Scholar Fridays is a weekly series on Bearings Online where we feature 2017-18 Resident Scholars. Susan Sink recently interviewed David Smoker, who is currently spending the 2017-18 academic year at the Collegeville Institute. Smoker is a Doctoral Candidate at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, MN and is working on a project titled “Ecclesiology, A Crisis in Meaning: Reviving the Church in an Age of Cynicism.” To view previous Scholar Friday interviews, click here.
Tell us about your project. Is it your dissertation?
Originally this project started out as my dissertation. I now plan to turn the issue of cynicism in the Church into a short book or series of stand alone articles.
How do you think this “cynicism” shows itself in the Church? Is it the nature of our age or specific to the life of the Church?
The Church (and the Roman Catholic Church) is always a reflection of the age that it finds itself in. Some elements and denominations are more agile in keeping pace with the changing movements in society, government, arts, the sciences, technology, et., al. One of the goals of Vatican II was to be informed by and to come to terms with “the signs of the times.”
The sexual abuse scandals led to a crisis that shook to Church to its foundations. Cynicism, which manifests itself throughout Western society as well as in the Church, began to come to a head after the breadth and depth of the crisis became apparent. Cynicism also became very apparent in the last presidential election. Societal institutions, including the family, the role of parents, the roles of men and women, the place of the church in our lives, and the question of how we govern ourselves (or are governed by others), plus a host of other “structures” have been relentlessly chiseled at by the deconstructionists. This has led to a general sense of cynicism among wide swaths of our society.
Are there signs of hope for the Church despite this cynicism?
I do see signs of hope for both the Church and society. The young people today want to effect positive change in our society. While many of these young people continue to question the usefulness of highly structured institutions such as church and government, they are making their voices heard in a “bottom up” process that can create such change. Pope Francis is the most active reformer to occupy the Chair of St. Peter since St. John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. Many people who reject the authority of the Church hierarchy accept Pope Francis’ leadership and teachings. While many people have rejected organized religion, we must not underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to continue to breathe the breath of life into the Church.
Are there any books or people that have inspired you during your project?
There are several books and people that have informed my project. Kevin Vanhoozer, who wrote Biblical Authority After Babel, is one of my favorite authors. Another is Russell D. Moore, author of Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, and the works of J.M-R. Tillard, O.P. Finally, the late former archbishop of San Francisco, John R. Quinn deeply influenced my ecclesiology.
Have you had any surprising conversations or ecumenical moments during your time so far at the Collegeville Institute?
While I have not had any surprising conversations since I have been at the Collegeville Institute, I have taken part in some very informative ones. Four of us Resident Scholars from different religious backgrounds read Shusaku Endo’s book Silence together. We formed a group to discuss the book and we also viewed the movie that was made from the novel. Our discussion was quite insightful.
How did a Roman Catholic end up at a Lutheran seminary?
That is a long story but I will keep it brief. While I was a student here at Saint John’s University School of Theology finishing my Masters in Systematic Theology, it was suggested that I should pursue my doctorate. I applied to several Catholic institutions and one of the professors here suggested I apply to Luther. I was accepted at three Catholic schools, one which provided no financial support, and two that were providing either full or partial support. Finally, I was accepted at Luther with full financial support. I researched the Luther professors and several of them had studied under Catholics while pursuing their doctorates. That made the deal for me!
My time at Luther was one of being accepted by the entire faculty and most of the students. Most of my professors were steeped in Catholic thought and teachings. I came to appreciate Lutheran and Reformed theology to a point that I had never imagined. Being with Lutherans has remolded my theology, making it more “complete” than it was before. I have a deeper appreciation for Scripture and the solas than I ever had. I have come to the conclusion that Catholics and Protestants need each other in this world. We are here to provide each other complementary paths to salvation.