I've had a full day at Hendrix College, across the railroad tracks, teaching Reformation theology to part-time lay pastors. It was an especially good class today, to an especially good group -- smaller than most I've had, and maybe therefore more active.
Anybody who watches me in class knows that I love to teach and I love my subject. And almost any period of Christian history gives me a chance to get into what about it I love -- the complexities and relativities of theology in time. We started the day with a vigorous application of existentialism to the kinds of certainty and absolutism displayed by both reformers and Catholic authorities, and we ended with a vigorous defense of Calvin's worldview. No two discussions could be more different, and yet what united them is a delight in wrestling with the ideas that meant everything to people at that time.
Can we think along with people in history? I think we can, and nothing gets me more excited than when I see someone assuming that posture and defending a worldview that is quite different from their own. That's necessary if we are going to be able to assume good faith on the part of those who currently think differently from us. I find it invigorating to think that both the Catholics and the reformers (and the reformers and the spiritualists, and the Inquisitors and their victims, and so on) were trying to defend and promote what they felt to be the essential elements of the tradition they received and the faith that will save. How their commitments then issue into wildly opposed action becomes a study not in right and wrong, but in conflict and compromise.