File Cabinet: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
One thing leads to another. Having finished sorting and shelving my Patristics and Church History library, I turned my attention to my books on Worship and Liturgy. Thankfully (or not, as the case might be) I only have about twenty running feet of such volumes, so I was able to expedite the process. What remained, however, was a four drawer file cabinet that contained all the materials, correspondence, final drafts and hard copies of my own published work over the last forty-five years. The temptation was to do nothing with the files, to simply leave them for someone else to deal with once I am no longer on the scene. My nature, however, is that of the obsessive compulsive variety. Moreover, summoning up the remnants of a Protestant work ethic, I concluded that it was my responsibility to go through the files.
Like my life, my writing and publishing has been ecumenical and varied. I have written for everyone from Christianity Today to the Greek Orthodox Theological Review and pretty much everything in between. The publishers of my books have ranged from the evangelical Baker Book House and Zondervan to the Roman Catholic Notre Dame Press. There have been “popular” books and articles in addition to “scholarly” works and the story of them all was contained in this one file cabinet.
So, I called my friend, Michael, to get his advice on what I should do with all of this paper. He said to “keep it all”. When I explained that I couldn’t do that, he said, “scan it all”. After thanking him for his advice, I returned to stare at the looming presence of the file cabinet.
First I cleared the photocopies of secondary sources… a fifty gallon trash bag full. I then decided to retain only two hard copies of each of my articles which I transferred to two smaller archival boxes. All the manuscript drafts went into another fifty gallon trash bag. That left all the copies of correspondence with editors, co-authors and research collaborators. I took the time to read all of the letters for, in the course of our work together, these people became friends. Moreover, many, if not most of them are now gone. There were a few pieces I decided to keep in hard copy for sentimental reasons, while others were scanned before being shredded. It was a very long and, I must say, emotionally exhausting day.
After finishing up, I made myself a drink and reflected upon what I had read that day. Firstly, I had an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude and thankfulness for the opportunity that I had been afforded to work with so many gifted individuals. Moreover, they came from across the width and breadth of the Christian tradition. They were Orthodox of varied nationalities, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Copts and Charismatics, Evangelicals, Quakers and Congregationalists, Baptists, Reformed and Lutheran. They were theological liberals and conservatives. They were British and American, Egyptian and Russian, French and German. One journal editor was Ethiopian. Yet, despite all the differences, they all had one thing in common. They reveled in scholarship and they loved theology.
They loved theology. In hundreds of letters and printed emails, I found not a single reference to politics, unless one counts the politics of fourth century Constantinople! Additionally, I found not a single remark concerning “culture war” issues. Indeed, I could not find a single instance of an attempt to weaponize a theological construct for use in a contemporary setting. Instead, what I found in these hundreds of letters was what Jean Leclercq called, “a love of learning and a desire for God”. While Leclercq used this phrase to describe monastic culture, I would suggest that it describes, at least in my mind, what theology is in its essence. I also think it is something we have forgotten.
As someone who writes regularly, I know that if I want to get a “response”, all I have to do is mention politics, or a culture war issue, or, indeed, the latest scandal among evangelicals… or Roman Catholics… or a CCM musician… or a bishop… the list goes on and on. Meanwhile the whole range of theology – including systematics, church history, ethics, and so much more – is merely given a furtive nod, or ignored, as we wait for something more “exciting” to come along.
Right now, with the current state of the Church, the “love of learning and the desire for God” seems, at the very least, a better option. I’m glad I cleaned my file cabinet.
I watched a long time friend preach yesterday.
The message was, as always, focused on how the church can be “victorious” in the culture wars.
It also contained heresies that were ancient…and some I had never heard before.
When is the last time someone threw in a word about the pre-existence of the soul in your hearing?
Have you heard the “new” doctrine that God “raptured” Enoch and Elijah because on His return he must have humans with him because they have been given dominion and must be present to set things right?
His people knew no difference…they clapped at this “revelation”…and prayed that God would give them an “open heaven”…
I have heard that the 2 Witnesses per some dispies will be Enoch and Elijah, so that one your friend mentioned must be a variant of that.
The pre-existence of the soul sounds something like the spirit babies of Mormonism (HT BSG: “So say we all”).
What were some of the ancient heresies he spoke of?
The pre-existence of souls goes back to Origen,at least.
The need for Christ to bring humans with him denies the Incarnation.
The entire message was an example of the theology of glory…which goes back to Satan…
Good lesson Duane!
There is a book written by a 20th Century Lutheran theologian, Gerhard Forde, titled: Theology is for Proclamation. Forde’s assertion is that the study of theology should service the Church’s proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I think this principle applies at all times, including today.
One thing some theologians observe is that popular culture is increasingly turning against biblical ethics which turn is in some respects unprecedented. What’s worse is that many churches have followed the culture’s rebellious move.
Therefore, good theology must respond to the culture’s rebellion against God’s creational order if it desires to preserve and serve its function in the proclamation of the Gospel. Good theology is fighting on two fronts: 1) against the rebellion in culture which threatens the proclamation and adherence to the Gospel; and 2) the ungodly messages being sent out by false churches which embrace cultural evil.
However, theology can be faithful without becoming partisan. God’s will is the same for all people, regardless of party affiliation. God’s will is against sin, regardless of party affiliation.
With regard to heresies, it would appear that “everything old is new again”…
Just ask the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which I understand are not fans of Santa Claus.
So if we wanted to re-create the incident today from the Council of Nicea, does than mean a mall store Santa would be beat up a JW? 😀
God takes no pleasure in the the death of the wicked
Precious in the sight of the Lord are the deaths of His Saints
Sadly, only the Redeemed ones understand this….. Perhaps, even sadder is the fact that most of us, who are redeemed, see so little need to stick our necks out to explain what we know of eternity…
Question, we leave it to the preachers – is that God’s will? ? ?
“Jesus did not come to set in motion some new idealism, some new political scheme or inspire some new heroism. Rather, he came to die for us, to die at our hands, and so to save us.”
Great quote Duane! Thanks.
Forde really is very good!
Duane, thanks for this post, and certainly nice to comment here with no content about (those items you mentioned in you next-to-last paragraph)!
Also meant to say great post too!
Many thanks! BTW, the paper issue seems to become more difficult with the passing years. The best I’ve come up with is to go through my personal files once a year… I do, however, become more and more ruthless when it comes to what I keep…
Thanks Duane on your input. The longer I keep these papers the more and more convinced I too need to be ruthless!
As an aside/corollary…more and more companies are keeping your “data” on their servers, so I am finding it is no longer necessary to keep paid bill stubs (paper or electronically), for example.
Also nice is when I purchased a vehicle last March, all the paperwork was signed electronically and given to me on a flash drive!
It’s not surprising that the JW’s don’t like Santa Claus, AKA St. Nicholas of Myra. Back at the first ecumenical council he smacked the arch-heretic Arius in the chops. Arius taught the same heresy the JW’s preach today, that Jesus is a created being.
i love theology, but I don’t always tell my Christian friends what I am reading. The response I usually get is “why on earth are you interested in THAT?” or “are you sure it’s not dangerous?” Meanwhile, they spout quotes from “Jesus Calling” (no offense if you like it-it’s just not my thing), and I wonder if they could come up with a defense of their faith if they were cornered.
It’s actually a myth… but a good one!
I have no confidence in saving my stuff electronically because pretty soon this particular technology will be archaic, and you may not be able to access your stuff unless you upgrade everything to the latest technology. Remember the 8-track and the floppy disk. I have some photos on floppies that I cannot access with my current equipment. I am sure it’s possible to get a floppy drive, just as I can buy an old 8-track on e-bay, but since I won’t, these photos are lost to me. Did I have to buy a new cell phone to accommodate the latest cell technology? Why yes I did. I have no confidence a flash drive will work ten years from now, and I suspect not-so-distant computers won’t even have USB ports because something else will have been invented. I am imagining a day when none of my Kindle books will be accessible to me unless I convert to some new expensive deal. Put not your trust in the electronics of men!
Duane, it is an Orthodox tradition so it is true.
Good comment Linn…It is more profitable and good for your faith to read theology than the latest Christian Living best-seller dujour.
Xenia – good points about technology. it’s sad that we get used to one thing, and then they (the developer/engineers) change things up and force us to buy the latest. I am tempted to get VERY Ruthless with my papers and just close my eyes and grab the pile and be done with them!
LInn and Xenia,
There’s always the old saying that we can’t take it with us. I try to be wise about what i hold on to, and I am getting more ruthless at purging the rest. I think part of what is driving it is the pickup load of stuff we took the commercial shredder after my mom died several years ago.
You’re in good company…
“One of my great regrets is that I have not studied enough. I wish I had studied more and preached less.”
That was the point of the comment and attempt to piggyback something humorous from Duane’s comment at 9:04.
And for your amusement, some enterprising folks have done some parody songs of the incident to the tune of popular Christmas songs: