Geeks like me are always getting challenged by our colleagues in ministry to communicate in a clear, accessible way. I feel up to the challenge, as I hope my preaching as well as my blogging attest. I also aim to write some popular works in due time. Nevertheless, I do ask for patience while I give time to more "esoteric" matters that serve to sharpen my mind as well as help me jump through a few guild hoops.
This June I heard what seemed to be an unrelated challenge. My brother suggested that I take steps to ensure I do not become merely a derivative theologian but seek to be truly seminal in my thinking. I have been poindering a lot about what this might look like, but I haven't got very far, mostly because graduate studies in theology are designed to teach you that every great thought has already been thought before and you just need to learn how to find it. Yet becoming a seminal theologian is certainly an option, if after learning all this one has enough energy left to pick up the mantel of the masters and develop their ideas beyond what they themselves would have done.
Suddenly this week these two challenges collided with each other. I realized that these two goals may very well be contradictory. How can one be truly seminal without also being a least a little esoteric? How can one be a "popular" theologian without "translating" and thus being derivative? How can one develop the thoughts of the masters without joining in their esoteric conversation? How can one develop original ideas without fashioning an original nomenclature? Can these two challenges be reconciled? Or must I choose?
Of course, I can imagine be able to speak and write in two different styles according to context. But then problems arise of balance, priority, stewardship of time, loss of a distinct voice, and the possibility of leading an intellectual double life. The question remains: how does one forge a simultaneously popular and seminal theological style?