By Anthony D. Baker
Is theology a communal discipline? It seems that it ought to be, in that the term names a language and a spirit of inquiry that characterizes a community. The very fact that theological arguments exist, say, about the bread and wine on the altar suggests that this language is accountable to more than my own conviction: if you can talk someone out of Memorialism into a belief in the Real Presence, or even if you cannot but try to anyhow, you are both implicitly in agreement that the language Christians speak about God is one that holds both of you accountable, and thus is at heart a shared discourse, a communication.
The trouble, though, is that theology is often not practiced this way. Protestant theology in particular has, in the last two centuries, become the realm of Great Minds, many of whom were great indeed. But where great minds dominate, theology begins to look like a task best undertaken in utter isolation: think of that iconic image of Karl Barth, curled low over his desk, madly scribbling out the Church Dogmatics. Even if Barth himself was very much engaged with the Church and academy he served, he, like others before and after, looms in our consciousness as a solitary scholar, conjuring great thoughts from out of his great mind.
How would it reshape the task of theological thinking and theological educating if we considered the gathering for conversation to be as essential to the discipline as the isolating for research? What if the crowded dinner table were as suitable an icon of theological scholarship as the cloistered desk?
This past year, Baylor University theology professor Peter M. Candler, Jr., and I began an initiative to test those questions. The Theology Studio (theologystudio.org) is an online gathering point for a theological community (the bricks and mortar kind of studio being much more challenging logistically and economically to pull off, it turns out). We write and collect weekly reflections on theology as an academic discipline; we interview some of the first names in theology; we are collecting a “shelf” of resources, including my favorite, the “The 3 Books Shelf,” which contains listings and links to the works which some of our current great minds call the most influential on their writing and teaching. The site also houses a podcast that Seminary of the Southwest professor Scott Bader-Saye and I convene monthly, in which we attempt to model theological discourse through discussions of new ideas and publications.