Once in a while a bright seminary student will come to me and tell me that they want to “go on” and study historical theology, in the service of the church. What theology doctoral program should they enter?
I think of Duke and UVA, and then I’m flummoxed. Now, I know there are other good programs out there. I’m not the best-connected academic. So I suggest that the student email their question to one of the prominent senior historical theologians–UVA’s Robert Wilken is one–who are in fact pursuing their field in the explicit service of the church (may Jaroslav Pelikan rest in peace).
But it has seemed to me that the field has never quite recovered from the mid-twentieth-century assimilation of theology to the “religious studies departments” of the major universities, nor from the academy’s quite proper dismissiveness of the squabbling “my dogma is better than your dogma” confessionalism that marked the field in the decades leading up to that assimilation. Certainly, as theology still languishes far from her erstwhile status as “queen of the sciences,” historical theology as the queen’s handmaiden has also fallen on hard times.
Now I discover that a group of historical theologians at Boston College have, for the past few years, been dedicating themselves to leading their field of historical theology back to the pursuit of (this will shock you) the history of theology–instead of defense of dogma, study of philosophy, or other things only tangentially related to the health of the church. Continue reading