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Talking about God

What some of the ELCA's young theologians are up to

Every field has its research and development department. For the church, that's theology.

I reached this conclusion after spending a week talking to young theologians. I deeply respect theologians, but I wasn't quite sure about their role. Do they think great thoughts all day? Is anyone listening? Does anyone care?

Yes, yes and yes, I discovered. Whether they study Scripture, ethics or preaching, they are passionate about equipping us to worship more profoundly, serve more effectively and live with more integrity.

Some pass along their passion through their students. Others lead congregations.

"No matter how heady and theoretical theology seems," doctoral student Leila Ortiz told me, "it will always hit the pew because it's always speaking of experience."

For this story, I grilled women and men from many backgrounds, institutions and regions. Those approaching the half-century mark were flattered to be called young, but I was taking into account the many years and degrees it takes to become a theologian.

Only a fraction of the ideas of some of the ELCA's young theologians could be squeezed into these pages, but their enthusiasm for theology — "talking about God and everything else in light of who God is," said Victor Thasiah of California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks — shines through every profile.

ben stewart
Benjamin Stewart

Gordon A. Braatz assistant professor of worship; dean of Augustana Chapel,
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago

The connection between worship and ecology is central to my work. People often think these are strange things to put together, but I think both try to comprehend big questions. What holds everything together? What's truly valuable in this great cosmos?

I'm now working on Christian theology for the ecological burial movement. These are old practices animated by cutting-edge science and ecological concerns. It ritualizes a return to the earth, and reminds us that our bodies are earth, and that "the earth is the Lord's and all that is therein."

For younger people today, the connection between earth and bodies, life and death, is especially intriguing. The uphill struggle is not theological or ecclesial, but with ingrained cultural patterns that avoid the incarnational and dust-to-dust dimensions of death.

rolf jacobson
Rolf Jacobson

Associate professor of Old Testament,
Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

I teach Old Testament, especially the psalms and the prophets, classes on Scripture and parish leadership, and also law and gospel.

I don't think we get how utterly disconnected worship is for most people. What happens when a newcomer visits? First we hit them with confusing words like confession and absolution, then kyrie, then we read a lesson — say from Daniel, chapter 1. They don't know who Daniel is, when it was written or why. Then we quickly move to three other lessons.

I invite seminarians and pastors to think about what a person needs to know to understand the readings, art, music and symbols of our worship. Everything we do in worship was designed to make sense, but the world is changing. Are we going to ask ourselves hard questions, or continue doing worship exactly the same way?


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