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“The bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.” Exod. 3:2

Communities of Theological Friendship
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Barry Ensign-George

(800) 728-7228, ext. 5655

barry.ensign-george@pcusa.org

The practices of theological friendship include taking time, friendliness, mutual commitment, substance, protected space, and balancing diversity and compatibility.

 us.

 Theological friendship takes time to grow.

Friendship takes time, and theological friendship is no different. Valuable things can happen in a group that meets for a single occasion, but very different things can grow when a group meets over an extended period. This is a counter-cultural practice in our instant answer, always online age!  Those who seek to build communities of theological friendship will be challenged to allow such a community to develop, knowing that there will be sticking points and breakthroughs along the way. The practice of taking time requires perseverance in the sticking places, awaiting the breakthrough.

Communities of  theological friendship may work best when members of that community have established an agreed end-point, after which they can commit to continue forward or move to establish new communities.

 Theological friendship requires friendliness.

Friendliness requires a willingness to befriend and a willingness to be befriended. Friendliness means both a willingness to befriend sisters and brothers in the denomination which we together are; and it means a willingness to be befriended by those same brothers and sisters. All too often this is a demanding practice for us.

Often friendliness is difficult due to concerns that one must surrender one's convictions in order to get along with those who have conflicting convictions. But true friendship never sets such a condition. Theological friendship should allow us enough flexibility to establish ways for us to live our convictions fully and faithfully, with integrity.

Theological Friendship requires mutual commitment 

Mutual Commitment is another way of saying “covenant.” And saying “covenant” is speaking the Reformed tradition’s native tongue. Covenant is commitment to particular other persons, and there is no theological friendship without t an implicit mutual commitment among those friends, even if it is mutual commitment to a particular shared endeavor rather than a more sweeping, ultimate commitment. 

 Theological Friendship require substance.

Critical to theoligical friendship is engagement with serious theological matters, engaged in substantive ways. Too seldom does the church ask us to think our faith together in depth –and let us remember that the only way to think our faith deeply, to love God deeply with our minds, is to think the faith together. Ministers of Word and Sacrament are required to earn a 3-year Master’s Degree as part of their preparation for ordination. Commissioned Lay Pastors are required to be educated in a range of theological disciplines prior to being commissioned to pastoral service. Ruling elders promise to be guided by complex documents –Scripture and the documents that make up the Book of Confessions. In each case we require a depth of study and knowledge. Serving a congregation requires that one draw on this knowledge daily, but it is difficult to shape settings in which pastoral leaders can exercise this knowledge together, strengthening one another’s theological imagination and vision. Communities of theological friendship are –they must be –places where this strengthening happens.

This means reading substantive theological works and engaging those works thoroughly. It requires concentration and energy to participate in such conversations. It is demanding, strenuous work. We all need some structure in which to do this strengthening, we all do it best in relationship with friends who spur us on in a common effort.

 Theology will not remain an intellectual exercise.

Serious, engaged exploration of God, the created order, and the relationship between the two is always heading off into the deep places not only of faith, not only of the world out there, but also of our selves. Genuine theological conversation makes demands of us; it puts our lives into play. Conversation about and with God will also be conversation about who we are, really. Friendship emerges then along the way, as theological conversation unfolds over spans of time, as together we engage in this conversation that reveals so much about who we are.

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