Next year I will be 40. The middle-age crisis will not necessarily hit me too hard, but I have begun asking questions like, ‘What have I been doing for the last 20 years?’
Basically, I have been striving in one direction in everything I have done. I have wanted to try to help recover theological thinking to its rightful place in Belarus church life, and also to help remove the word ‘theology’ from the list of religious ‘swear words’ here.
Have I succeeded? Not yet! But at least I now have a couple of friends who share my vision for theological education in my country.
The annual Summer School of Reformed Theology, which started four years ago, plays an important role in these endeavours. The most recent one took place on 27-29 June 2016, in Minsk.
The school’s structure remains the same: lectures on systematic and biblical theology, good food, a theological ‘round-table’, a night’s rest; and then the same the next day; and the next.
The expectation of the participants before the school may have varied, but now they know that they will be intellectually challenged at the school and can come better prepared, that is better read in the books and articles mentioned in the programme.
This year we were stimulated and challenged by two speakers from Scotland. One was Dr Jamie A. Grant, vice-principal of Highland Theological College. He taught us about the Psalms and how to preach from them. It turns out that emotions are a legitimate part of preaching and (even) theology!
The other was Dr David Kirk, who recently completed his doctoral studies at the same Highland Theological College and now serves as a minister in the Free Church of Scotland. He spoke about Paul’s understanding of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.
He explained that, while we usually think that the second part of this chapter speaks about the discontinuity between our present body and our future body, in reality Paul’s purpose is just the opposite, to emphasise the continuity.
During the afternoon theological round-tables we discussed several written texts. The first day’s were The doctrine of God by Gerald Bray and The life in the Trinity by Miroslav Volf. We tried to answer the question ‘What is the place of the doctrine of the Trinity in theology?’
Next day we discussed N. T. Wright’s The justification of God. The purpose of this exercise was to read at least one book by Wright, so we would criticise his views only after having actually read some of his copious writings. We found his book stimulating and, at the same time, felt that he goes too far in denying Luther’s doctrine of the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to us.
On the school’s final day, we discussed whether regeneration should be understood as an event or a process. We tried to understand why J. I. Packer so strongly insisted that John Calvin was simply wrong in teaching regeneration as a life-long process.
This year ended on an unexpected note. Our speakers suggested that we should also start a Winter School of Reformed Mission. Well, they know if they come again, it will be June for them, and here they were volunteering their brethren to teaching on mission in January (-5degC)! But, seriously, I have picked up the gauntlet and begun to think about having a winter school.
I want to thank my good friends, Matt Miller and his family from South Carolina and Sergei Spirydovich from Indiana, for their support for the Summer School. I am also grateful to Evangelical Press Missionary Trust for its help.
Slava Viazovski, PhD