2. At the earliest possible opportunity you should also form an opinion about your favourite theological discipline: that is, you should choose your specialisation. To communicate this choice to others, you should dismiss as trivial or irrelevant all other disciplines: the systematic theologian should teach him (or her) self to utter humorous , disparaging remarks about the worth of “practical” theology, while the New Testament student should learn to hold forth emphatically on the dangers of systematic theology; and so on.
3. As far as possible, you should try to avoid all non-theological interests or pursuits. All your time and energy should be invested in reading important books and discussing important ideas. (Novels, TV and video games in particular should be avoided, as they are notorious time-wasters; they furnish you with faster reflexes but no new opinions.)
4. Every successful theological student must master the proper vocabulary. All theological conversations should be peppered with these termini technici (e.g. “Only a demythologised Barthian ontology can subvert the différance of postmodern theory and re-construe the analogia entis in terms of temporal mediation”). The less comprehensible and more sibylline the sentence uttered, the better. There are some stock-in-trade terms that are de rigueur (e.g. perichoresis, imago Dei, Heilsgeschichte – I actually remember what this means – even a load of Bullsgeschichte), but the really outstanding student should find creative ways to deploy a wide range of foreign polysyllabic words. Phrases of Latin, Greek or German derivation are particularly prized. (Those of Hebrew of Syriac extraction should be used more sparingly – they are usually greeted with some puzzlement, or with cries of “Gesundheit!”)
5. Now that you’re a theological student, you will discover that the world is filled with people who – incomprehensibly – don’t share your new opinions. Every conversation should thus be viewed as an opportunity to persuade others of their simple-mindedness and to convert them to a better understanding. If you’re feeling shy about this, you should start by practising on your family and closest friends. They won’t mind. Honestly. And it’s not always necessary to engage in a full-blown discussion; at times a single Latin term or a knowing smirk is all that’s required to demolish another person’s argument.
6. Were you raised in a conservative Christian family? If so, your theological education provides you with the perfect opportunity for rebellion. The benefits of theological rebellion should not be underestimated: rejecting all your parents’ religious opinions allows you both to assert your independence and to imply that your parents are backward and naïve. In this respect, theological education can be every bit as effective as smoking cannabis or moving in with your girl or boyfriend: but without all the bad smells.
7. Every true theologian is an avid collector of books. The day you became a theological student, you entered a race to amass a personal library larger and more impressive than those of your peers. Books should be acquired as quickly and as indiscriminately as possible; second-hand books are even better, since they give the appearance of having been read, which can save you a great deal of time.
8. When you are asked to preach, you should take the opportunity to display the advantages of theological education. Every good sermon should quote the words of some great theologian; even better, a “great German theologian”. Don’t forget, pronouncing “Barth” as in the English “Bath” is absolutely correct. Saying “Bart” as in “Simpson” will surely provoke titters of amusement from an enlightened congregation. And the phrase “the original Greek says…” should be used sparingly but effectively – perhaps just eight or nine times in a sermon. The church will surely ask you back. Frequently.
9. The goal of theological education is a good career: preferably an academic career, although in some cases you might have to settle for pastoral ministry (or worse, a regular job). It’s never too early to get your career on track: every essay, every conversation with a professor, every question you ask in class – these are the opportunities to show the professor how deeply you share their opinions, and how superior your own insights are to those of your classmates. In all circumstances you should revere, admire and emulate your professors. Even if they are neither wise nor virtuous, your goal is to become their perfect reflection, mirroring back to them their own opinions, preferences and prejudices. To show that you are the professor’s true protégé: this is the beginning of wisdom, and the bedrock of any good career.
10. Under no circumstances should you resort to old-fashioned pieties like daily prayer and Bible-reading. There are far too many important things to be thinking about, and far too many important things to be reading. Church attendance is acceptable, however, since it gives you the opportunity of improving your pastor’s theological education.