“The United Methodist Church has a bright future with young theologians like Emily Nelms Chastain and Erin Grasse!” said President Kuan on his Facebook page. Erin, Emily, and President Kuan recently collaborated to write an article titled “The Multifaceted Nature of Progressive Theology,” for Emerging.
Regarding the division within The United Methodist Church, the article opens with these words, “We recognize that our division goes to the very core of our theological divide and is rooted in our biblical interpretation and our understanding of the nature of the Bible as a sacred text.”
The article argues that progressive theology must be open to a multiplicity of theological interpretation, warning against a universal or univocal voice. The authors say, “It should be clear, then, that progressive theology by nature is not uniform, univocal nor universal, and, especially in The United Methodist Church, it should not attempt to be. While it is important to articulate what a progressive theology is, we must be equally careful not to articulate a theology that will eventually be used to claim univocality and universality and thereby be used to judge and devalue other theological expressions. We are very wary of notions of univocality and universality, which often imply that someone else’s voice and agenda set the standard by which all others are measured. We know and have experienced how the textual interpretation of a dominant group has been used as a means to silence and delegitimize the interpretations of other groups.”
The article goes on to argue that a multifaceted approach to theology is not only biblical—citing the Hebrew Bible, the Gospels, and the letters of Paul as evidence—but is also part of The United Methodist Book of Discipline.
Emily and Erin are both 2019 graduates of CST. Emily was drawn to CST because of the hybrid program. She says, “I loved the idea that a group of diverse people from across the world would gather for a week at a time to learn together. I also loved the technology resources that online courses provided as a great means of being together as a class! I never thought I would gain lifelong friends with such diverse interests and backgrounds at seminary, and I never expected to leave CST with the community that I formed, especially as a hybrid student. It is a wonderful thing to have friends across the globe to lean into as I am stepping my feet into ministry within my context!”
Of her experience at CST, Emily says she is so appreciative of the incredible professors who invested in her learning, mentioning by name Dr. Jack Jackson, Dr. Karen Dalton, and Dr. Kathy Black. She explains, “Each class offered such a wonderful aspect to ministry and I can honestly say I’ve leaned into my notes and reading already back in my context.”
Emily serves as a Leadership Development Specialist with the North Alabama Conference Office of Connectional Ministries. She is a deacon with provisional membership in the North Alabama Conference and co-recipient, along with Erin, of the Jeanne Audrey Powers Award.
Emily’s hope is to “continue to help lead and guide people into ministry in their context, as CST helped me to do during my time there!”
Erin was drawn to CST for the school’s focus on practical theology, social justice, and its interfaith relationships, and because, “Kresge Chapel was the prettiest chapel that I visited.” Of her experience at CST she says, “One of my favorite experiences was getting to design and then preach my own funeral! No one ever really expects to hear that.”
Erin currently serves as the Minister of Administration at First Christian Church Pomona and is doing a unit of CPE at PIH-Health Hospital in Whittier, California. She is a Certified Candidate for Ministry in the Virginia Conference, and was co-recipient of the Jeanne Audrey Powers Award, with Emily, at CST.
Collaborating on this article was a new experience for both Emily and Erin. Emily noted it was a great opportunity to “test the waters of writing academically and learning the process of collaboration with other authors,” while Erin found surprise in being considered a scholar. She said, “It still doesn’t really feel like I have a master’s degree, so it’ll probably sink in that I’ve collaborated on an article and have ‘M.Div.’ behind my name about a year from now.”
To read the article in its entirety, click Emerging. According to their website, Emerging was created to be a venue for conversation and critical thinking on “what is emerging in Methodism.” It is not a forum for debate or proposals.