We’re currently in week four of the Reformation chapel series here at Bethel. This series has been focusing on various theological tenets of this storied event, or rather series of events, in church history.
Recently, Joshua Goodwin talked to a few campus figures about the idea to focus more on the theology of the Reformation rather than the actual history. But the fact is, the series is focusing on theology over history. But is this a good thing? Can 500-year old theological concepts still apply today? And possibly most importantly, what are students supposed to take away from it all?“I think it can be really life-giving for our students,” said Cami Brubaker, adjunct professor specializing in the Old Testament and Hebrew. “It may not be something that every single person is interested in, but I'm not sure you could ever find a topic that every single person is interested in. I think the Reformation was so formative for who we are as a Christian people now, and the effects of it, both positive and negative, it's good for us to revisit those things and talk about, ‘how is that still affecting us today?’ and ‘what does that mean for my faith?’” Brubaker spoke in chapel last week about “sola scriptura,” or “Scripture alone,” one of the key tenets of the early Reformers. Brubaker, along with Dr. David McCabe, assistant professor of New Testament and Greek, spoke in chapel last week about the importance of Scripture to not only the Reformers, but to us today. “My hope is that students will take away an appreciation for the Word of God,” said Brubaker. “Part of our challenge was to cherish this Bible that we've been given. And that's one of the big things that happened at the Reformation is that (before the Reformation)...the Scripture was not available to people. And so, it's become something that we're comfortable with.” Brubaker cited the ease of access modern people have to Scripture, whereas before the Reformation, Scripture was only accessible via a priest in a service, and then, only in Latin. The series has focused primarily on what’s known as the Continental Reformation, which was most famously spearheaded by Martin Luther. McCabe spoke a bit about the importance of this, but also the importance of representing other traditions and facets of the Reformation. “So, the focus has been on Luther and the Continental Reformation and some of the movements there,” said McCabe. “And Bethel locates itself largely within the Wesleyan/Arminian tradition. And so there, you have this very distinctive British strain that I think has been missing from some of the discussions that have been presented.” McCabe said that there were some distinctions about the Wesleyan, or Anglican, Reformation that corrected some problems brought about by the “intellectual offspring” of Luther and John Calvin that he feels aren’t exactly helpful to modern-day Christianity. “They took some of (Luther and Calvin’s) ideas in directions that I think were very unhelpful, and in ways, we've had to kind of recover from those aspects,” said McCabe. “So, the history, I think, is important, although it's complicated... So, I think there's been a lot of good, and I really do like the balance that's come in, with different voices. But not enough balance for my likings.” “One way in which theology can be very effective in connecting with us, or can do us a lot of good, I should say, is by developing this kind of historical empathy,” said Dr. Cristian Mihut, associate professor of philosophy, “realizing what was Martin Luther's context, and why is he primed to reform a movement inside the Catholic Church, paying attention to John Calvin and his historical context. I think all of that, that is, think of these, even the development in the church doctrine, not as atemporal propositions that come out of nowhere, but as the movement of God's Spirit inside of history, I think that's very, very important.” Still, is a discussion of these fundamental theological concepts a good fit for a one-hour chapel service? Or would a more historical focus be more appropriate or a better fit? “I think the thing to recognize that chapel isn’t just a historical lecture,” said Dr. Keith Kotesky, director of church relations for Bethel. “It’s a place where our campus comes together to worship. The purpose of that is in the context of a worship setting is what is the Biblical truth that applies to our lives today? There might have been a difference if we’d seen a history lecture going on, but in the worship setting, it’s more of an expression of Biblical truth...I do think the intent, especially from a pastor point of view, it’s a service of worship, and in worship we lift up praise to God and wait for Him to speak through His Word.” “I like that it's more theologically focused,” said Lauren Lonsbury, junior international health major and resident assistant. “I think...one chapel on the history probably wasn't enough, they probably should have done a little bit more...I think they focus on the theology because I think that's where life change is, (it) is really...that's where our lives are going to change. The history's great to learn, but if you want life change to happen, you need to really share the theology behind what changed Martin Luther's life.” “Yes, I think it is a great fit,” wrote Dr. Chad Meister, professor of theology and philosophy, in an email response to questions. “Theology is the study of God and the ways of God. The Reformation was a major event in which God was, I believe, moving in profound and powerful ways (many well-known Roman Catholics, such as Henri Nouwen, agree). Discussing ways that God was moving, and still is moving, in Protestant contexts such as ours and sharing these things in chapel is very important indeed.” “I do (think it’s a good fit,) I do,” said McCabe. “Again, I would want there to be perhaps more representation. Bethel often does not do a good job of charitably representing the Catholic position, both Roman Catholic theology and more broadly the Catholic tradition. So, I think the discussion is great, I think a focus on the Reformation is very appropriate…I wish there'd be even more discussion and more representation of the different traditions represented here.” So, what could students take away from something like this, if anything at all? “I do know that some students have been loving this chapel series,” wrote Holly Morlan, junior elementary education major and member of the Spiritual Life team, in an email response to questions. “My friend Jess Webb said today that being a Ministry major has helped her understand the historical and religious terms used. She has been soaking this series up. On the other hand, I am not interested as much in this so it is hard for me to understand the language. I honestly do not know if the student climate will change. Sometimes I feel like students go to chapel because they have to, while other students might really benefit from it.” “Students will be able to take away what they put in,” said Mihut. “John Calvin used to say that it's not just the preaching that is a sacrament, but the hearing is a sacrament... So, I think students will be able to take from this chapel series on the Reformation precisely what they put into it. That is, if they come into it with a primed attentiveness and willingness to get to know their own history as Protestants and to get to know their own theology as inheritors of the Reformation…they're going to get a lot from it. If they come to the table rather uninterested or plateaued or anxious and overburdened with other stuff, I don't think they're going to get a lot.” (Photo Credit: Bethel College Chapel)