Open letter to theologian Ryan P Bonfiglio (Technologies of Trust #3)

Dear professor Bonfiglio
My name is Junior (Jay) Campbell and I am an England-based Barbadian holistic communications and education specialist, trading as Intelek International.

Thank you for sharing your very informative and insightful article, published on the Christian Century website on January 31, under the title “It’s time to rethink our assumptions about where theological education happens.”

It certainly helps to have the details you share about the move of theological training from the local church to seminaries in the year 1563 to help us focus our minds on “what it means to do theological education,” as you put it.

Being no less an empiricist than the celebrated Iraqui-British theoretical physicist Jim Al-Khalili, time-lines locating events and ideas in a chronological order are of great interest and help to me in my personal and professional praxis.

However my personal and professional experience has also convinced me that there’s an undeniable circular and cyclical, or better “spherical” dimension to knowing God, which after all, is what “theology” is about, essentially.

And the distinction I make between a spherical and circular understanding of what it means to “know God” is important because it points to the many-sided, biological or bodily aspect of faith that is one of this blog’s key priorities.

It points to the multi-dimensional, “carnal knowledge” complexity of human communication with God: what in my poem “Communion” (1982), I call “intercourse with the nucleus of reality”.

Some time around 2001, when I first learned about anti-matter, I coined the maxim “Matter matters,” which adresses the issue economically.

And my Caribbean culture influenced reformulation of the seventeenth century philosopher-theologian René Descartes’ famous credo “I think therefore I am”, yielding “I think therefore I jam”, emanates from the same Barbadian theological tributary.

As the England-born, Canada-based evangelical theologian J.I. Packer might say, it flows from the same stream of divine-human concursus.

Have you read Packer’s pamphlet Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility (1961)?

I read it in the mid to late 1980s and recommend it highly, although I question some of Packer’s assumptions.

I think professor Al-Khalili, an atheist without a religious bone in his body, reputedly, could learn a lot from Packer’s use of physics to explain the complex phenomenon he explores in that pamphlet.

More on that later, perhaps.

My main concern here is to let you know that I have concluded that the most critical component of a theological education is its core content, not the time or place of its delivery.

But I do not say this to detract from your basic point. Indeed, I hope to add to it, liberally.

This should be relatively easy, as you and I seem to agree on issues at the heart of questions you raise. We seem to share some core beliefs.

And I hope the significance of my publishing this open letter response to your article here, on my Kore Belief blog, will resonate as deeply with you and other readers as it resonates with me.

Could there be a better place to analyse the “seismic shift in thinking”, as you put it, about where theological education happens than this blog, which is dedicated to exploring issues at the intersection of semantics and seismology?

Indeed, taking the view, as I do, that the primary, biblically prescribed site of theological education is the heart of human beings, I cannot think of a better place to publish my belief that the content and site of theological education are fundamentally interdependent.

By publishing here, without having ever met you, nor first contacting you be email, as I contemplated (I did reach you by phone though), I pragmatically demonstrate my belief that your and my faiths can be mutually enriched by this kind of public, online engagement.

Moreover, this open letter is an affirmation of my faith in the positive potential of the internet. It signals my belief in the internet’s capacity to facilitate heartfelt bridge-building.

And I persist with this belief despite my first-hand, more than twenty-years and ongoing experience of how cyberspace can be a site of deeply hurtful and damaging misrepresentation and persecution by powerful political and commercial interests based in my native Barbados, in Jamaica, in your country, the United States, in India and other parts of the world.

Despite concerns I share with others about fake news and the conscious or unconscious complicity of Google, Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and other publishing platforms in corrupt Barbadian politician Donville Inniss’ and others’ gender, race and religious racketeering crimes against humanity, I believe the internet has the potential to be a key artery of global democracy delivery, and especially of the heart-to-heart information sharing that is the indispensable basis of a democratic theology.

I believe that this heart-based, human bio-psychology dictated, “hyper-localized learning” democratic development matrix subsumes (or should that be supersedes?) your church focused “cathedral model” of theological education because it is what the prominent Old Testament prophet Jeremiah predicts in chapter 31 of the book that bears his name: what he calls a New Covenant.

And I believe Joshua (Jesus) of Nazareth incarnated what Jeremiah predicted: that Joshua embodied the Kingdom of God (Greek, basileia Theou) not the church (Greek ekklésia), with its hang-over of synagogue simulating administrative constraints and related literalistic assumptions.

As I explain at length in my book The Bible: Beauty and Terror Reconciled (subsequently TBBTR) and recap briefly here, I believe that the church, like the synagogue of Judaism, distorts Joshua’s message, despite its leaders’ best intentions.

I believe that from the bishops of the second century, down to Pope Francis today, the leadership of institutional Christianity has fudged the meaning of the New Covenant that Jeremiah prophesied, consciously and unconsciously filling his spoken words with their literalistic, administrative, bureaucratic inventions.

And I am reminded here of the words attributed to the author of Hebrews 4:12 traditionally believed to be the apostle Paul: “For the word of God [is] living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it pierces even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges [the] thoughts and intentions of [the] heart.” (English Study Bible)

The scourge of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests currently dominating global news headlines is just one symptom, and perhaps the most tragic one, of Christendom’s almost two millennia long, rational rifts reproducing, excessive dependence on written records triggering tragedy.

Repatriating theological education from seminaries to the church may help repair Judeo-Christianity’s underlying crises of conscience.

But these moral crises go much deeper than the creation of the first seminary during the Council of Trent.

Jeremiah’s New Covenant prophecy gets to the heart of the matter, like iconic Barbadian-West Indian cricketer Malcolm Marshall’s bowling against England, in England, in 1988: the landmark blackwash test match series.

Through this open letter I invite you to help me assert the possibility of a truly exquisite, game-changing black and white beauty.

Jeremiah: a body-line bowler?

In Jeremiah 31:31-33 the writer describes a heart-based, DNA-code-inscription approximating pedagogical process, which he equates with the establishment of a New Covenant between God and the divided, exiled peoples of Judah and Israel.

This landmark passage of scripture reads:
“‘Behold, the days come’, saith the LORD, ‘that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them’, saith the LORD: ‘But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days’, saith the LORD, ‘I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them’, saith the LORD: ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.'” (King James Version)

I believe that this deep seeding Judeo-Christian discipleship matrix, to which, incidentally, there are African precursors (for example, the “weighing of the heart” associated with the Egyptian Ma’at Kheru ritual and the ancient and extant Ghanaian Sunsum motion and motivation marrying, metaphysical paradigm) is the indispensable component of a sound, human ecology sustaining theological education.

And I am particularly interested in and emphasize the biological basis and ecological sustainability of this innate, personal autonomy developing theological education because it is key to my understanding of the role of the family, not the church nor the seminary, as the locus of divine-human communion and revelation.

Actually, taking the 31st chapter of Jeremiah as a whole, not just verses 31 to 33, it is clear that the seeding which you rightly note is behind the notion of the seminary, is being represented first and foremost as a heterosexual reproduction based, familial foundation laying, nation building strategy.
(You wrote: “The first seminary was not founded until 1563, when it was commissioned by the Council of Trent to serve as a seminarium, or ‘seed bed,’ for clerical training in the Catholic Church.”)

Note that the importance of familial relations is established in verse 1 of chapter 31, which reads: “At the same time, saith the LORD, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.”

And this familial focus is reiterated in verse 27, as a prelude to the explicit, linguistic “body-line” prophecy of the innate, mystical, UNWRITTEN New Covenant.

And apologies for any offence my shouting-like use of upper case letters to emphasize the difference between WRITTEN and UNWRITTEN things may cause here.

I hope my bouncer-like, body-line use of upper-cutting upper-case letters does not cause you and other readers any distress.

For historical reasons that I outline at length in TBBTR and which I explore briefly below, some people seem incapable of grasping this difference between the “New Covenant” and the “New Testament”, the last 27 books of Christianity’s Bible, without the aid of that kind of visual “voice” raising.

And you may want to view my reference to the controversial, cricketing phenomenon called body-line bowling, characterized by short-pitched, sharply rising balls aimed by bowlers at batsmen’s bodies, as an inspired intervention reflecting how God speaks to and through me.

The usefulness of the term “body-line” to explore familial relations or “blood lines” is also not lost on me.

As my poem “Communion” suggests, God and I communicate intimately.

I certainly know what it is like to be on the receiving end of some of life’s “testing deliveries”, forcing me to my knees or, in cricketing jargon, onto the back foot.

But these tests have brought me closer to God.

They have enhanced my ability to commune with the shaker of kingdoms and shaper of the the cosmos.

And I am not only convinced that this is the quality of communication that God seeks and can have with all human beings, from the greatest to the least of us: I also believe that this kind of individuated communion can be facilitated by the simultaneously concentrated and diffusive potential of internet technology.

We must however be mindful that our dyslexia-like disabilities point to the impotentence of written language, which contrasts with the paradoxical power writing holds over vast segments of Western society, due in large measure to the power of elites who control the mainstream media and the publishing industry.

These elites, who are now seeking to monopolize the internet, are the ideological descendants, to a significant extent, of the decision makers who created the first seminary in the sixteenth century.

But I am primarily concerned here with their more ancient, second century ancestors who have come to be known as the “Church Fathers” and whose dubious, ethically erratic and prophetically pourous legacies are not only evident in the scourge of child sexual abuse among Catholics, but also in patterns of child and adult sexual exploitation that punctuate the activities of Protestant denominations, secular academic societies, trade unions, political parties and similar secular and religious entities that rely excessively on WRITTEN canons and constitutons in their administrative activities.

Empirical evidence, like that available in records of Nazi Germany’s “Positive Christianity”, in the Emmy award-winning Netflix documentary film “Wild, Wild Country”, in the literary and broader, three-dimensional careers of the Marxist feminist Selma James, the Pan Africanist Marcus Garvey and the race racketeering, Nobel-prize winning writer VS Naipaul attests to a cyclical, or better (as previously asserted) spherical pattern of degeneration and renewal in human affairs that Jeremiah’s New Covenant prophecy, with its focus on the innate, obscure dimension of reality can, paradoxically, shed light on for us.

Jeremiah’s prophecy is not about apostololic church planting. It is not primarily about the WRITTEN New Testament or other outward, public, visible facilitators or forms of association and government.

Those environmental, external concerns are assumed and subsumed under the focus on the heart.

The focus of verses 31-33 is biologically based individual autonomy. And the limitations of self-consciousness and moral judgement that are shaped by human anatomy is implied.

Jeremiah, who may well have been illiterate or autistic, is not focusing on biography and the rash, speculative judgement or restriction of imagination that written things can encourage, through the illusory gloss of time transcending clarity and certainty that writing bestows on human language.

This prophecy suggests that were Jeremiah still around when the first theological seminary was created in 1563 he would probably have deplored that development.

And if he were a dyslexic or suffered an autism spectrum disorder affliction (as I suspect the Galilean Joshua, and the prophet Mohammed also may have), had Jeremiah been around in 1439, he might have regarded the invention of the printing press in that year with similar dismay, despite its democratizing potential.

Indeed, I suspect that were he alive today, Jeremiah, would endorse the sound counsel of the tragically deposed twentieth century Ethiopian monarch Emperor Haile Selassie, born of the seed of King David and an heir in the sphere of the Solomonic dynasty, who said: “It is only when a people strike an even balance between scientific progress and spiritual and moral advancement that it can be said to possess a wholly perfect and complete personality and not a lopsided one.”

Informed by his description of the New Covenant, I believe that were he alive today, Jeremiah would invoke the “mystery of Godliness”, as the writer puts it in 1 Timothy 3:16 and as Ephesians 5:31-32 alludes to it, and insist that this “secret of the Kingdom of God” (Mark 4:11-16) is most educationally and progressively expressed in human procreation, and especially in the lessons of heterosexual interdependence and related familial communication dynamics, especially its peaceful conflict resolution teaching prospects.

As I see it, this impregnably pregnant truth is presented not only in the “seeding” references in Jeremiah chapter 31, but also, and more poignantly in the wider, universalist yet particular and nuanced, variable sexual and wider biological identity affirming opportunity for a theological education that the man from Galilee, Joshua (Jesus) of Nazareth, incarnated.

The Confusion of the New Covenant with the New testament

As noted above, in your article you say that the creation of the first seminary in the year 1563 “triggered a seismic shift in thinking about where theological education happens.”

According to my understanding of church history, set out in TBBTR, that sixteenth century seismic shift in thinking is best viewed as an aftershock of a little known, but more fundamentally catastrophic, far reaching psychosocial shift in theological education: a psycho-social knowledge shift that is comparable, to the submarine earthquake that triggered the devastating 2004 Boxing Day tsunamis.

I believe that this catalytic seismic-semantic, educational “earthquake”, which remains a largely hidden, little discussed event, occured approximately 1,419 years before the Council of Trent, when a prominent Christian called Marcion of Sinope, the son of a Bishop, initiated the confusion of the content of what Joshua (Jesus) thought and taught with what others had been saying and, more pertinently, WRITING about his thoughts and teachings.

Apparently, according to longstanding scholarly concensus, it was Marcion who in or around AD 144 created the first authoritative list or “canon” of written Christian materials that could be equated with what we know today as the New Testament.

Marcion did not call his list the New Testament though. That was done some years later by another prominent, younger Christian named Tertullian one of Marcion’s main critics.

Tertullian, a North African of Berber descent, is believed to be one of the most prolific Christian writers of the second century.

And his orientation toward literary expression was probably a factor in his confusion of the New Covenant phenomenon with a body of writings that he, writing in Latin, called Novum Testamentum.

But Tertullian appears to have used the term to label an existing list of writings. He did not create a list, so far as I am aware. At least not individually.

He, and others, “merely” advanced the deeply destructive, catastrophic error that Marcion had set in train when he created an exclusive list of eleven written materials on which to base his theological education curriculum.

In so doing, Marcion initiated the catastrophic confusion of the heart-based, UNWRITTEN, spiritual or conscience-oriented phenomenon called the New Covenant by Jeremiah, with what we know today as the New Testament: that is, the last 27 books of the Bible, beginning with the gospel account of Matthew and ending with the apocalyptic book called “Revelation”.

And as I point out in TBBTR, the success of Marcion’s WRITTEN canon as a church seeding and cultivating tool prompted his detractors, who would eventually dominate Christian orthodoxy, to create their own list of authoritive scriptures.

As I note in TBBTR, quoting the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, the “proto-orthodox” church leaders, as Bart Erhman calls them, established their own list because “Marcionitic churches had sprang up in alarming numbers” following the introduction of his canon.

And is it not this preoccupation with numbers, a temptation that I struggle with myself as a writer-publisher, that has proven to be a major blight not only to theological education but to all forms of human endeavour?

It seems to me that this politician prone preoccupation with numbers is precisely what the individual accountability dimension of the New Covenant was intended to address.

So, brother Bonfiglio, from my perspective, seeing the confusion of the UNWRITTEN New Covenant with the WRITTEN New Testament as the primary seismic shift in Christian theological thinking, the information you share about the “massive makeover” currently underway as “many mainline Protestant seminaries” seek to refresh and refine their pedagogical offerings “under the pressure of declining enrolment and diminishing budgets” reflects Christians’ perennial failure to address the crisis that Marcion created, with the complicity of Tertullian, Iraeneus and other second century clerics.

And I should note here that the picture you paint gives some context to the rather reprehensible, unfortunate behavior of some persons employed by or linked to the Barbados-based Codrington College, “the oldest seminary in the Western hemisphere”.

Recent and more long-running morally bewildering behavior by some employees and persons linked to the aspirationally secular University of East Anglia (UEA), Birmingham University, the University of Illinois (UofI), the University of the West Indies (UWI) the liberalism preaching British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), the global on-demand audio and podcasting distribution platform AudioBoom and other internet-based, knowledge industry trading entities like Facebook, Google, Instagram and Twitter is also put into a helpful commercial-political competition driven context for me.

And I include the secular competitors here in accordance with Intelek’s long established, characteristic insistence on the limited usefulness of the words “secular” and “religious” and similar simplistic, binary labeling.

As indicated previously, one of my primary aims here is to draw your and other readers’ attention to evidences of something very much like “theological education”, or, at least, ideological indoctrination, happening not only in religious seminaries and churches but also in predominantly secular learning contexts.

My interactions with Domino’s Pizza, Lloyds Bank, City College Norwich, the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, the Barbados Advocate, the Nation Newspaper, Thani Shoe Shop, Bay Primary School and other Barbados and UK-based entities have all contributed to my “theological education”.

Again, as far as I can tell, “theology”, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary describes as “the study of religious faith, practice, and experience” and “especially: the study of God and of God’s relation to the world” can happen anywhere, at any time.

And as I have also indicated above and elsewhere, my labels transcending, holistic or integrated education focus makes me deeply concerned about the formal and informal “theological” and wider education offerings of a wide array of individuals and organizations, not just seminaries and churches.

It appears that written material can have a cognitive and affective fossilizing effect in all kinds of educational or knowledge trading contexts – a point I have been at pains to make among so-called “secular” academics.

The “gay Jesus” theological activism of the pop music icon Sir Elton John, the deistic (more so than theistic, arguably) daliances of Drake, The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, Beyonce and other muscians’ uncharacteristic explorations of what we might call a “natural mystic”, in deference to Bob Marley, certainly demonstrates the pourous nature of the walls that ideological empiricists would erect like the theoretical physicist Al-Khalili to protect their turf/theories.

But such “bookish theoric” protectionist behaviour by secular and religious authorities inevitably comes to naught.

“None of them can stop the time,” sang Marley.

I say, none of them can truly stop thought.

I leave you with this poem:


How do you measure thought?
Let me think.
Can you really outline it on paper, as a writer does with ink?
Do we really communicate it in the spoken world?
Plato might say that idea is absurd.
We measure thought in deeds of thoughtfulness.
A true thought may be more
But it is certainly no less.