Following a distinguished career in theological education and pastoral ministry spanning nearly five decades, the Rev. Dr. Dean Thompson knows something about what makes Presbyterians, well, Presbyterian.
The insights that Thompson, president and professor of ministry emeritus of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, has gleaned from his 50 years of preaching, teaching, and writing on Presbyterian identity have now been published as the second paper in the new “Theological Conversations” series, which was launched on May 24 by the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Office of Theology and Worship.
Entitled, “Our ‘Presbyterian Virtues,’” Thompson’s paper explores the unique strengths and hallmarks “found in our Presbyterian-Reformed heritage, discipleship, teachings, and DNA,” which he characterizes as “Presbyterian virtues.”
Thompson says that when did his first formal presentation on this topic last year for the officers and staff of First Presbyterian Church in Sarasota, Fla., several in attendance requested that he make the paper available to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for possible nurture in congregational Sunday schools, officer training, new member settings, study groups and confirmation classes.
“We are especially honored to have published Dean’s paper and to make it available to the whole church,” says the Rev. Dr. Charles Wiley III, coordinator of the office of Theology and Worship. “When he ‘field-tested’ his presentation in several congregations, it generated exactly the kind of response that we are seeking for our new ‘Theological Conversations’ series.”
The four sets of materials to be released throughout 2015—each is a study resource with accompanying conversation questions—are designed to invite congregational leaders in the PC(USA) into theological conversation wherever they gather as sessions, presbyteries, or for adult education in congregations.
The series debuted on Pentecost Sunday, May 24, with “Mary, the Magnificat, and Race,” by the Rev. Cindy Cushman, a paper that has proven especially timely and critical in the light of the murder of nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., and the need for the church to think and talk theologically about race.
Thompson’s paper is similarly timely.
“Wherever and whenever I have led interactive discussions in congregational settings, I rediscovered what I had already learned as a parish pastor for three and one-half decades,” Thompson says. “Folks really want to know what their pastors stand on and believe. I have discovered this curious longing in parishioners, in teaching and preaching contexts, and also in multiple pastoral encounters—especially during times of crisis, demise, and dying. Again and again, in numerous situations, I have come upon hosts of parishioners who yearn for their pastors, as teaching elders, to share and confess the core beliefs and basic convictions that undergird them as they journey through life’s peaks, plateaus and valleys.”
Thompson, whose many writings focus on Bible, theology, worship, church history, ministry, and leadership, hopes that his latest paper will encourage Presbyterians of all ages to engage in what he likes to call “biblical-theological sensemaking,” something he says Presbyterians love to do.
“At our best, Presbyterians are thinking people with warm hearts,” he says. “We seem to possess a deep spiritual longing to take into our minds and hearts the faith we stand on.”
Click here to download the second paper in the “Theological Conversations” series, “Our ‘Presbyterian Virtues’” by Dean Thompson.