Seminary Ramblings

Updates from life at seminary

Medieval Theology here I come

I am almost done with this semester. One more paper that just doesn’t seem to want to write itself and it will be over. And so I look ahead. This January, I will finally take my first preaching class, thus getting to cram tons of learning about preaching (and a bit of actual preaching) into several short weeks. Woot woot woot.

And now for what I’m really excited about; next semester. For those of you who care (if there are any), my classes for the spring: Hebrew II, History of Ethics, Interpreting the Old Testament, and Late Medieval Scholasticism reader. It’s the last course, an independent study/reading course, that I’m particularly writing about. My reason for excitement is as follows.

For myself, and I suspect for most other evangelicals, there is a big gap in our knowledge of church history. The basic popular understanding of history seems to be: The New Testament era, the church fathers (most of whom were a bit crazy), then 1000 years of darkness where nothing useful happened, then in 1517 Martin Luther breaks on the scene with the light of the Reformation. It’s that 1000 year period of darkness that I’ll be studying, in particular it’s last 350-ish years. To get even more specific, I’ll be trying my best to pay particular attention to theories of salvation (soteriology) and competing schools of thoughts in this regard among the medievals. To most of you, that probably still just renders up images of monasteries, cloisters, big papal tiaras, castles, knights, and nothing of any real religious significance. I, for one, suspect that last bit to be quite untrue. So here are a couple of reasons that I, as a Protestant, am excited to study this period.

1. Every major Reformer was heavily influenced by the late medieval context they were coming from; politically, socially, intellectually, and religiously. Most of the Reformers were well-steeped in the thought of the medieval theologians that many Protestants sweep under the rug. So I want to study this period because I don’t think most foundational Protestant theology can be fully understood apart from it.

2. Theology in the Middle Ages was the “queen of the sciences.” It was seen as the highest and grandest discipline and thus for really the only time in history you had the greatest minds in the Western world constantly thinking about it.

3. The medieval period took salvation and particularly death very seriously. Because of the bubonic plague, massive famines, the invention of gunpowder and modern warfare, along with a host of other factors, the medieval man gave much thought to the question, “What must I do to be saved?”

4. Much good thought did actually happen. While some things that medieval theologians say sound repugnant to my Protestant ears (and I am a thoroughly convinced Protestant), these theologians nevertheless are brilliant thinkers from whom we can learn much.

So there are a few reasons why I am excited to study this period. To compound the experience, I’ll be taking an exegesis of Galatians class in June, studying one of Paul’s most intensely debated letters and one which has historically played a watershed role in our understanding of salvation. After studying medieval thinkers for 4 months, I’ll get to come into the clear waters of Pauline theology once again and go ad fontes (to the sources), as the Reformers would have it.

For all of these reasons and more I’m excited for the chance to study this next semester. As a final note, this blog has been somewhat neglected for a while now. I intend to remedy this by a thoroughly lengthy series of posts on medieval theologians and on topics such as justification, sanctification, grace, faith, election, the role of good works, and salvation in general in the spring. If you have ever wondered what on earth happened from 400ish-1500ish in church history and thought, check back in the spring. I promise that although such a topic may sound thoroughly drab to you, I will do my best to make it interesting and suspect that it will have much to add to your understanding of and experience of the faith. Until then, stay classy.

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