Science and Theology Focus


The DMin program has completed the first cohort of the Science and Theology Focus.  It was a time of learning, testing a model of the degree in a new way, and I am grateful for the pastors who participated.  Not everyone was happy with everything—which is part of the whole issue of the disciplines of science and of religion.  It would perhaps be a sign for me of lesser success if everyone was completely happy with every conversation and topic.  My goal has been to neither have science “lite” nor theology “lite”. 

I was recently asked by an administrator of higher education what I considered the ideal professor to teach in this focus.  I am looking for those who are aware enough of their views that either they admit to not being a scientist if they are not trained as one, or not a theologian if they have not studied the field with some intentionality.  Too much of the time I believe the issue is that scientists who are persons of faith confuse their faith experience with the knowledge of theology and the trajectory of the relationship between science and faith; while theologians who work in the area of science may not have the depth necessary to make some of the claims they do.

 It is hard work to pull this off-to  be patient enough to study at a level that offers for pastors an opportunity for addressing hard questions, and not too easy of answers.  To change the tone a bit, I want to highlight the strengths:  we have had professors-at least five who have made a bridge between these two disciplines; there is great texts out there as well written by both theologians and scientists to study and read; the pastors who came learned to dialogue together, to take into account varying backgrounds and points-of-view.    One thing we will do is add a history of science seminar.

We are beginning to look to the second cohort beginning in 2013.  I want to interview potential pastoral candidates.  Among our faculty are two outstanding professors:  Dr. Ronald Cole-Turner and Dr. Deirdre Hainsworth.  In addition we draw from a Pittsburgh MDiv graduate, Dr. Michael Spezio, who is a neuroscientist doing major research in the arena of spiritual formation, faith and science.  

The future is filled with opportunity for pastoral ministry.  I believe that with my whole heart.  Consider this focus as an opportunity to engage in a future folding into the present!  Check out the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary Science and Theology Focus. 

Susan Kendall
Director, Doctor of Ministry Program



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Charleston, South Carolina

The Doctor of Ministry program is exploring with pastors in Charleston, a DMin which will begin in 2012.  We will be using online seminars and also flying faculty in for onsite seminars, with one opportunity to come to Pittsburgh Seminary campus.  I view this as an exciting model for the future for the DMin program of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. 

One of my mantras is managing change-and with that comes both anxiety and possibility.  How to adapt, when to adapt, and how to retain both quality and excellence becomes the challenge-and thus it has always been in my view.  I will be in Charleston March 20-23, 2012, and meeting with pastors to do two things:  listen and listen.  I want to know what themes pastors find most important in an advanced professional degree program; how is it possible to address change, to offer opportunity for pastors to step back and review their work, to engage with new ideas, to discern what grounds their own faith and what grounds their work.

I’d love to hear some ideas from across the nation.  Pastoral ministry remains a vital and necessary part of religious life.  We are to be present in the midst of all this change; to build habits and practices which provide for our own formation and well-being.  Faculty enjoys in the dialogue and work with DMin students.  The opportunity to provide input is now.  I know that the demands of ministry are such that it might seem hard to take time for such an educational commitment.  I want when all is said and done for pastors to feel every moment was worth their time, to bring new energy, and to bring new thinking. 

The photo was taken in Charleston—an extra-ordinary alignment of sailboats.  As we discern our way forward—this photo provides inspiration.


Susan Kendall

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Several of the ministers in the Doctor of Ministry Program are chaplains:  military, hospital, prison, or university.  From the military, we have or have had chaplains from the Coast Guard, the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force.   This is on my mind particularly because one of the students is completing a final paper based on his ministering to those soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder and their families.  In my view, the intersection of trauma and ministry leaves no space for platitudes and unexamined lives.   The biblical text offers transparent stories without hiding the facts.  This is the power of the text itself – as a witness to the courage to be real and honest and tender.  How does one preach to those who are suffering?  In other words, as this student’s project asks:  What do they hear when I preach?

It matters not what one’s view of war is, and in particular of the decade-long violence in Iraq and Afghanistan.  What matters for those soldiers, their families, and those who minister and work to create space for healing – is that the chaplain, one who provides religious guidance, is there and is present.    What is is at this point. 

At these moments, when I am met with the heart and depth of ministry through those in the D.Min. Program, I am in awe of this work, of this opportunity.  It is at times holy space:  vulnerable, open, aware.  Love is difficult to define and that is as it should be in my view.   All I do know is that when one is present in mind, spirit and body with those who suffer without judgment it comes close to defining love.

 Susan Kendall, Director



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Psalm 11 – A measure of purpose without the courage of faith

I’ve been asked to preach the service of thanksgiving for the graduates this year at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary mostly because I spent time with them in homiletics, in the years between searches for the now permanent homiletics faculty. It is the equivalent of baccalaureate.  I am looking at the Psalms, and in particular, the translation by Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms, published by Norton in 2007.  Can I preach poetry—this plain poetry of Psalm 11, for that is what it is. In his book, Alter reclaims the real and offers throughout an enjambed originality too often lost in contemporary translations and paraphrase. (By the way, enjambed means continuation into the next line, the continuation of meaning, without pause or break, from one line of poetry to the next line of poetry.) Why am I considering the Psalms? Because it speaks to the essential human yearning and desire; to the visceral perplexities of life. It is real, raw, and revelatory. 

The Psalms give space through the living word to right our agendas. What might these agendas be? There are too many to name and to count. What I mean by agenda is living the unexamined life coupled with using belief as a measure of purpose without the courage of faith. I am intrigued by Alter’s translation of Psalm 11.  This is a very personal psalm—it dispels our propensity to live by our own predetermined agenda. 

For the leader player, for David.

In the Lord I sheltered.

                How could you say to me,

                                “Off to the hills like a bird!

For, look, the wicked bend back the bow,

                they fix to the string their arrow

                                to shoot from the gloom at the upright.

The foundations destroyed,

                                What can a righteous person do?”

The Lord in His only palace,

                                The Lord in his heavens His throne—

His eyes behold,

                                His looks probe the sons of man.

The Lord probes the righteous and the wicked,

                                and the lover of havoc He utterly hates.

This is about the courage of faith—that God is in the holy place—not us. We are not to take flight to the hill like a bird—unless it is for the view and vista. The upright are those who “live from the heart” says Alter in explaining the depth of the original language of the poet. Aware of their own place and surroundings in reference first and foremost to that which is holy and in so doing the ego-driven agenda dissolves so that in spite of ourselves we begin to live from the heart!

For these students poised to receive another degree, they walk into a future we have in some way prepared them for—in some, small way—though only time and experience will tell if they are willing to live from the heart. The Psalm ends with the sense of God’s essential life being at odds with those who wreak havoc—those who cause birds to fly in fear—which is understood as forcing an agenda which too often is the unexamined life, as a stand-in above God’s holy place. When a bird takes flight it is to be in many respects from the heart. The purposefulness of a bird’s flight is a wonder to witness. What heights, what small spaces, what feats of acrobatic balance and water ballet, plunging into the ocean depth, soaring above the earth, taking in the great expanse. This flight—this inner instinctual knowing is anything but fearful.

- Susan Kendall, Director

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Old Windows – New Views

Classical and its meaning is like looking out the window of my office on a winter’s eve and seeing the beautiful sunset. I have on my desk three articles:

  • One article is on the decision of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature to allow plant classification to be in English rather than Latin. This is yet another ending to the classical language (brings to mind the phrase “Latin killed the Romans, and now it’s killing me” quoted by students in the throes of Latin class).
  • The second article is “The New Black Theology” by Jonathan Tran, whose work I use in critical theory courses, writing in the Christian Century,, on the surprise in his view of a turn by persons of color and women finding their way to premodern theological sources.
  • And finally, a set of articles on religious narrative, cognition and culture.

I call attention to the word, classical, because it is one used to define or describe or modify the educational aim of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. It is an institution which offers a classical Reformed theology I often hear as the primary example of our identity. Therefore, is the Seminary on the cutting edge, or not? Given recent research and writing, perhaps we are -and just don’t know it! Or, perhaps those who have described us as “one of the only seminaries holding to the classical Reformed tradition” understand it as holding the line on truth claims of the faith and therefore is a mark of honor.

It is in my view all a mix, and the task is not to mix our thinking to produce one single color for all time; rather, like any creative and informed designer (or any sunset) , take time to mix color to find the right tone, quality, and texture for the setting. What was old becomes new; what was new becomes old – echoing the words of the biblical text, in both “Old” and “New” Testament. And maybe that might be the best of edges to be on these days. An edge with roots and depth while looking to see what might be the path before us.

-Susan Kendall, Director

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