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If not seminary, then deep and wide

Last week, Tim Challies had an interesting article asking the question Is Seminary Really Necessary? Now, I realize this was directed to pastors, but as a woman attending seminary, this got my attention. I realize that not every woman has the desire or the opportunity for seminary, but when it comes to women in roles of influence, if one cannot attend seminary, she should at least read deeply and widely.

One of the things we experience as we grow up is that we are introduced to ways of living and thinking that are different from ours. We may visit a friend's house and see that her family does things differently. We go along in life thinking that the way our family does things is the norm. When I was a girl, we had two choices of drink at the dinner hour: milk or water. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that other families drank things like juice or even soda with their dinner. It is a process to learn how our contexts have affected what we regard as true or normal.

I have discovered this over and over again in the short time I have been in seminary. One of the things that has happened is that either through the professor himself or the scholars I interact with through the resources I read, I am being introduced to different ways of looking at things and am being challenged to look again at my own presuppositions. And no, this is not questioning my faith; it is about understanding why I have come to the place where I have come.

The systematic theology course I am taking uses Millard Erickson's Christian Theology. I had very little exposure to Erickson prior to this course, so I wasn't sure what to expect. So far, I really like much of what I have heard (although he does not like Stephen Charnock's The Existence and Attributes of God, which he thinks is too analytical), but there are places where I am not entirely sure. This does not create much angst within me, because I am learning the benefit of being challenged. Being challenged used to generate a lot of fear in me, and I believe it was because I didn't have an answer, and I was afraid of what being wrong meant. Seminary is helping not to be afraid to be challenged.

I wish there were more women in seminary. This past weekend, I was in the first of four eight hour classes with Dr. Haykin, studying Augustine (as a side note, those eight hours flew by). I was encouraged that next door to my class, there was a group of women meeting as part of the "Women in Ministry" program at my school. Margaret Köstenberger was as guest teacher as part of the class on women in leadership. I chose not to register for that class because it's an elective, and because in the long run, I believe the course on Augustine will ultimately have the more lasting impact. But I was so glad to see women there, desiring to learn; desiring to be challenged.

Not everyone has the opportunity to attend seminary, but women who write have the opportunity to educate themselves. I liked this footnote in my theology textbook, where Erickson discusses various levels of pursuing theology: 

"It should be noted, however, that some lay people are serious students of theology, reading widely and deeply, and are functioning at a level that may exceed that of many pastors."

If we can't attend seminary, and we want to teach and lead, at the very least, I think we should read deeply and widely, especially when it comes to theology. We cannot comment on culture and public life as a Christian without a solid theological foundations. It's not enough to simply have a strong opinion. If we can't be a seminary student, at the very least, we can be one of those "deep and wide" laypeople.


The Benighted Traveler

From the Olney Hymns
John Newton
The Benighted Traveler 

Forest beasts, that live by prey,
Seldom show themselves by day;
But when day–light is withdrawn,
Then they rove and roar till dawn. 

Who can tell the traveller’s fears,
When their horrid yells he hears?
Terror almost stops his breath,
While each step he looks for death. 

Thus when Jesus is in view,
Cheerful I my way pursue;
Walking by my Savior’s light,
Nothing can my soul affright.

But when he forbears to shine,
Soon the travell’rs case is mine;
Lost, benighted, struck with dread,
What a painful path I tread!

Then, my soul with terror hears
Worse than lions, wolves, or bears,
Roaring loud in every part,
Through the forest of my heart.

Wrath, impatience, envy, pride,
Satan and his host beside,
Press around me to devour;
How can I escape their pow’r? 

Gracious LORD afford me light,
Put these beasts of prey to flight; 
Let thy pow’r and love be shown,
Save me, for I am thine own. 


How blogging has helped me with seminary work

In the systematic theology class I am taking, we have a written assignment due every week in addition to a weekly quiz. Because this course is a survey course, the prof thought it more helpful to write short pieces on the material rather than a term paper. The questions look challenging, especially this one, due next week:

If God is omnipotent, and therefore has the power to do anything, can God make a rock so large that he can’t move it? This is not a stupid question (in spite of all evidence to the contrary)it has been used by sceptical philosophers to question the coherence of the whole idea of omnipotence. It is fundamentally an exercise in careful definition, so focus your attention on careful definition of terms and explain why you say Yes or No. 

Each assignment can be no more than 2 pages typed, double spaced, 12 point. That is less than 1,000 words. I handed one in today which was 568 words, and it was about a page and a half. These assignments feel a little like blog posts. But of course I'm being marked, and I have been given the topics to write about.

Being given a word limit is a good thing. I know that there are some topics that cannot be reduced to under 1,000 words, but many can, and having a word limit means that we have to seriously ask ourselves what is important. I had a similar exercise in my hermeneutics class. It forces us to put forward our best argument, and it keeps us from writing too much of a back story to our point. That is the temptation with a blog post which no one will penalize us for because we wrote too much. All the reader will do is stop reading, and we'll never know.

Also, being given a topic means having to think about something about I have not given a lot of thought. It's always good to think about the things for which we don't have an easy answer. Today in class, during the break, I had a look at the assignment list, and I saw what it was, and for the first few minutes when the lecture resumed, I didn't hear what the prof was saying, because my mind was whirling with, "How am I going to answer this?" Writing is improved with challenging content.

One thing blogging has helped me with is learning to be concise. While I do think it is a little unfortunate that 1,000 words seems like a "long" post these days, the upside is that learning to be concise is always a good thing. What I like about these assignments as opposed to blog posts is that my prof has a vested interest in my work. It's nice to write for someone who expects something and who has the skill and experience to provide valuable input. I know in the long run, these assignments will teach me a lot about writing, not just theology.


Cast Down But Not Destroyed

From the Olney Hymns
John Newton
Cast Down But Not Destroyed 

Though sore beset with guilt and fear,
I cannot, dare not, quite despair;
If I must perish, would the Lord
Have taught my heart to love his word?
Would he have giv’n me eyes to see 
My danger, and my remedy,
Revealed his name, and bid me pray,
Had he resolved to say me nay?

No—though cast down I am not slain;
I fall, but I shall rise again;
The present Satan is thy hour,
But Jesus shall control thy pow’r:
His love will plead for my relief,
He hears my groans, he sees my grief;
Nor will he suffer thee to boast,
A soul, that sought his help, was lost. 

’Tis true, I have unfaithful been,
And grieved his Spirit by my sin;
Yet still his mercy he’ll reveal,
And all my wounds and follies heal:
Abounding sin, I must confess, 
But more abounding is his grace;
He once vouchsafed for me to bleed,
And now he lives my cause to plead. 

I’ll cast myself before his feet,
I see him on his mercy–seat,
(’Tis sprinkled with atoning blood) 
There sinners find access to God:
Ye burdened souls approach with me,
And make the Savior’s name your plea;
JESUS will pardon all who come,
And strike our fierce accuser dumb. 


I you can't stand the heat, and all those clichés

This is a rather quick post. I have three chapters of Millard Erickson I want to have read by Monday, and I want to get well into Confessions today, in addition to replenishing my rather empty pantry and fighting off the puppy mania that is running rampant around here this week.

I have three older brothers, and as a young girl, I was a mouthy little thing. I was also too easily offended (why is it that some of the most sarcastic, nasty people are also easily offended?). My mother would warn me that if I wasn't prepared to do the battle, I shouldn't get into the fight. Mama was right about that one. I was the one who ended up in tears.

I have noticed a similar situation online. People who are out there in the public, using their voice balk at criticism and are eager to point the "you offended me" finger. Explanatory posts fly through the internet as each side is sure that his or her post will be the one that changes everyone's mind. And when those posts don't, and another appears to challenge them, things get heated. And yet again, someone objects to having been treated badly.

I have learned through being married for 29 years that very often, just because my husband doesn't agree with me, it doesn't mean he "doesn't understand." He may very well understand; he just doesn't agree. It is only my ego which contributes to the notion that in order for him to have perfect understanding, he must come around to my way of thinking. That has been a valuable lessons for me.

There's been a lot of debate online over the summer. In between school and other responsibilities, I have paid attention a little here and a little there, and each time I give a little attention to it, I see it again: participants getting offended and crying foul. And sometimes, the online diaglogue is not befitting what Christians ought to involve themselves in. Yes, speak truth, but seriously, some of the writers I have seen over the past few months know less about courtesy than my children did as teenagers.

We had a bit of a discussion about a passage in Romans yesterday in class. The prof was talking about differing views of Romans 2:12-14 and how it contributes to biblical evidence for general revelation. One of my classmates spoke up and asked for clarification of the view my prof presented. The discussion which ensued was civil and well done. Perhaps my prof having been teaching for 40 years contributes to the knowledge of doing debate well. Plus, we were all face to face. There is simply no way the dialogue would resemble some of the ranting I've seen online.

My husband has reminded me frequently over the 11 years I have been blogging: if I don't want negative feedback, don't write. If I am too sensitive, be quiet. I think we can all learn something from that. There are some who cannot take as good as they give. Frankly, the energy expended continuing a battle day in and day out can be draining. Everyone needs a break now and then. Look at pictures of kittens, puppies, or bunnies. Spend some time with our family. Read a good novel. Watch a British crime drama. Sometimes, we just need to get out of the kitchen for a while.