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Love affair

Faith and learning are inseparable companions, Kuykendall says

May 8, 2012

RICHMOND, Va.

Theological seminaries in the Reformed tradition are the most crucial places where the encounter between faith and learning occur, the Rev. John W. Kuykendall told a crowd of more than 200 gathered at Union Presbyterian Seminary here for the annual Sprunt Lectures.

“The biblical injunction to love the Lord with all our minds cannot become idle rhetoric,” said Kuykendall, a 1964 alumnus of the seminary and president emeritus of Davidson (N.C.) College. He also taught at Princeton University and Auburn University and served as interim president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

The lectures and other activities related to Union Seminary’s bicentennial celebration run May 7-9. The Sprunts began in 1911 through a gift by James Sprunt “to bring speakers of outstanding quality to the seminary to discuss aspects of Christian thought and work.”

“All wisdom consists of two parts,” Kuykendall said, quoting John Calvin, “the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves.” However, he continued ― again citing Calvin ― “which precedes the other is not easy to discern.”

Thus, Kuykendall said, “faith and learning operate in a sort of symbiosis ― to engage, enrich and challenge each other.” As in human relationships, he said, the encounter may involve courtships, lovers’ spats, separations, break-ups and reconciliations … for each others’ sake.”

Faith and learning can “sometimes be strange companions,” Kuykendall said. “We’re called to believe that we may understand, but we’re also called to understand that we may believe.”

Serving God with the mind has other implications as well, Kuykendall continued. “The spiritual value of inquiry extends into this world as well as matters of faith. Secular sources can be as important as sacred texts – seeking wisdom where it might be found,” he said.

“Our knowledge of God is infused with enthusiasm for understanding ourselves and the rest of God’s creation, he said. “The doctrines of creation and providence stir our intellectual curiosity, to pay attention to the whole fabric of God’s creative acts,” he said. “If God did it, it’s worth studying and trying to understand.”

This spirit of inquiry is the major contribution theological seminaries must make to the church and the world, Kuykendall said. “A seminary is much more than just credentialing for a job and must rise to the occasion, to be a crucible for preparation that goes beyond students’ previous experience and shows how faith and learning fit together for life in ministry.”

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