11 January 2016

David Steinmetz (1936-2015)

As I am not a professional theologian, I cannot say that I follow developments in theology very closely. Nevertheless, I was taken by this moving tribute from Timothy George to the late David Steinmetz, who was a church historian at Duke University Divinity School. An ordained United Methodist minister, Steinmetz was deeply respectful of an older, pre-critical tradition of biblical exegesis. As such, he valued faithfulness over originality, a tough sell in contemporary academia, where innovation is expected even of aspiring candidates to the parish ministry. This excerpt from Steinmetz' baccalaureate address to the Duke graduating class of 1997 illustrates his emphasis rather well:

The good news for the members of the graduating class who plan to enter the ordained ministry is that you don’t have to invent your own Gospel. All of the church hopes you will be imaginative and resourceful. It doesn’t expect you to be original. Actually, it rather discourages originality with respect to core convictions. The Church will authorize you to preach an ancient Gospel you didn’t cook up and that is true whether you believe it or not. You will be commissioned by bishops and elders who have done it before you to preach the whole counsel of God, including the awkward bits we don’t understand very well. What you will not be ordained to do (though some of you will yield to the temptation to do it anyway) is to preach only those parts of the Christian tradition you have found personally meaningful. God doesn’t intend to mold the church in your image, you’ll be relieved to know, but in the image of the crucified and risen Christ.

May Steinmetz rest in peace until the resurrection, and may we all remain faithful in everything we do to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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