Story Magazine - Third Quarter, 2005
Teaching Moments from Luther's New Faculty
by Nancy Giguere, special correspondent
Assistant Professor of Early Church History
Lois Farag believes that "if you want to understand the church today, you need to understand what the church was like in its formative years."
Early Christians were consumed by the discussion of theology and spirituality. And there was an extraordinary concern with the Bible and its interpretation. "Christianity was a way of life, not simply a name," Farag says.
She also stresses the human aspect of the early church. People of that time were much like us, and they asked many of the same questions that we do. And because human nature doesn't change, the early church also dealt with the same problems as we do--politics, finances and disagreements. The lesson here is that "God has taken care of the church, from early times until now," Farag says.
She points out that we owe the foundation of our faith to the early church. This was the time when the biblical canon was defined. Fundamental doctrines like the nature of Christ and the Trinity were also defined, and the Nicene Creed was written.
But to understand the writings of important figures like Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, Augustine, and Ambrose, one must understand the times they lived in. "Every new generation must learn about the context of these important documents," Farag says.
A nun in the Coptic Orthodox Church, Farag holds a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School and a doctorate in early Christian studies from The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. She was drawn to Luther because of its high ethical standards: "People here are truly living the Word."
Farag hopes that her students will be inspired by the example of early Christians. "It was hard to keep the faith in those days," she says. "But in a way, it was also easy because the faithful supported each other. And for that reason, the early church was fruitful."
Affiliated Faculty, Mentor Coordinator Children, Youth and Family Ministry
Paul Hill believes that any ministry to and with youth and families must focus on two key questions: Who is Jesus and what does he mean for human life? And how do we pass on the faith to the next generation?
"When it comes to passing on the faith, we can see the work of the Holy Spirit in paradigms, principles and practices that are rooted in the Bible, early church history, our Lutheran confessional heritage, contemporary research on the spiritual needs of adolescents, and the neurology of the brain," he says.
The Book of Deuteronomy, for example, is a manual for parents living in exile. "There's a lot in it that's transferable to post-modern and post-Christian America. Parents are exhorted to teach the Shema to their children when they are awake and when they are lying down--a 24/7 life of faithfulness," Hill says.
Early Christians likewise passed on the faith through their unwavering vision and passion for Jesus of Nazareth. During the Reformation, Luther wrote the Small Catechism out of pastoral concern for youth. "We've turned the Small Catechism into a junior high school torture instrument," Hill says. "But it was written as a guide for parents and contains good advice about how to speak to young people."
Neuroscience has discovered that the adolescent brain is still developing the ability to understand consequences and choose wisely. Research shows that young people need--and want--caring adults to walk with them in pilgrimage. "Transformational youth ministry goes way beyond what I call the 'Six Flags Over Jesus' approach," Hill says.
In addition to teaching at Luther, Hill is the director of mentoring for all the M.A., M.Div., and distributive learning students in the Children, Youth and Family initiative. He leads seminars and consults with churches across the United States and is a team leader for the ELCA's national youth gathering. He is also the coauthor of Coming of Age: Exploring Spirituality and Identity in Young Men. "Adolescent and men's ministry is my passion," Hill says. "If we don't learn to connect with them, we'll lose all their gifts and abilities, and the world will become even more chaotic."
Associate Professor of Preaching
Carol Miles loves the challenge of biblical preaching. "The Bible is filled with texts that reflect a different time and culture. They can seem strange, even alien to a contemporary congregation. Yet they continue to speak to us today as a word of address--as the Word of God," she says.
Miles wants the men and women in her classes to be passionate students of the Bible and to understand themselves as practical theologians who interpret texts for particular congregations living out their faith in the world.
To do this means paying attention not only to the Bible's historical setting, but to the literary details and rhetorical devices used by the biblical authors. "In our preaching, we need to lift up and explicate those details because it is often there, in the language, that the theological freight is carried," Miles says.
A Presbyterian who holds a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary, Miles is pleased to be at Luther. "I appreciate the richness of Lutheran theology and worship. And because I come from a tradition that emphasizes the preached word, I am excited about the seminary's strong commitment to biblical preaching," she says.
Miles sees herself as a coach for preaching students. "I know they often feel vulnerable in class. I want them to become more confident of their own voice and more comfortable with their call to ministry, while developing their preaching skills. I especially want them to be capable of good self-critique. This means asking the right questions of their own sermons," she says.
Above all, Miles wants students to share her sense of urgency about the gospel and preaching: "There are preachers who speak from the pulpit as though absolutely nothing were at stake.We serve a risen Christ who is alive and present and active in the world. If we preached as though that were true, who knows what could happen?"
Assistant Professor of Youth and Family Ministry
Andrew Root hopes that his students will develop into practitioners who continually reflect on their own experience of ministry. He also wants them "to reflect on the complications of human experience, and in that complication, see the distinct activity of God in the world."
Root came to faith as a teenager through his participation in church ministries to youth. Eventually, he became a youth minister. But as he worked with kids, especially those in difficult economic and family situations, he realized that something was lacking.
"I went to seminary because what I learned about youth ministry in college didn't match up with what I saw in the field," Root says. "My to people who refuse your care, but continue to ask for it?" This led him to reflect on how the church interacts with the world. "The work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth became very significant for me," he says. "I realized that real ministry is about faithfulness to the person and to God's call."
This realization was reinforced by his experience as a gang prevention counselor. "I worked with kids oneon-one. Many had parents or other family members who were on drugs, in gangs, or incarcerated. I couldn't change these things. But I could, for one hour a week, enter into their suffering and listen to their story so they could understand that they were not alone," Root says.
This kind of ministry goes beyond cultural strategy and personal influence, and becomes truly incarnational. "Working with youth takes more than a skateboard and a guitar," he says. "Adolescents need people who'll enter into their lives and love them. This is a relationship between an 'I' and a 'You.' Christ is not the 'third thing' that we bring people to. Christ is present in the relationship itself."