Theological Conversation

When studying for my PhD at the University of Aberdeen I walked home nearly every Imageafternoon with a fellow student and office mate who lived in the flat next door. Kyle, another contributor to this blog, became one of my closest friends. Those theological conversations while strolling back to our families were rich, and I credit them to helping me complete my thesis. Clarity often comes when we  articulate our thoughts. That insight left to rattle around in your head, the one you suppose to be brilliant, may sound silly when you put it in words – that revelation is a great gift!

One morning over the summer I was having a similar sort of theological conversation with a colleague at Huntington. He brewed a fine cup of coffee, we settled ourselves into his nice little office, and our conversation meandered from topic to topic: his work on Barth’s aesthetics, my research on Radical Orthodoxy, our common love of beauty, etc.

When parting, Bo reminded me of a beautiful little exchange between Anselm and his conversation partner Boso in Cur Deus Homo:

Anselm: What you ask from me is above me, and I am afraid to handle ‘the things that are too high for me.’ If someone thinks, or even sees, that I have not given him adequate proof, he may decide that there is no truth in what I have been saying, and not realize that in fact my understanding has been incapable of grasping it.

Boso: You should not fear this so much, but you should rather remember what often happens when we talk over some question. You know how God often makes clear what was concealed before. You should hope from the grace of God that, if you willingly share what you have freely received, you may be worthy to receive the higher things to which you have yet to attain.

I love that Boso’s encouragement to Anselm hinges on his confidence that God’s grace will surely abound for Anselm’s need. I know Anselm’s hesitancy to press deeply, any theologian should, but I also know the value of theological conversation partners that offer Boso’s sort of encouragement!


7 thoughts on “Theological Conversation

  1. “…God often makes clear what was concealed before. You should hope from the grace of God that, if you willingly share what you have freely received, you may be worthy to receive the higher things to which you have yet to attain….” As I meet with other men I hear many different conclusive (to them) thoughts of what Scripture has to say to humankind. Often it is diametrically opposed to what I have decided the application to be. Yet, they will take the quote at the beginning to mean that because they think it, it is exact and all other thought is incorrect. Unless it is of a point of salvation, I let it go and place my thought as a claim with warrant rather than that God has directly spoken to me and assured me that he has chosen me as his vessel of interpretation to all humankind.

    Great article and one that needs to be the subject of a gathering.

    • John, Anselm took for granted that “receiving the higher things” would correspond first of all to the canonical witness of Scripture (the whole Bible and not only part) and secondly to the rule of faith (e.g. Apostles Creed). There is a sense in which Anselm was carrying out his theological work not only in prayer and in conversation with Boso, but in conversation with Christians who had gone before him and reflected already on the questions he was wrestling with. We would do well to remember the validity of these “norms” for biblical interpretation in general, for they would certainly come into play in situations like the ones you describe. I wrote something a while back on this blog about the dangers of individualism for biblical interpretation. You can read it here

  2. If you do not give freely what you have received freely why should you be given more?

    and to those that have is not more given? and those that have not even what they think they have will be taken from them.

    There is also another principle, that you must never bring scripture down to conform to your own experience .But rather lift above all and preach its truths and seek if needs must to bring yours and others experience in line with scripture.

  3. No doubt, these kinds of conversations lend themselves to some of the most enlightened learning. I suppose because they’re done not in isolation, but with one another.

    It reminds me of a song called “Coffee Party” by Mixtapes. They end by saying, “These habit forming conversations make good ends to days.”

    Thanks for Sharing!

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