The Pastor-Theologian Program

From 2004 through 2007, I was involved in the Pastor-Theologian Program, sponsored by the Center of Theological Inquiry located in Princeton, New Jersey.

The Pastor-Theologian Program was initiated in 1999 by the Centerís president Wallace Alston to test his hypothesis that the moribund mainline churches will be revived, not by programs and demographic studies, but by strengthening the theological foundations of congregations with preachers and teachers who are well-supported to do theology with one another and for the church. Two major outcomes for participating pastor-theologians were to write a twenty page academic paper in each year of the program and to develop networks of pastor-theologians in participantsí hometowns, to spread the seed in good soil.

I was one of about seventy-five clergy gathered from across the nation in five regional groups for the Programís third (and final) three-year colloquium. Dr. Alston collaborated with prominent theologians to establish a syllabus for our work. Accompanied at each meeting by two or more of the theologians, our regional groups met four times annually to discuss the groundbreaking volumes in the syllabus and develop our academic papers.

The organizing question throughout our three yearsí work was about Christian salvation. In the first year, our papers grappled with the question, how we interpret salvation to the church. In the second-year, we asked what role the church plays in Godís work of salvation. In the final year, we explored the relationship of salvation to the good of the world.

Links to my three papers may be found below, next to brief summaries of their arguments.

Year One: What is salvation? 
PDF Link: Salvation Is a Kind of Seeing

The paper argues that salvation is best understood as a kind of awareness or consciousness of God in all things through Christ, rather than a condition conferred by God on believers for an unthinkably long time. Twin errors of literalism and liberalism are identified and a third way is described.

Year Two: What is the work of the church in salvation? 
PDF Link: The Emergence of Salvation

The paper proposes what may seem obvious, that the work of the church is to cooperate with spiritual development, first by intending to be in ministry with people at different stages of development, and second by supporting church participants in practices that can open new paths in their own growth and development. Summarizing scientific work in the exciting field of emergence theory in evolutionary studies, the paper holds out the possibility that the very being of God is itself the process of becoming.

Year Three: How is Christian salvation good for the world? 
PDF Link: The Other End of Faith

This paper responds to the bitter criticisms of Christianity from so-called "new atheists" such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. Showing first how a Christian can agree with much of their critique, the paper also reveals fatal weaknesses in their reasoning, and seeks to show an open-minded skeptic the reasonableness of Christian faith.
MP3 Audio Link to a lecture based on the main ideas in this paper

© Stephen H. Phelps 2008

 

Back to Articles & Papers