) clergy and other lay leaders. The group’s organizing question will be “How can the church today learn from medieval faith?” Its goal will be to learn and clarify aspects of medieval faith that can inform and enrich the life of churches. Members will ideally share at least an amateur-level expertise in, and certainly an affection for, medieval studies. I am hoping we can lure some full-blown, card-carrying medievalists as well, though I am not myself of that number. (I am also not above using food and wine to get people to meetings!)
My immediate circle is evangelical, and my wider circle is Protestant, so those are the constituencies I have in mind, but I would welcome the involvement of Roman Catholic and Orthodox scholars—I have for four years been a member of the evangelical-Roman Catholic dialogue that meets annually in October at St. Thomas University and have found such conversations worthwhile if done with both charity and clarity.
The study group would meet, perhaps monthly, to read and discuss primary and secondary texts, hear from medievalists on their work, and organize presentations from experts in various sub-fields—presentations open and promoted to others outside the study group. The readings and presentations would all have this sort of ressourcement flavor, aimed at enriching our own church lives and those of others: inspiring interest, addressing concerns and questions, debunking myths, and helping others to fall in love with the real strengths of this hidden part of our shared heritage.
Though I teach at Bethel Seminary, I would like to draw folks from the University of Minnesota and other local colleges and seminaries. Where the group would be anchored would be up to its members: I have been chatting with Bryan Bademan at the University of Minnesota’s MacLaurin Institute about the project, and at least two Bethel medievalists are interested in such a group.
The sorts of enriching medieval strengths I have in mind include
–the medievals’ high regard for the doctrines of Creation and Incarnation resulting in close attention to the arts, physical/sensory aspects of worship, and hospitality and healthcare (the “seven corporal mercies”);
–their dedication to the training of the affections through ascetic and devotional disciplines;
–their passion to use their God-given reason to plumb questions theological as well as scientific; and
–their understanding of the human need to ground all worship and action in community—reflected in the monastic tradition.
If you have read the posts on this blog outlining the chapters of the Medieval Wisdom for Modern Protestants book I’m doing for Baker, you’ve seen the sort of topic areas I have in mind. Yes, part of my energy on this project comes from an understanding that it will enrich this book, as well as the “Medieval Wisdom for Modern Ministry” course I teach occasionally at Bethel Seminary. But I would be happy for such a study group to develop its own directions organically out of the interests of the members.
For what it’s worth, along with a personal commitment to getting this going, I have a bit of grant money that could be used to pay for some printing & distribution of an invitation to convene, the use of a room somewhere as we get started, some reading material for the first meeting, coffee and snacks for meetings, or what-have-you.
I also intend to submit a proposal this coming January for a Worship Renewal Grant from Calvin College. The Worship Renewal Grants are for $5,000 – $15,000. Funds are disbursed in June 2011 for a year-long project. This present project is, I think, right in the bull’s-eye of these grants.
Worship Renewal Grant funds are often used to support reading groups, buy books, feed groups of people who are coming together to learn and enrich the church, bring in speakers on a topic, and bring in people to train leaders and congregations. The idea is to create process of worship renewal, new habits of worship sustainable after the dollars are gone.
The grants are aimed at supporting a learning process rather than an end product. Though grant materials use the language of “congregation,” this can refer also to many sorts of groups—and it frequently means college or seminary communities. The grants explicitly do not fund the hosting of a conference, etc. as a one-time event not part of a longer process. The granting committee is interested in what commitments the congregation, school, etc is making to support the granted activity—so I hope the conversations I am having with the MacLaurin, the U, and Bethel, will result in some such commitment on the part of those institutions (not necessarily financial).
One more comment on the Calvin grant proposal: getting such a grant would strengthen the study group’s connection to the church and point toward concrete outcomes of our work together. Our long-term aim (beginning within the year of the Calvin grant) might be, for example, to create a sort of “medieval retrieval speaker’s bureau,” along with a list of pre-packaged topics and/or materials suitable for presenting to church leadership, seminary students, and church-based adult education groups as a means to enriching their understanding of faith and worship. A few years ago, U Chicago’s Bernard McGinn visited a Twin Cities college to speak on the topic “Why Monasticism Matters.” That’s just the sort of thing I’d like to see happen, with a special emphasis on exposing Protestant church leaders and seminary students to such topics.
Candidly, I see this project as needed because ahistoricism and anti-traditionalism have inflicted deep wounds on our churches—particularly those of the evangelical Protestant flavor, but also the American church more broadly.
Already there is a growth industry in “ancient-future” studies that propose to heal these wounds through a ressourcement embracing the first six centuries of the church (see the work of Tom Oden of Drew, Christopher Hall of Eastern, D H Williams of Baylor, the late Bob Webber of Northern, and the newly inaugurated early Christian studies center at Wheaton—I wrote this article about such efforts).
But the only significant efforts I have seen in medieval ressourcement have come in the “spiritual disciplines” industry spearheaded by Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Renovare, Eugene Peterson, Jim Houston, and the like (as I explored in the set of interviews with those folks presented in this article)—and Phyllis Tickle and Joan Chittister. All of these are richly suggestive, but they are partial and as yet ungrounded in a broader and deeper understanding of the theological structures that undergirded medieval faith. Willard admits as much in the article linked above.
*****If you are interested in such a group, or you know someone in the Twin Cities who might be interested, please let me/them know. Responding to this post will do the trick if you want to contact me.