Contemplative Apostolic Theologians: A Quote from John Webster

2003spring_augustine-a-giant-out-of-his-time_1280x720_1

If the Pastor-Theologian’s job is to proclaim Christ and his Gospel in every aspect of his life, i.e., to know the one big idea, (see: The Pastor-Theologian as A Hedgehog) then the Pastor-Theologian will need to approach the task of theology in a particular way. The quote below summarizes this way quite well.

Towards the end of his essay “Theology and the Peace of the Church,” John Webster offers this reflection on the dual discipline of the theologian in the church as both contemplative and apostle.

Theology is an aspect of the church’s intelligent participation in the order of peace. We are rational creatures whose actions are to be regulated by the intellect so that we may come to enjoy what Augustine calls ‘the well ordered harmony of knowledge and action which constitutes… the peace of the rational soul.” In fulfillment of this, theology is both contemplative and apostolic. Contemplative first, because whatever it may offer to the church derives from sustained and disciplined and unselfish attention to divine revelation in its limitless depths and scope; everything depends upon contemplative absorption in God and the gospel of peace. Apostolic second and by derivation, because the rule of charity in the church requires that gifts by communicated, not hoarded, such that theology is part of the flow of love, what John Owen calls a ‘contribution of supplies of grace, and light, and help of obedience, unto other members of the body. Theology, then, serves the church in its imperfect state by attending to and speaking about the God of peace and the peace of God. (Dominion of the Word, 164).

For Pastor Theologians, the discipline and drive towards contemplation is always called out to be apostolic, to be for the church in love. In ministry, it is tempting to be either contemplative, or apostolic, but pastor theologians must train themselves to be both a contemplative and apostle.

In meditating on this quote, I want to distinguish between contemplation and theological contemplation. Theological contemplation involves submission to God and his Holy Scriptures, sanctified reason, rigorous inquiry, prayer, studiousness, and intellectual engagement with the subject of theology: God and his works. Contemplation as a prayer discipline is a sub-genre of theological contemplation, where the pray-er seeks to engage in quietly being present to and meditating on Christ and his scriptures)

To be a contemplative theologian is to attend Christ and his Gospel in a disciplined, open, patient, and humble posture. As I wrote in another blog (The Patience of God in Theology and the Parish), theology takes time and patience. And more than time, the communication of theology and its hearing involve submission to the Triune God. We must read, talk, walk and think at God’s pace, because, in our very thinking, reading, talking and walking, Christ is actively sanctifying our thoughts and actions through the Holy Spirit. Theology must be contemplative and in being so it must be disciplined and submitted to the one we contemplate. It must be absorbed in, enthralled by, and rationally disciplined in exploring the depths of the God who creates and redeems us. All that is to say that theological contemplation, for the Pastor-Theologian is a vital task for the church (What that looks like in detail, will be worth considering in another post).

download

Yet, theological contemplation must lead to apostolic preaching and teaching, because the very person theologians contemplate is love and pushes us towards the love of God and others by sharing the fruit of rigorous theological contemplation. Further, the theologian invites and hastens the body of Christ into the contemplation of God through their teaching, preaching, writing, and living. Contemplation is not for oneself only, though one must be changed by it for it to truly benefit others.

Note that according to Webster, the apostolic is grounded in the contemplative, and cannot be had without it. This is a severe rebuke to the church which almost always values doing over being. Christianity is grounded, not in our action, but in our reception of God’s saving triune action for us, it is grounded in the Gospel of Christ and Christ who is the Gospel.

Pastor-theologians are focused on one thing: Christ and his Gospel, and for us to be contemplative apostles, we must contemplate the mystery of the Gospel: God of peace and the peace of God.

Thankfully, Christians throughout church history have exemplified this pattern of Contemplation and apostolic ministry. In a future post, I will share one example of this way of theology in the life of Augustine of Hippo.

3 thoughts on “Contemplative Apostolic Theologians: A Quote from John Webster

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.