This video clip and transcript are the third in a series of bonus content from a conversation between Eric Barretto and Willie James Jennings for Outlook’s April issue. Stay tuned for more extra content and read the full, edited version of their conversation here.
Eric: As you were talking, Willie, I was thinking about my Greek classroom. One of the things I’ve told my students for years is that if I come to your church one day and I hear you preach and you say the words, “In the Greek, it says …”, I will go to your office and take your diploma off your wall. This is not me saying learning Greek is a waste of time! But when you use those words, you’re communicating that because you’ve mastered the skill, you can read the scriptures in a way that those people who haven’t been to seminary (who haven’t studied Greek) cannot.
The truth is that people who’ve never stepped foot in a theological education classroom can often read the scriptures with much more clarity and grace and depth and wisdom than those of us who do this for a living. (When you say “In the Greek…”), it communicates to people (that) unless you’re like me, then you can’t really read this text. It’s [a] communication of mastery. The musician who won’t claim to be a master (does so) because they’ve spent thousands of hours working on their craft. And that thousands of hours teaches you that you cannot control, you can’t master, you can’t possess the instrument. Same thing with Greek. Same thing with any of these other skills. But we are communicating in theological education that these three years grant you a master of divinity. And it shapes the practice in the pulpit, in the pastor’s office, that I think we need to reimagine and reconstruct.
The truth is that people who’ve never stepped foot in a theological education classroom can often read the scriptures with much more clarity and grace and depth and wisdom than those of us who do this for a living.
Willie: No, you’re exactly right. And we can even add that for a musician who everybody sees that they are just an incredible player. What they’ve also done is that they’ve listened to other musicians.
Willie: [They listen to] other musicians who haven’t had formal training, but who play in ways that are just unbelievable. The same thing with the scriptures, right? Because, you know, I know people who live those texts. They live those texts in ways that exegete them far more beautifully than I could ever in a pulpit or behind a lectern — because they’re living that out. And then when they tell what the text is about, they tell it in ways that I cannot tell it.
What’s so powerful about that … it’s more than just inviting ministers into a reality of humility. [Letting go of mastery invites pastors] into a reality of shared interpretation. And, that’s what’s so beautiful about what you just said. If somebody gets into the pulpit and creates distance right in the moment when they’re supposed to be collapsing the distance … what a missed opportunity. What a missed opportunity.
[Letting go of mastery invites pastors] into a reality of shared interpretation.
The April 2023 issue of Presbyterian Outlook explores the concept of belonging from various perspectives, identities, places and positions.
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