A reflection of Shultz’s Reforming Theological Anthropology

These are responses to questions listed on the discussion board for Evangelical Seminary’s course CT902: The Formation of the Human Person.

Question 1In your reading of Shults, what did you learn or notice anew about ‘relationality’? How would you characterize your overall response to using relationality as a framework for exploring the richness of what it means to be human?

The concept of theological anthropology is new to me as is the concept of relationality.  I had not engaged this issue before.  Some parts of the book were new, others were not new but I had not read them in light of relationality,  I thought Shultzs use of Kegan and Loeder was interesting because I engage their work somewhat in my chaplain residency and had awareness of the need to self differentiate and how that would affect one’s understanding of life experiences such as being admitted to the hospital.  But really how successful one is in working through relationality will depend on which “fiduciary structure” one is in. It will affect how open you are to others and to learning and growing, even having that “transforming moment.” Changing relation can be a scary thing and without good support and or fiduciary “structure,” that can be deconstructive, not re-constructive.  Clearly Shultz, despite his own deconstruction is not wanting to deconstruct his reader’s understanding of relationality but to help transform it. I suppose there was some transformation in the reading process. However, it seems for that to take place at a deep level one needs to stay in it for a time. I do admit my overall response to the book was a mix of cautious and somewhat ambivalent. I don’t think this is because I am in the traditionalist fiduciary structure per se but maybe it is. I will have to consider it further.  

Question 2Employing the framework Shultzs describes in chapter three (the dialectic between theological and psychological experiences of fear), what have you found strengthens or inhibits your own transformational learning in your doctoral work/research? How might those insights inform your preparation for teaching/presenting later in this course?

I am okay with the dialogue between theology and psychology as I feel they are very closely related. As I stated already it was interesting he used Kegan’s work to talk about how people will move forward in understanding relationality. He speaks of repression and fear as if they are blockers for growth and change, even transforming change. I think that is true that they are factors.  The growth and transformation often happen slowly and unnoticeably, until it is noticeable.  Fear can play a role in how fast that change happens.  Too much and not enough can be real issues.  

As to my own experience in this program, if there has been transformational growth it is not super obvious to me right now,  It has been stressful in my personal life with managing work and family, and kids. I think I have given in too much to the psychological fear of succeeding in this program. Will I pass the comp? WIll the dissertation even make sense. I feel my work hasn’t been the best that it can be and often I know it could be better and that upsets me and that hinders the growing experience a bit. Even though my learning environment has always been warm and supportive and encouraging, and I really do like the track focus, I almost literally physically and emotionally burned out at the end of the last term (which is what our ‘Rule of Life’ project was supposed to help us prevent – help us set rhythms in place to avoid burn out). I think I will be fine from here on out, but I do need to be more careful in this final term. I will need stoutness of heart and the courage I mentioned to have confidence and put that into the presentation and not let my fears and anxieties overrule me in the coming weeks. 

Question 3As you engaged with Shults’s proposals for reforming theological anthropology in Part III, which of them did you find most challenging, and why? How did you respond at first, and how has that response deepened or shifted for you as you continued to process the challenge? 

Here is where I am at with this – it felt like the first two parts were the long-winded way of saying, how you think of sin, and human nature and, the imago dei is wrong.  Here is a better way to look at it.  I see the value of mixing theology and modern views to discern what it is we believe, but as a biblical track student, I did recoil slightly at a few places,  I know that Shultz has since become an atheist and I felt this section show the path for how that may have happened for him. Even so, while there are modern concerns to consider in such a topic as human nature and sin, the Bible remains our final rule for faith life and practice.  I will need to consider his definition further as he says that “sinning has to be understood in the context of its relation to the general human longing for goodness” (ch 9 kindle). Lots of people long for goodness and it’s not found in God. For others it is. Yet, it seems, maybe I see it differently than he does, but in my view while humans were made good in the beginning, they became sinful. The sin lies in disobedience, and perhaps in terms of relationality, it was changing one’s relation in the wrong direction, away from God instead of towards him. 

My issue with what Shultz had presented then was, that if I disagreed with his conclusions did that mean I am not in the right fiduciary structure to be able to receive what he has to say? if I think he is wrong, is that my fear or epistemic anxiety speaking? These were some of my challenges with the book.  In the end, he had some really good things to say, and some good theological assertions I liked and thought were well worded. It’s too bad he walked away from the goodness of God.

Is God affected by our Prayers? An Open view.

by Terence E. Fretheim (2012)

When asked about their prayers, many people say that God has three answers available: Yes, No, and Wait (or some variation thereof). I invite you to consider an additional response: God has determined to answer prayers in a positive way, but God’s will to do so is being successfully resisted. This resistance may come from within ourselves (e.g., our arrogance), but it may also come from powerful factors at work in the context about which we are praying.

Some people speak with too much confidence regarding the effectiveness of prayer. I pray for a parking place, and lo! one appears around the next corner. Or, the efficacy of prayers is related to the depth of one’s faith. Really? Do you suppose that the apostle Paul did not have enough faith, and that was why his prayer to remove the thorn in his flesh failed?

Among believers, a remarkably limited sense regarding the efficacy of prayer is common. Sometimes, prayer is nothing more than a meditation that centers us or quiets us down, like a good nap! Others will extend the point: Prayer has an effect on the relationship between the one praying and God; the relationship is, say, made more mature. But all too often, change is thought to occur only on the human side of the relationship. Yet, the Bible claims that God is also affected by prayers offered. Many biblical texts claim that prayers do have an effect upon God and do shape the future (e.g., Exod 32:7-14; 2 Kings 20:1-7; Luke 18:1-8). God will take the human expression of concern with utmost seriousness, not least because God values the relationship and honors it. Somehow, the power of God is made more available in a situation because we have prayed.In such considerations, much depends on one’s image of God. For some believers, God cannot be affected by our words and God certainly cannot be persuaded by what we say. God will do what God will do — regardless of what people have to say. At the same time, prayer is sometimes so conceived that God always gets God’s way. God’s will always gets done! Or, does it?

Consider several factors. Our relationship with God is not mechanical in nature, as if our prayers triggered in God some already programmed responses. One must insist on the living, dynamic character of the relationship. Responses within any relationship — with human beings or with God — are never programmed or predictable, even between those who know each other very well. And this is even more the case in that God is God and we are not. Another factor to be taken into account is the pervasiveness of sin and evil that can get in the way of God’s responses to our prayers. For example, we pray for healing, and healing is not forthcoming. When that happens, we may end up blaming God for not answering our prayers. We so often make God the “heavy” in these matters.

In fact, however, it may have been the medicine we were (not) taking or a member of the medical community who blew it.Sometimes when we pray, we may think: all that is at work in this situation is our prayer and God. But a multitude of other factors are present in any given moment of prayer. Some of those factors may be so resistant to God’s will, that God’s will does not get done. The accumulated effects of sinfulness may be so powerful that even God’s options are limited (in view of promises made, to which God will be faithful). And God’s heart is the first heart to break, and God’s tears the first to flow. An analogy may be suggested: human sinfulness has occasioned numerous instances of the misuse of the environment. Some of that misuse (e.g., pesticides) has caused cancer in human beings and devastated animal populations. Human beings may be forgiven by God for their sin, but the effects of their sinfulness will continue to wreak havoc beyond the act of forgiveness.

We confess that in response to prayer God is at work in these effects, struggling to bring about positive results in and through human (and other) agents. It is not a question as to whether God wills good in the situation. The issue is God’s relational commitments that may entail self-limiting ways of responding to evil and its effects in the world. Anti-God factors may be powerfully present and shape the future in negative ways, even for God.To conclude, prayer is a God-given way for God’s people to make a situation more open for God, to give God more room to work, knowing that God always has our best interests at heart. Prayers do shape the future in ways different from what would have been the case had no prayers been uttered. At the same time, the people of God are not in the hands of an iron fate or a predetermined order of things. God’s will may be successfully resisted or God may be open to taking new directions in view of new times and places. Yet, never changing will be God’s steadfast love for all, God’s saving will for everyone, and God’s faithfulness to promises made.

– Terence E. Fretheim (1936-2020) taught Old Testament theology at Luther Seminary (St. Paul MN) for 45 years.