The biblical sage as paradigm for the practice of campus ministry
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The purpose of this thesis is to show that the biblical sage is a dynamic and compelling paradigm for the practice of campus ministry. Some campus ministers work out of no clear conceptual model while doing ministry. Others work out of a variety of models such as the priest/preacher, the evangelist, the prophet and the counselor. Each of these models has strengths and limitations as we shall attempt to demonstrate. Beyond this, it is my conviction that the paradigm of the sage is able to enrich each model.
This project paper focuses on the three major Old Testament works of wisdom: Ecclesiastes, Job, Proverbs; indirectly on wisdom Psalms; plus on elements of wisdom in the New Testament.
Closely related to the matter of models of ministry is the issue of self-identity in ministry. Campus ministers often suffer from identity confusion. They serve in a setting of faculty, staff, and students. The campus minister bears similarity to each of these, yet is none of them. The campus minister teaches, administers programs and continually learns. Still the minister realizes that none of these functions fully describes one's professional identity. Who then really is the campus minister? I want to argue that the biblical sage offers itself as a congenial and productive identity model for campus ministers.
My ministry takes place on a state college campus but I believe the sage paradigm would function similarly on a church-related campus.
I have chosen generally to use the term paradigm in this paper because it is broader and more inclusive than that of model. Paradigm may include a number of different models. The sage may be an experienced advisor in the royal court; the wise elder who rules in the city gate; the itinerant teacher; the aged and respected philosopher of the clan; the elder woman who is sought out for advice; as well as the faithful father or mother sharing practical insights with their children in the midst of daily routines. None of these by themselves, can serve as the sage model. All of them, however, are active participants in the sage paradigm.
Ian Barbour, in his book, Myths, Models and Paradigms, writes of how a theoretical model in science, such as the "billiard ball model" of a gas, is to be taken seriously but not literally. In Barbour's words, "They are neither literal pictures of reality nor 'useful fictions,' but partial and provisional ways of imagining what is not observable; they are symbolic representations of aspects of the world which are not directly accessible to us."
In an analogous way, the biblical sage as a model, narrowly defined, is not directly accessible to us. Is the sage an identifiable, definable, functioning person similar to the prophet, priest or king? Or is what we call "a sage" a way of viewing and living life in which all the Hebrew people participated in varying degrees and which, from time to time, emerges into sharp focus? Instead of speaking of sages should we speak instead of sagacious thinking, speaking and living? I believe we can speak of identifiable sages; yet the value of thinking of the sage as paradigm, rather than model is precisely here. The paradigm, with its more inclusive nature, makes the sage figure (in its variety of forms and functions) accessible to us.