Monday, April 9, 2012

Diversity at OBU: Theology

Welcome back, and a glorious Easter Monday to you all.

I hope you have enjoyed our Easter break and theological diversion and that you have had a chance to think on this most wonderful weekend in the liturgical year, along with the mystery and symbolism which accompanies it.

Easter is my favorite holiday of the year and I certainly enjoyed reading Jacob's take on it.

This week I was planning on looking at diversity at OBU. Although I had originally wanted to begin with racial diversity, Jacob's Easter posts got me thinking about another kind of diversity. Specifically, what is the theological diversity at OBU?

This, I can only speculate on-- I haven't looked at any stats (and I don't think those are the kind of stats that people publish), but I did spend four years at OBU studying and talking about theology, so I can tell you a little bit of what I saw.

Most people at OBU think very similarly when it comes to theology-- and that's ok and probably expected. After all, it's a baptist school in a conservative state. It's not strange that most people both come into and leave OBU thinking like a typical conservative evangelical about what God and the bible are like.

Some issues will be pretty divided: gender roles. Some issues will gain a small following: open theism, rejecting inerrancy. Every now and then there will be one student who sees the resurrection or virgin birth as a metaphor. I had a theology teacher who said he once received an ethics paper arguing that prostitution should be allowed. So, you never know what is going to come out of a twenty-something, every now and then.

But here's what I want to focus on: how are those dissenting students treated? How was Jacob treated in the comments on his Easter posts? And how did I feel by the time I left OBU?

Granted, I'm going to be to the left of most people at OBU, but to the right on the spectrum generally. Comparing my theology to what is generally believed at OBU and at my new mainline seminary, I would probably agree much more often with those at OBU. But I feel much more accepted in the world of mainline protestantism because it is acceptable there to figure out your own theology.

But shouldn't the tradition which affirms so strongly the priesthood of the believer be the place where it is acceptable to seek after God for one's self? And shouldn't a place that affirms that all truth is God's truth be unafraid of open inquiry? Especially into such important issues of doctrine?

But instead OBU tends towards the authoritarian-- if you disagree with x, y, or z, we're pretty sure you're not even a Christian.

Those brave enough to question are so often cast out as unacceptable.

Where does this attitude come from? And what ties need to be broken before students can be accepted and encouraged to think deeply about the most important issues in their lives instead of policed?


  1. You enjoyed reading Jacob's article about how Jesus was just a nice Jewish Ghandi and that most of the Bible is a either a lie or written by fools? Odd.

    1. Wow. Because I said the Bible is a lie written by fools. You know nothing of my reverence for Jesus and the scriptures or the years I spent studying them.

      Once in a while I get nostalgic for church, mostly because of the community. But then I remember people like Anonymous here and it makes me glad I left.

    2. Yes. Because if I only ever talked to people who think like me, how would I ever learn anything?

  2. Well when X, Y or Z is a peripheral issue such as consumption of alcohol (etc...) then we need to take our debates with a grain of salt. But when you're arguing what Jacob believes in (not much it seems) then it's not hard to make a case that he isn't a Christian. If you met some guy on the street and he said "Jesus was a good man who fulfilled no prophecies, was conceived and born naturally, did no miracles, lived a good life, died and then his body rotted into nothing over the next two thousand years" you're not arguing about X, Y and Z. You're debating whether there is even an alphabet to discuss.

    1. I think you're on the right track, Anonymous. I have been upfront about not being very religious anymore. Unlike your man on the street, I do tend to emphasize that Jesus revealed the divine self to humanity and inspired a community of love and reconciliation that changed the world, but I don't believe in the supernatural. But there are a lot of people like me who find their home in the church. It's just a fact that penal substitution is not the only or even the primary way Christians have understood the atonement throughout history. And it's also true that plenty of faithful Christians believe in the wisdom of Job without the historicity of Job, the Incarnation without the Virgin Birth, etc. Some just go one miracle farther and interpret the Resurrection as a metaphor or a symbolic event. Now, I'll grant that the resurrection is a biggie. But I think Veronica's point is that a Christian university needs to be hospitable to theological diversity beyond just Baptist cultural taboos like beer or tattoos, especially when perspectives that are currently out of favor actually have ample support in Scripture, history, and tradition (such as atonement theories).

  3. Veronica, another post knocking it out of the park. I think you hit the nail on the head with asking the question of how folks are treated for dissent. In fact one can simply look back over the posts of the last few days and the ensuing comments to see how dissent is all too often treated; with anger, name-calling, character aspersions, and dogmatic vehemence. Too often the particulars of someone's theology become more important than treating others with dignity, respect, and LOVE even though there is disagreement. BTW, when I type "LOVE" the voice of the person saying "if we love someone we'll correct their errant theology" resounds in my mind's ear. The only response I can muster is that if that is the kind of love someone has for me, I'll want nothing to do with either them or their Jesus.

    Outstanding work today!


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