Philosophy of Education:
In my classes I liken theology to basketball (no doubt a vestige of my doctoral education at Duke). It is not merely a subject to be studied "objectively," but a practical discipline. To study Christian theology adequately is to practice Christian theology, as one practices basketball (whether as a player, coach, referee, commentator, fan, or sponsor). And to practice Christian theology well, one must love both theology and the God who is its object, and be prepared to be transformed by them.
The relationship between my faith and the doctrine I teach is, then, like the relationship between a coach's affinity and enthusiasm for a sport, and his or her work training players. How good could a basketball coach be who disliked basketball, or did not appreciate its intricacies, or who was merely coaching for paychecks?
The relationship between faith and theology reaches into the heart of Christian epistemology and theological method. Jesus did not choose commentators, editorialists, and historians to follow him objectively. He created a community of disciples to play his new game. He called them to commit their lives to his mission. To these he gave "the secret of the Kingdom of God" and, later, the gift of the Holy Spirit. To practice Christian theology truly is to join the official fan club of Jesus Christ and put one's life on the line for the Master. In class I advocate what I call "Christology from behind": God gives us access to his mystery by granting us the privileged perspective of disciples.
As the community of worshiping, witnessing disciples is the privileged place from which to engage in enquiry into God's mysteries, so it is also the privileged object of the fruits of that enquiry. If Christ truly is the Lord (and not merely our Lord), then this is as true in a university as it is of a Church or seminary, as true in economics and biology as in constructive theology. So, in the context of a Christian liberal arts education, my research and my teaching aim to explore God's nature and work, with the object of empowering God's faithful. That means that Christian doctrine empowers Christian worship, maturity, mission, reconciliation, service, and ministry. I originally undertook formal theological education for the simple purpose of becoming empowered to serve the Church in whatever capacity God had in mind for me, and my own relationship with God has benefited enormously from my academic theological efforts. My study of God has enriched my appreciation and enjoyment of God. So it should for the whole Church and the wider world.
As a Christian with a calling to scholarly theology, my faith and my work depend upon each other. Both orthodoxy and orthopraxis must be healthy, or neither one is healthy. In my life, this makes my career in theology fun, rewarding, urgent, and glorifying to God. While my readers and students may not share a vocation in Christian scholarship, their faith and their works are related just as intricately. So my goal as a teacher is to strengthen both directions of the relationship between faith and career in my students and readers. To return to the basketball analogy, I want to train critical thinkers who, like sports commentators, appreciate the game both through their own experiences of it (faith seeking understanding), and in order to experience it more profoundly (understanding serving faith).
Nevertheless, the privileged perspective of disciples is not exclusive. While I deny the existence of neutral, "objective" perspectives from which to evaluate Jesus, I affirm that God has frequently granted so-called "outsiders" insights into Christian theology that the fan club had overlooked. So my faith commitment is not a license to practice theology in isolation from thinkers outside the Christian Church! Here an academic context in the liberal arts is particularly constructive, for other disciplines look more often beyond the Church for their Egyptian gold.
Nor is faith commitment a license to isolate theology from those inside the Church, yet outside my professional guild. Doctrine is deeply informed by the insights of the worshiping Church, and by the insights of disciples whose vocations take them into other disciplines. The disciplines of dogmatic theology, constructive theology, historical theology, biblical studies, philosophical theology, and so on are not aloof from the disciplines of any of God's other disciples (represented on campus by other departments and community groups). They interact thoroughly with each other.