But they couldn't keep me from studying on my own on the side.
One of my last couple of semesters I took an exegetical/homiletical class on the Parables of Matthew. For our final project, we had to fully exegete (study the Greek and read history and commentaries, etc.) and then produce sermons on 3 of the parables of Jesus found in the Book of Matthew. The top 3 or 4 papers would get published as an annual anthology. (I actually got one of those spots...after a few minor forced edits to tone down my burgeoning liberalism.)
I called mine "A Theology of Kingdom Inclusiveness in the Matthean Parables of Jesus." I chose the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23), the Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43), and the Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14). Looking now at my outline of the paper, I can tell you the main points I derived after thoroughly studying those three parables, respectively: 1) Seed was sown/dropped on all kinds of soil; 2) Weeds were allowed to remain among the wheat until the harvest; and 3) Everyone who could be found was invited, "both bad and good" (verse 10). In my conclusion I considered a few things (also taking into consideration the rest of the parables in Matthew): 1) Will everyone inherit the Kingdom? (ref. the Parables of the Unforgiving Servant; Two Sons; Ten Virgins; and Talents), 2) Who decides whom to accept and whom to reject? (ref. the Parable of the Laborers; also several parables mention - the Reapers, the Father, etc.), and 3) How do the general teachings of Jesus (in Matthew) compare? I'll post for you my conclusion (you'll have to do the studying for yourself!):
This study particularly comes to mind as further goading my change from traditional conservative views, still within Christianity, as to who is welcome and included in the spiritual life of the Church.The popular television drama Downton Abbey chronicles the daily life of the fictional Crawley family and their servants at the prestigious Grantham estate in Yorkshire in the era of World War I. The series illustrates poignantly that “servants” consist of both trustworthy, loyal individuals as well as those who do the least amount possible to keep their livelihood with only nominal commitment to those whom they serve. The parables discussed in this paper give little explicit attention to the characters designated as servants. The theme that carries throughout the parables presents the servants as those who labor and do the bidding of their overseer; this is simply the befitting response of the servant’s identity. Translated into the community life of the Church, this would seem to allow for participation in the Church’s mission by all who make up the Body of Christ – both the “good” and the “bad,” so to speak (with the earlier caveat from Matthew 18:15-20 that persons who deliberately cause harm within the Church are subject to very cautiously expedited excommunication).Thus, Matthew’s parables seem to teach that 1) all are welcomed (and actively invited) into the fellowship of the faithful; 2) all who respond may wholly [empahsis added] participate in the community and evangelistic mission of the Church; 3) not everyone who claims the status of “Christian” will produce good fruit; 4) God has not commissioned the Church to separate the “good” members from the “bad” or to exclude anyone from the fellowship; and 5) God Himself will eventually judge between the faithful and those who fail to submit to the gospel, and will mete out the consequences of their refusal to repent.
Other things I learned in seminary impacted me, too, like the electives I took in the counseling/psychology department. I learned about and researched such things as Unconditional Positive Regard, Self-Actualization, and the fact that things I always thought were evidence of demons are really mental illnesses that can be diagnosed and successfully treated. (You'd be surprised what they don't teach you in Sunday School.)
In the next, final post of this series, I hope to talk about what my transition from conservativism means to me now - including, incidentally, my take on the election of Trump as our next President.