Ever since I made it public and have begun attending Candler I have, inevitably, had conversations with well-meaning people about their “concerns” with my choice for graduate education institutions. The other day I had a very similar conversation with a current first year student who seemed to voice the very same “concerns” with Candler. So I think being almost halfway done with my 3-year seminary experience it is time to reflect on my experience of Candler as a school and the culture of Candler and whether it lives up to or defies the “myths” that are spread in so many circles.
“Candler is a liberal school that will take your Jesus away is you aren’t careful“-
This is a favorite of many well-meaning people who seem to be concerned that seminary will make one think too much and, inevitably, seek to destroy someone’s faith. I remember comments that Dr. Brent Strawn made at my orientation last year before my first day at Candler. He said something like “If a school can ‘take Jesus from you’ you probably didn’t have much of a relationship to begin with.” He went on to implore us to not only seek academic and intellectual endeavors in graduate school but to also open our faith lives to new lessons and revelations of God. Often, if someone has a major crisis of faith in seminary it can be attributed to a lack of continuing to cultivate one’s faith life. In other words, we are not at our home churches anymore, we are not in youth group, and we are not here to have our faith lives spoon fed by professors. It is up to us to seek to find God and to have eyes to see where God is seeking us.
I am also reminded of some words I heard Fred Craddock say once when he said he found his studies not only influenced his thought but also his faith. He said he was tired of reading materials that might be an inch deep in theology in the spirit of keeping one’s studies always separate from one’s faith life. I have always remembered this and have found there are actually some very influential materials that have greatly influenced my faith and helped shape me in new ways-materials I would not have read if not assigned in a class to read them.
“Candler is just a liberal school that will push liberal ideals on you-you can’t go back to South GA preaching that kind of stuff”–
Well many at Candler are liberal. I won’t act like that’s a myth. Many do have liberal agendas they use to approach their various areas of ministry. But the real question I have is “should one keep out that which one does not agree with?” I mean, are we that weak-minded that we can’t use the God-given gift of discernment to weed out that which we don’t agree with? And even more, can we not make friends with even those who we don’t always agree with? I have over the last year and half sought to champion views that many consider “conservative” and “evangelical.” I have found nothing but support from Candler administration. In fact, I have had more conversations about how glad they are the view is being represented and have not yet had a conversation to the contrary. I have also met wonderful people who love God and don’t always agree with me-nor I with them. But they are good people and friends the same. This is the real world and we are going to have to learn to live with and love even those we don’t agree with. I will not let differences silence my voice to those views I feel deserve voice in theological discussion. But I will also not let differences keep me from learning valuable lessons-even lessons from someone I don’t agree with. I have found that in many respects my views to the contrary of that which is the majority at Candler have been strengthened by my minority status. I understand the “other side” in a way I would never understand had I chosen a school where I was in the majority. Not to mention I get to enjoy being someone’s “token evangelical friend”.
It is a sad thought that we feel we have to be in a majority all the time. It is as though we feel the compulsion to be justified in everything we do. And if we risk being wrong then at least we have a majority to fall back on.
Yesterday, in a sermon in Chapel, Dr. Tom Long made a statement that just stuck with me all day. He said, “Sometimes it seems we would rather be right than free.” Whether one is liberal or conservative I think this way of living and thinking is symptomatic in our petty arguments over right vs. wrong. In the middle of our seeking to lobby for support for our various views and in our efforts to dispel that which we don’t agree with I wonder if God is not sitting right next to us in class, at Brooks Commons, in Chapel, in Pitts Library, and in the halls of our school seeking to set us free. Free, not to our own beliefs, but to new beliefs. Free to new understanding of what biblical text says and what the Kingdom of God looks like. And, most of all, free to live abundantly as a child of God-even a child of God in the setting of a liberal seminary.