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In the twenty-fifth episode of the “Saturdays at Seven” conversation series, Todd Ream talks with Edgardo Colón-Emeric, the Irene and William McCutchen Professor of Reconciliation and Theology, the Director of the Center for Reconciliation, and Dean of the Divinity School at Duke University. Colón-Emeric opens by recounting how he was called to the ministry and how that calling eventually came to include service on the faculty at Duke University as well as providing theological education in El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, and Russia. Ream then asks Colón-Emeric to unpack his theological understanding of reconciliation, how that understanding was formed by his study of Óscar Romero, and how to discern the varied relationships reconciliation and culture share. They then close their conversation by discussing Colón-Emeric’s understanding of the Christian academic vocation, how such an understanding is expressed by the leadership he offers the Divinity School at Duke University, and the unique position the Divinity School has in cultivating a theological appreciation of the professions including medicine, law, and business.

Todd Ream: Welcome to Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. My name is Todd Ream. I have the privilege of serving as the publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review and as the host for Saturdays at Seven. I also have the privilege of serving on the faculty and the administration at Indiana Wesleyan University.

Our guest is Edgardo Colón-Emeric, the Irene and William McCutchen Professor of Reconciliation and Theology, the Director of the Center for Reconciliation, and Dean at Duke University Divinity School. Thank you for taking the time to join us.

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: My pleasure. It’s wonderful being with you.

Todd Ream: After earning a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, you embraced a calling to prepare for ordained ministry. Would you please start by describing that process of discernment?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: It was a process of discernment that began with a big surprise, because that was not why I came to study in the United States. I came to study engineering. And it was while studying engineering at Cornell University, I had an encounter the, my call an encounter with, with faith in new ways on Library Slope, what is called Libe Slope by the Cornell campus with a fellow classmate who introduced me to Jesus in new ways and led to a moment of affirmation of faith and of understanding my life, as a human being and then also as a student.

And so it began. That moment is not exactly conversion, but perhaps a reformation for me and a reformation that led me to examine engineering and to ask questions about what kind of engineer could I be and could I not be. And so I moved from mechanical engineering to biomechanical engineering for graduate school and then while finishing my master’s thesis, I received a call to ministry.

And that call to ministry came through my wife, of all people, who had a dinner conversation as I was wrestling with questions around what I would do after I finished my master’s in engineering and, and what is God asking for from me as a servant. Then she said, well, maybe God is calling you to ministry. And when she said those words, it all clicked. It clicked and it showed me that this was in fact what God had been asking me to do. 

When my wife said maybe God is calling you to ministry, it truly was an answer to the prayers and the questions I’ve been wrestling with. And the first reaction I had was one of joy and peace, that this is the path, and then fear, because I had no idea what this could mean. I’d never thought about this. No one in my family was a pastor. And now here I was considering, and then going to meet the pastor to say, I think God is calling me to ministry.

Todd Ream: That’s beautiful. Thank you. 

While you’ve served as a faculty member at Duke since 2007, administrative duties have always been part of your efforts, including your service as the Director of the Hispanic House of Studies and as the Director of the Center for Reconciliation. In 2020-2021, you were appointed to your first term as Dean of the Divinity School.

Would you please describe the process of discernment that led to your calling, that now includes administrative commitments that, dare I say, likely far exceed those to which would be deemed full-time?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: When I began working at Duke Divinity School, I began really with an understanding that I was going to be a professor. And yes, administration had always been part of my role at the Divinity School. And so I did not simply see myself as someone who would be teaching and writing books but also someone who would be developing programs and seeking to expand the mission of the school.

But it was not really that I had a discernment that I was called to be a dean, in quite that way. It was more about being available. And I remember one occasion in particular when I was in Central America, actually, a conversation in a hotel room with colleagues from Central America, from the Methodist Church in Central America, in March 2020, so right before the pandemic. We were talking about our work in Central America, where I’ve been teaching from the Divinity School for 10 years at that time. And the sense that I was coming to a new chapter, that there would be opportunities for discernment whether I would apply to become a dean of the Divinity School. 

But it was simply a consideration. And I was not sure that I would but I did have a sense that a certain, that a chapter of my life was drawing to a close and a sense of loss with that and appreciation and giftedness because my time in work with the Central American Methodist Church and, and theological education deeply formed me it formed my research and it formed my spirituality and my understanding of leadership.

And then pandemic, and then soon after that, in February 2021, then, with the transition of Greg Jones to Belmont University as president, then the invitation for me to become dean came from the provost, and I said yes to that. But it was a surprise that I received that invitation, because I was not expecting that transition at that time.

I thought there might be a transition in several years, and then I would consider whether I would apply for the deanship or not, but it didn’t work out that way at all. It was really just kind of thrust into me, or I was thrust into it, and, and, and here I am now.

Todd Ream: Thank you. 

As you mentioned, in addition to your service to the Church and the academy in the United States, you’ve offered theological instruction in Central America, countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador, also in Peru and Puerto Rico, but also in Russia. In what ways, if any, did those experiences abroad shape your calling as a minister and shape your calling as an educator?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: They shaped my calling as a minister in the sense that it was continuing to, a continuation of living out my ordination and my commitment in particular to the Methodist Church in which I was ordained as a United Methodist, but then more broadly Methodism in its various manifestations around the globe.

And the experience of teaching in those settings, it was one of integration, of being a whole theologian. And by that I mean that academic work and, and vocational identity and service to the Church were very tightly interwoven in ways that were perhaps more compartmentalized in my life at Duke.

Teaching in those locations was a time of renewal and also a time of integration. And it was that integration is something that informs my leadership now. But also, as an educator, those experiences helped put my work in perspective. I’ll give you one example.

As I was working on my book on Óscar Romero, I did research at the Romero Center in San Salvador, where I was given a small office to where I could set up my books and notebooks and laptop and work there for a few days when I was working in that library and center in El Salvador. 

In the little office where I was seated, next to me, were file cabinets with documents written by the Jesuit priests who had been killed at the University of Central America in El Salvador. That’s where I was studying, that’s where I was working. And the documents included papers that they had written, but there were also, in addition to documents, artifacts, pieces of grass bloodstained, from the martyrs. And I had this clear sense of the smallness of what I was doing, in terms of the significance of it. 

Because I was working on the book that I was hoping would be published, and would be my tenure and would complete my portfolio for the 10 year process review. And so the worst outcome I was fearing was, well, the book doesn’t get good reviews or my tenure is turned down. And I was seating, seated and studying at a place where the cost of discipleship had been displayed to the maximum. And so it really put in perspective what I was about. 

Not as insignificant. It was important but not of ultimate importance. And that is something that has stuck with me. 

Todd Ream: Yeah. Thank you. That’s a powerful story. 

And I would say that book was published by Notre Dame press, and as someone who has read it and benefited from it greatly, I’d strongly encourage others to read it. And I assume that it made for a successful tenure bid there at Duke university.

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: It did. 

And, it was a joy to work on that book. And for me, a great debt of gratitude, also, for the people of San Salvador and Central America with whom I worked during those years. It was, in some sense, a book that was born from years of working and walking together. And, and so for that reason, it is important to me. So thank you.

Todd Ream: Yeah, along those lines of Óscar Romero’s legacy and working and walking alongside people who’ve experienced these kinds of challenges, I want to shift to talk about your work in terms of reconciliation explicitly now. 

Reconciliation as a commitment is one that’s central to your life and your administrative work. If I ask you to start, how do you understand it? How do you theologically define it and think through it?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: To begin with, it is a contested term because reconciliation has a troubled history in how it’s been used or abused. And so there are cheap versions of reconciliation and, as I understand it, turn, of course, to the Biblical witness as one primary source for shaping my understanding of reconciliation.

And interestingly, it’s a term that doesn’t show up in the Old Testament very much. The analog term in the Old Testament perhaps would be shalom or peace. And it’s really Paul in the New Testament that speaks of reconciliation and his understanding that certainly powerfully shapes mine, of reconciliation, first and foremost as God’s gift, as something that God does. And then in response to that gift, there is a Christian responsibility to participate in, in the reception of that gift and in sharing it with others. 

And so for me, reconciliation and the work of a ministry of reconciliation began in my years as a church pastor here in Durham. As I was appointed to begin a Hispanic ministry, a Hispanic, Spanish speaking congregation. My congregation was composed of chiefly undocumented first generation immigrants. And with that came many social challenges that affected them and vulnerabilities. And at the same time, gifts that they had. 

And so the Ministry of Reconciliation was simply the ministry of being Church in that setting and of seeking to– well, to announce God’s reconciliation with us, and also the responsibility to be reconciled to each other as well.

And that was really day in, day out work for us, as we struggle to be a community together, amidst many social forces that would seek to tear us apart and pit us against each other.

Todd Ream: If possible to delineate then again, you, you speak of it as sort of contested term how does that understanding then compare to say one that might be understood within the broader culture here in the United States?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: In the verticals from the United States, and I would say not just the United States, there can be an understanding of reconciliation, in some cases, as simply something between God and the soul. So a, a, a vertical transaction that sets me right with God, but changes nothing else. And so that I can be reconciled with God, but be unreconciled with people around me. And so that’s one understanding that’s common in some Christian circles, a very individualistic one. 

Then also there can be accounts of social reconciliation that are more of let bygones be bygones. What happened in the past, stayed there. Let’s cover over the wounds, cover over the history, and just keep moving forward. And that, too, is a truncated vision of reconciliation. 

Those understandings of reconciliation and those expressions of reconciliation, are so prevalent that marginalized peoples and people who have been victims of systemic oppression are sometimes very resistant to the term reconciliation and rightly so, when that is what is meant by reconciliation. If that is what has been practiced by reconciliation.

And so the language, that’s why I also say it’s a contested language and some people for that reason, think it’s better to leave it aside and for a new language. And I understand that impulse. At the same time, because I am a pastor also and, and a minister of the Gospel and the term shows up in the Scriptures and throughout the Christian tradition, I don’t want to simply abandon it. But find ways of redeploying it, enriching it, and of course, more significantly, embodying it.

Todd Ream: You mentioned that it’s not just necessarily in the United States where that temptation, those temptations exist but in, you know, locales perhaps around the world. How might if at all it differ, say in a country such as El Salvador that has seen some beautiful expressions of reconciliation, but it has also experienced deep pain?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: Absolutely. Deep pain that continues to this day. 

And that exemplifies what the current Archbishop of San Salvador calls a pedagogy of violence that has been at work in the region really since the time of the conquest in the 16th century. And in El Salvador and some other neighboring countries that have gone through civil wars, the language of reconciliation is associated with the language of amnesty and also with the language of impunity. 

Amnesty accords that were signed that ended the civil war in El Salvador were more of a truce, than a true reconciliation. And so the association of reconciliation then with amnesty or with people being absolved of crimes, felt very keenly in the region. 

I remember once teaching in Guatemala on theology of reconciliation, in the highlands of Guatemala, that also experienced a civil war and terrible violence, particularly against the indigenous peoples. And speaking of reconciliation in that setting and trying to unfold it in the way that I do and we do here at Duke, where we also speak, when we speak of reconciliation, we also speak of lament. 

And for so many of my students in that class, lament was not part of their vocabulary. Because a Christian should be someone who is always full of joy and leading a victorious life. And the idea of, of making room for lament and for saying, “How long, oh Lord?” Or questioning or giving air to the pain was not seen as something that was altogether Christian. It’s a struggle to embody reconciliation in the Central American settings too. 

But you also have examples of it. And I think, of course, of the ministry of Óscar Romero and how he, through his ministry, embodied reconciliation and preached it and practiced it as integral liberation- meaning that liberation that involves all dimensions of the human being, not simply the social, but including also the transcendent liberation to be open before God and then also open before each other and be able to be liberated and freed from all the things that hold us back or that hold us in cycles of oppression and that free us to be fully alive. 

And so Romero and in his theological vision, is for me a beautiful articulation of a reconciliation that is not cheap reconciliation. But that is truly a Gospel one that transforms, or in his language, transfigures, the social conditions into something that resembles more the Kingdom of God.

Todd Ream: Thank you. With these temptations then existing in various ways as they do in, in places and amongst people, in what ways, if any, does the Church’s understanding and practice of reconciliation need to consider particularities of culture but then also maybe transcend particularities of culture in terms of the theological message that it tries to share?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: Culture is something that cannot be separated from the Gospel, the Church, from humanity. Theologians have spoken of culture as the second, something like a second nature. Uh, it’s habits that shape our perception and empower or inhibit certain kinds of actions. 

And I think of the work by Justo González, theologian, who wrote of in Spanish it works more neatly than in English, but of the relationship between culture, cultivation, and cult in the sense of worship. And, these are tied historically as, as cultivation in the gathering and farming communities promotes the formation of a certain kind of culture, and then also the cult of offering God’s sacrifices from the first fruits of the cultivation. And so these are all etymologically related, but also in fact related through practices of the communities. 

When it comes into the Gospel, the Gospel simply cannot help but be an encultured reality. González, again, in his Hispanic creeds, talks about Jesus Christ being, becoming flesh in one culture for all cultures. And that in that sense of the one for the many, the particularity for the sake of the all. 

And that, and that is true, I think, for the Gospel. The Church is always attentive to culture, because the Church is an encultured reality. And cultures are within the Church, and the Church finds ways in which it relates to the diversity of cultures that it embodies and that are within it in complicated ways. As a gift, first of all, because it is, I think there are elements here of gift, but it’s also a fallen gift. 

And as a fallen gift, it’s one that also the marks of sin and of finitude are, are marked through it. And so the Church needs to be attentive to it in that way and not let itself either become culturally captive or somehow seek to aspire to it being a-cultural, in a way that is simply impossible, because we are cultured beings. 

And so the Church in that sense transcends any one particular culture. And that is also the beauty of the Church. I would say the miracle of Pentecost. That in the day of Pentecost, you have this image of all people who gather from all nations of the world, and then the Holy Spirit falls, and the news are proclaimed, and everyone hears the news in their own native tongue. 

And yet the question is asked, are not all these Galileans? And for me the question, well, why would they ask that? Well, it doesn’t say but one hypothesis I have is because they spoke not all these languages, but with a Galilean accent. 

Because we always have some accents. I have my accent, you have your accent, even as I’m speaking in English. And the accent is an aspect of our history, of our particularity, and yet, it’s one that, in speaking new languages, allows for communication, but without losing our accents. 

And so, for me, that’s also the Church, in engaging in different cultures. Not losing its Christian accent as it engages different cultures.

Todd Ream: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. Very helpful and important distinctions. 

I want to transition back, if I may, to talk about your duties as dean and the work that you do with the Divinity School. Earlier I, I echoed that it’s possible that those duties may amount to something that far exceeds that of a full-time responsibility or position.

Um, but if possible to draw upon what might be identified as a typical day if one may exist, what details demand your attention? 

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: This is a wonderful question. And actually, one of the things I love about being dean is the range and diversity of what I encounter on any given day. 

Just this week, I’ll take a day this week where that began, where I had a Zoom call with some partners in South Africa as we’re exploring a joint program that we might do together in the summer. Then, a meeting with a visiting scholar, who was sharing stories from his time at Duke Divinity School, and which was a very powerfully transformative time because he was at Duke Divinity School as someone, in pursuing his studies in circumstances that were extremely challenging– I don’t want to go into details right now– but an incredibly powerful and inspiring conversation with me to meet with this alum from many years ago.

And then, a meeting to talk about buildings. And to talk about the room utilization and are there ways in which we can be more efficient in our room assignments for classes and for offices. And then I presided at a worship service. And after that, I had a meeting with the provost. And I had an evening dinner for some special group.

And so it’s an incredible range in one day. And I find that to be very stimulating even if it can be a little bit head spinning as well.

Todd Ream: No, thank you. That’s quite a day there. Uh, what time then amongst those details is left for writing and teaching?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: Not much time is left for writing and teaching, and rightly so, because that is not my chief role. If it’s my chief role, I would see it in some sense as, perhaps as if I’m going to sports imagery, as the coach, it’s not my role to be on the court taking shots. But helping the players take shots and so, and as dean helping other scholars advance their scholarship and students to grow as scholars and pastors.

So on the one hand, it shouldn’t be that I have a vast amount of time for that work. On the other hand, I do still make time for writing because it’s important that my leadership have also continued to have its theological and intellectual depth wells being renewed. 

And also to teach, both because the coursework is needed and, and, and I can teach it and also because it’s a way of connecting with students as well for me. And I’m engaging students in other ways, even as I am dean and I’m, I don’t have as many opportunities for being in the classroom or hanging out or something like that with students. Teaching is one way of doing that. So there are many goods to it, so I still do it, but not as much as I had before. And I, and I shouldn’t be doing it as much as I was before.

Todd Ream: Have your teaching and writing interests changed, if at all, since becoming dean? Have you added questions to those areas of exploration?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: Yes, I would say that the teaching focuses on areas, okay, what is really needed in the curriculum that I am well-suited to teach? Uh, so not exploring, I’m going to teach a course in something that might interest me in particular, but it’s a small, limited elective, in terms of, for a small group of people, no there would be core curriculum requirements.

And as far as writing, then the focus would be on writing that advances the vision for the school or that resources the Church. And so that it connects in that sense to the mission of the school as well. And so less in, say, my guilds writing, but more for the Church.

Todd Ream: Public representation of the Divinity School and its mission and the needs of the Church and intersection with it.

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: Yes, and the creation of a generation of resources, for example, for the Methodist Church, in particular both as my church and as an important constituency for the Divinity School.

Todd Ream: Thank you. As with much of education, the availability of digital platforms, excuse me, has impacted theological education and preparation for ordained ministry. In what ways have you and your colleagues determined when to embrace the usage of such platforms versus resisting their usage?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: We embraced various modalities, years ago. We began what we call our hybrid programs, which involve weeks of residency, three times a year, intensive weeks, and then followed by online work in between sessions. So that kind of hybrid modality that is not fully online, but semi residential. 

And I’ve been teaching in that modality since we began over 10 years ago. So it’s not new. But it’s increased in terms of its, in terms of the offerings that we have in those, those modalities and the number of students in those modalities. 

And we are still trying to learn how to not simply embrace modality, but how to embrace this more complex community, where around 50 percent of our students are full-time residential, and 50 percent are semi-residential, meaning that they’re in the hybrid programs and how to embrace both in their diversity and offer programs that are equally excellent, even if they differ in how they are provided. And so that’s where we are currently finding ourselves. 

And in terms of things that we are determined to resist, at one level, resistance is futile if we’re thinking that we can simply say we’re, I will not use some kind of online modality. We’re using one right now and, and we have them in our pockets and carrying them with us all the time. 

What we are trying to do instead is to understand better what can happen only in residence. What can happen perhaps best in residence? What can also happen online and can happen very well online? And to, and to have therefore clear expectations for each modality for ourselves and then for our students too.

Todd Ream: Thank you. When you look across the landscape of theological education as it’s practiced here in the United States, what would you presently identify as the greatest opportunities for the formation of ordained ministry?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: There are many opportunities. One of the opportunities that I’m very interested in and that I think at a place like Duke is an opportunity that’s very significant for us and in saying this, I think that the opportunities will vary according to where you’re located. But located at a place like Duke is, for me, one of the opportunities I see is the formation of pastors, who can empower lay ministry beyond the walls of the Church. 

And what I mean by that is to help develop a theology of the professions that allow us to help us think of what does it mean to be a Christian who is a physician, who is a lawyer, who is an entrepreneur who is a public policy expert, and to not have compartmentalized lives, where you, you go to church on Sunday but then you’re a professional doing this other work throughout the week. And perhaps as a kind person and as a Christian person. But to have greater integration, that allows for a more creative living out of our baptismal ministry throughout different kinds of work that we do. 

And at a place like Duke, it’s then thinking, okay, what does it mean to have more connections between divinity and law, divinity and ecology, divinity and business? And I see tremendous opportunities there for forming lay ministers. And also for forming the pastors who will equip the saints for the work of ministry, not simply for Sunday school. 

Yes, that’s important for serving in the worship services and feeding ministries of the Church, but also, in a sense, to take the Gospel out into the workplaces in ways that are appropriate for their vocation.

Todd Ream: I assume that this positioning of the Divinity School within the university is part of what’s led to an increasing number of joint appointments, joint programs, but then also centers that sort of exist at the intersections between professional schools and the interests of those schools.

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: Absolutely. 

And an example of that would be our Theology, Medicine, and Culture Initiative, where we have people who are jointly appointed in the School of Medicine and Divinity School, and where we are offering programs where we have divinity students and health care providers studying how practice of healthcare can be embodied and lived in new ways when we consider God’s love. So practicing healthcare as a practice of God’s, extending God’s love to the world.

Todd Ream: Thank you. What then are some of the greatest challenges to the formation for ordained ministry?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: There are challenges. One of the challenges is that there is a decline in vocations toward a ministry. And an aspect of that decline has to do with the ways in which the Church is seen not as the Body of Christ, but as a problem. And we see that our students who are coming to us are coming with vocational unclarity and they’re not clear in their vocation.

And to the extent that they’re clear, they tend to lean and gravitate more towards non-profit and other kinds of ministries of social work that are very important, but that seem to them to be more life-giving and perhaps more socially impactful than ordained ministry in a parish setting. 

And at the same time, I recognize that that’s a cultural trend that we are facing. We still believe that training of preachers in the language of the original Duke University indenture or the formation of ordained ministers or pastors for the Church, is fundamental to our service to the Church because it is local congregation through these pastors that people are baptized, that people receive the Lord, the Body of Christ, that they are also led in the worship of God. 

I suppose on the other hand, I think another challenge that we have is cultural clericalism. That as the ordained ministry, it finds itself challenged from many places. There can be a protective spirit to try to preserve ministry in some sense in and for itself, rather than seeing, no, the ordained ministry is for the sake of the Body of Christ as a whole and for the sake of the laity, of the laos, the people of God. 

Todd Ream: Thank you. You mentioned that the Divinity School exists as a school of the Church, as well as a school of the university. So in the time that we have left, I want to focus our attention on some of these questions that come up during, in that relationship. 

As the dean, in what way do those commitments impact your understanding of the Christian academic vocation that you carry and also your colleagues carry on the faculty?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: Duke Divinity is clearly a school of Duke University and it is accountable to the Church. And I think the distinctions there are also significant. And I’ve experienced those distinctions myself. I am a dean employed by Duke University. I am also an ordained elder of the United Methodist Church, who is appointed by the bishop. 

And my primary identity vocationally is the latter one, that I am an ordained minister appointed by the bishop because I made vows, fallen vows that bind me to being the order of elders and that the bishop can say, now we want to send you here and I would then need to either go or break my vows. And so I certainly feel those different locations and vocations, in a sense, in me. 

But I do think that for us, our faculty and for ourselves too, that we are a school for the Church. We’re not the Church and we are for the Church, and being for the Church requires a relative degree of independence from the Church, precisely for the sake of being for it. In that gap of that relative independence, that is also relational, it’s also where there’s room for our mission to be one that can be a source of reform and renewal for the Church, even as we’re also seeking to be attentive to what is it that the Church is saying to us that, that it needs from us. 

So it’s a dialogue and the dialogue requires some distance so that it’s not simply collapsing into identity.

Todd Ream: We talked earlier about some of the benefits that come to the Divinity School and other professional schools by virtue of the relationships that they can share through programs, through faculty, through centers, and operations as such. What are some of the challenges that may come to the Divinity school that other professional schools may not experience?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: I think the challenges that come to us can be a number of them. On one hand, that disagreements among us can be perceived as matters of eternal significance because we are dealing with subjects that are deeply, not just personal, but existential, as in terms of speaking of the Gospel and its interpretation and things that go deep to our sense of who we are and whom we have been called to be.

I think that there’s a way in which, again, our vocation can be comprehensive in ways that in some others in some other professional schools, not to the same degree. So I think that that’s the difference. 

I also think that at the same time that the challenges that the Divinity School faces that other schools don’t experience would also be things related to our changing climate that we are in. We are living in an increasingly secularized society, where the fastest growing group are the non-religious affiliated and that impacts our enrollments in ways that don’t impact the enrollments of other schools at Duke University, where there are many, many more people applying than could ever be admitted. And that’s not true the same way for us.

I also think that we are able to do some things that other schools can’t do, as well. And that this university was established with the motto of eruditio et religio, learning and faith. And we are able to embody those as a school in ways that are, frankly, much more difficult for other schools to do. And in some ways, have also a task and a mission of lifting, continuing to lift this vision, this integral vision to the university as a whole as saying this is actually at the heart of the school. This is part of our DNA, to weave together learning and faith. 

And also at the same time to recognize that by themselves these are not sufficient, that there needs to be a sense of service or of mercy that shapes the work that we are engaged in, in terms of our research and our teaching and addressing and, and tending to the wounds in the world around us. And so I think that that’s also an aspect where the Divinity School can make a very important contribution to the university around us. 

Todd Ream: Thank you. 

As we close our time together today, I want to ask you about the intellectual, moral, or theological virtues that you believe may prove essential to the faithful exercise of the Christian academic vocation for you as the dean, but also for you and your colleagues?

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: For me as dean, and for us as colleagues, we’re first of all Christians, in terms of our ethos. And because of that, in a sense, all the virtues are needed. We would favor, for our life together, the intellectual virtues of creativity, and insight, and of eloquence in writing and speech. 

But we also need to couple those with humility and honesty, and, and, and courage, and also faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love, the theological account, the theological virtue. And they are all interconnected. They grow together and they reinforce each other. 

I think of, for example, Duke University has as one of its strategic goals: empowering the boldest thinkers. I think of how it is that, say Aquinas said something along the lines that the praise of courage depends on the virtue on the justice of a cause. 

And, and so empowering the boldest thinkers, praising- the praise of the boldest thinkers will depend on the, not simply in their boldness, but in the justice of their thinking. And I think that’s also the kind of virtues and holistic view that we aspire to be forming and that we struggle to form that well, but there is that sense of all the virtues being needed.

And in that sense, a Pentecost vision. I think again, the day of Pentecost, that the Holy Spirit is poured in tongues of flame. And I think of the gifts of the Spirit in Isaiah and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians and this comprehensive sense of the, the life of the Spirit being needed to inform, inflame the life of the mind in a way that is one that is hopeful for society, that provides healing for society, and that also draws us, of course, more deeply into the mind of God.

Todd Ream: Thank you. 

May that that vision always be at the forefront of how we think about the practices for formation that we offer our colleagues and how we in turn go out and serve the world. 

Our guest has been Edgardo Colón-Emeric, the Irene and William McCutchen Professor of Reconciliation and Theology, the Director of the Center for Reconciliation, and Dean at Duke University Divinity School.

Thank you for taking the time to share your insights and wisdom with us.

Edgardo Colón-Emeric: Thank you very much. It’s been wonderful being with you.

Todd Ream: Thank you for joining us for Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. We invite you to join us again next week for Saturdays at Seven.

Todd C. Ream

Indiana Wesleyan University
Todd C. Ream is Honors Professor of Humanities and Executive Director of Faculty Research and Scholarship at Indiana Wesleyan University, Senior Fellow for Public Engagement for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Senior Fellow for Programming for the Lumen Research Institute, and Publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review.  He is the author and editor of numerous books including (with Jerry Pattengale) The Anxious Middle: Planning for the Future of the Christian College (Baylor University Press, September 15, 2023).

One Comment

  • The reality of the “cost of discipleship” while studying the papers of O. R. and other martyrs v. his original tenure concerns is but one morsel I wish all theology and Bible students would hear.