KelseySometime in my second year of seminary, it happened: a sick sort of mental lethargy began to settle in as I walked into class or sat down to study. It may have just been a sort of burnout and a reflection of my need for a vacation, but I knew it was more.

Truth be told, I blame the news. (Isn’t the trendy thing to blame the media for everything lately anyway?) From displaced Syrian refugees and constant unfathomable massacres in the Middle East, to deported families from within our borders, combined with Christians publicly engaging in political discourse in what has to be the nastiest election in recent American history, I began to feel an emptiness in my studies when held up to the suffering of so many around me, both near and far. I could study, regurgitate, and reinterpret theological arguments and defenses of my faith all day long, but it hasn’t seemed to change much in the world around me. In fact, more and more lately, I have seen Christians put God’s name on agendas that further injustice. In these cases our faith is not simply failing to serve the world around us, but is actually being fashioned into a weapon that perpetuates the sinful systems which grieve the heart of God. In what way can a theological education help us reclaim our faith as a force for good in the world?

Now I do believe that education can be an end in itself, enriching our lives with knowledge. However, at least for myself and many of my peers in the MDiv program, that’s not why we came to Candler. We came so that we could carry this burden for the world and carry it well. I know in my head that there is relevance and application to the Biblical Greek that I am fumbling with, but if I’m real honest, it often feels like the world won’t be healed by good exegesis.

I was contemplating this one day as I sat down to read in preparation for my Early Monastic Practice class. As per usual, I got distracted from the reading and began to Google mindlessly, to get a little background information on the monastic writings that had been assigned. And then, to my surprise, something I read clicked inside of my heart.

What I’ve learned throughout the class was that monastic thought had such influence in early Christendom because faith was viewed much more as an immersion in a way of life, rather than a mental assent to a set of answers. It wasn’t until much later in Christian history that faith became a set of beliefs to which you mentally adhere, instead of a worldview that shapes your relationships, behavior and communities.

Can I be real with you for a moment? I signed up for this Early Monasticism class because it fulfilled a requirement and it fit my schedule. Was I especially jazzed about early monastic practices? No. But I have found that it may in fact be the most relevant class I am taking this semester. It has reminded me that there truly is nothing new under the sun—no controversy or theological dilemma, no moral failure or human tragedy that has not been contained within the great cloud of witnesses past or present.

It has also reminded me that orthodoxy without orthopraxy is dead. In a world in which injustice abounds, the message of the Gospel must be embodied to have any effectiveness in our communities. At this particular juncture in our nation’s history (as in others), the church has traded in humble servanthood for political clout and legislative power. How different from the humble monastic communities who rotated leadership roles to avoid pride, or who sought to out-do one another in service and self-sacrifice! Many monks even avoided ordination or leadership in order to avoid pride or praise.

I am not advocating any anti-intellectual leanings, nor am I suggesting that my peers abandon ordination for fear of pride. But I hope instead that we allow love to connect our heads and hearts to our hands, not abandoning the passion that brought us here to seminary in the first place. Love is what deflates and dissipates the puffing up effect that knowledge can often have. Love is what translates the words of scripture to a transformed life. Love is what makes the difference between a clanging gong and song of praise poured out to God.

As the early church recognized, faith is so much more than a set of answers. It is a way of life. And if we confuse the two, we are bound to be disappointed when the answers that we choose can’t fully withstand or encompass the depth of suffering in our world. Instead it is by that commitment to love that we can persist in darkness, when our knowledge and words fail us.