I didn't start out to become a theologian -- let alone a renegade one! My intention was much more humble, and mainstream: Finish my bachelor degree in Religious Studies and teach religion in an elementary school. It was my professors, and overgrown "curiosity bump" that lured me on to "bigger and better" things...
In my very first Systematic Theology class, Br. Michael asked us what it would do to our faith if scientists found, and proved, that they had the body of Jesus. Well, gee, they couldn't -- Catholic teaching is a bodily resurrection! What kind of body, he asked. Read over the accounts. My first response was that I believed Jesus the Christ - 2nd person of the Trinity - was raised, and so it wouldn't affect my faith. With some thought, and the responses of others in the class, that developed a bit more. Later that fall he had additional challenges for us. For instance, what if Jesus never performed any miracles? The gospel accounts mirror those in the Hebrew Scriptures where prophets offered miracle feedings, control over nature and even raising from the dead as proofs that they were indeed sent by God, and speaking God's message. This one led me to my first step towards becoming a theologian. I found and pondered the passage: Jesus "could do no miracles there, only curing a few people, because of their little faith." Could it be, I asked Br. Michael, that a "miracle" and a "cure" -- two different words in both Hebrew and Greek -- are quite distinct? If someone watches as Jesus gives sight to a blind person, and that observation produces a life-changing encounter with God for that observer, isn't that the miracle, rather than the cure (which might, or might not, have any God encounter involved with it)? We processed this idea together for months.
Later, I took my first Moral Theology class, and had my first exploration into the work of Thomas Aquinas -- who became my hero by the end of my first semester of graduate school. Right away, with Br. Bob's help, I grasped the importance of the difference between a human act and the act of a human. I saw tremendous implications for concepts like sin, grace, guilt, intention and more. Oh yes -- I was now thoroughly hooked! With my professors, advisor and even the department head urging me to go on, get my doctorate in theology and teach at the college level, and some very shattering life changes around me, it seemed like a ridiculous idea....yet a year later I was choosing among three excellent universities offering scholarships for master's work. One year later, Marquette offered me advanced placement in their doctoral program in theology, along with a full scholarship and 3-year teaching assistant post. Here, I thrived in an environment where I was expected to contribute to the theological conversation, and found professors who probed and challenged and encouraged my questions, no matter how "out of line" those questions might be.
That's when I began the move towards being a "renegade" theologian. But...more on that in posting #2... :)