Training in Righteousness
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The temptation of the academic exercise

Many years ago, a friend and I spent some time at a summer camp teaching the Bible to women. The camp was held in early August, and we began preparing in the spring. We met often to pray about what we would be doing. One thing my friend prayed often was that our study would not become mere academic exercise. That is a prayer that I have to repeat to myself often since beginning seminary.

Last year, I took systematic theology over two semesters and each time we began a new topic, I took note of resources for further study so that I could go back and re-visit the topics. It is not hard to see how theologians ultimately focus on a specific area of study. Recently, I began my foray into the world of Logos software, and as I began browsing and compiling a wishlist, I saw how easy it is to investigate every fine of point of theology we want. It is tempting, however, to poke and prod at theological issues without ever addressing my own heart. 

No matter what kind of theologian we are -- the ordinary kind or the professional kind -- there is a responsibility before God to be holy because he is holy (I Pet 1:13-16). It is easy to think we are holy because we are engaged in deep study of theology, but pursuing holiness means we have to actually look away from the study and examine ourselves. I love the study. I love following the bunny trails. But if the end result is nothing but a head full of facts without any heart impact, I may as well study something other than theology.

Last semester, as we studied sanctification, it became apparent to me that there were holes in my understanding. When school was over and I had time, I started reading Sinclair Ferguson's book Devoted to God and then J.I. Packer's Re-Discovering Holiness. I'm glad I read those books. I'm glad I took the time to look at my own heart; to get to that place where the rubber meets the road. 

It's easy to become immersed in doctrine while checking my heart at the door. What good does a reading list of ten or twenty books on a subject if I'm not pursuing holiness? Does all of the doctrinal study I do lead me ultimately to praise God? To love his word more? It's actually quite easy to know a lot of theology, to read a lot of books on the subject, and maybe even write eloquently about it, but never actually spend a lot of time in the Bible itself. There are so many experts out there who have done the work for us that it's easy to just take their word for it and never engage scripture with any depth.

My mother used to say two contrasting, but complementary things: "A little knowledge is a light load to carry," and "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Knowledge can be a benefit, but used incorrectly, it can become a source of pride. Study is good, but if we're not paying attention to our own sanctification in the process, then all of that knowledge is a hollow accomplishment.

I want my studies to make a difference in the every day. I want them to make me more thankful, more prone to praising God, more yielded to God's will, more gracious, and more at peace. It is still my prayer that study will not be mere academic exercise.


Embracing maturity

I finished J.I. Packer's Rediscovering Holiness. I loved Sinclair Ferguson's book Devoted to God, but I loved Packer's more; he is simultaneously wise, profound, witty, and eloquent.

The last chapter, "Hard Gaining: The Discipline of Endurance," focuss much on the place of suffering in the sanctification process. There were a few passages that really made me stop and think:

This is what self-denial really means -- not a mere cutting back on some bit of private self-indulgence, but totally surrendering one's natural wish for acceptance and status and respect. It means preparing to be rejected as worthless and dispensable, and to find oneself robbed of one's rights.

Ouch, ouch. "Preparing to be rejected." Who wants that?

This is a soft age in the West, an age in which ease and comfort are seen by the world as life's supreme values. Affluence and medical resources have brought secular people to the point of feeling they have a right to a long life, and a right to be fre of poverty and pain for the whole of that life. Many even cherish a grudge against God and society if these hopes do not materialize. Nothing, however, as we now see, could be further from the true, tough, hard-gaining holiness that expresses true Christianity.

I would say that the love of comfort and ease is not confined to the secular world, but is alive and well in Christian circles.

Mature . . . ? Oh . . . yes, I see. And I am a silly child who stumbles and fumbles and tumbles every day. Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, I need your help. Lord, have mercy; hold me up, and hold me steady -- please, starting now. Amen.

" . . . stumbles and fumbles and tumbles every day." Do you ever feel like that? Just yesterday, at a moment when I was feeling sorry for myself, I wondered if I will ever reach a point where I feel like I'm not doing just that. 

This was a wonderful read, and it left me thinking hard about what my priorities are and what kinds of distractions I allow in my life. Packer is always enjoyable to read, and if you choose to read this, you won't be disappointed.


Re-visiting Scarlett

When I was 15 years old, a local theatre held screenings of David Selznick's Gone With the Wind, and I went with my mother. Following seeing the movie, I read the book by Margaret Mitchell, and loved it. Over the years, I read it a few more times. Recently, I picked it up again after having watched the movie on TCM.

It's always interesting reading years later a book one loved as a young person. Some reactions are the same, and others are different. I still found the attitude toward the African American population shocking and disturbing. The story really is about Scarlett, and not the slaves, but reading in 2017, one knows of the brutality of slavery. Mitchell's depiction of slavery reflects the reality that she was born only 35 years after the end of the Civil War. She was from Atlanta herself, so she grew up in the culture of Reconstruction. While I cringed at much of what I read, I recognize that the story it is a reflection of its author.

This time around, I saw something else. Scarlett lives in a world where there are clearly defined rules of conduct; rules based entirely on arbitrary judgments, not on any sort of reason, and certainly not based on anything biblical. Scarlett struggles to fit in with other women because she questions the prescribed rules she must follow. Before the war, she accepts them, even while she secretly resents them. After the war, to survive, she must reject those norms. Not only is she engaged in business, but she consorts with Yankees. If that isn't bad enough, she is good at it. Surely, there is something inherently unwomanly about being good at trade. She is outside the circle of acceptable conduct for women, and she is not to be trusted. Women who do not reject those norms judge her:

These women, so swift to kindness, so tender to the sorrowing, so untiring in times of stress, could be as impacable as furies to any renegade who broke one small law of their unwritten code. This code was simple. Reverence for the Confederacy, honor to the veterans, loyalty to old forms, pride in poverty, open hands to friends and undying hatred to Yankees. Between them, Scarlett and Rhett had outraged every tenet of this code.

We have many unwritten codes for Christian womanhood, different depending on which group one belongs to. Women who favour more progressive attitudes have a code and women who are more traditional in their approach have their code. Is it "unwomanly" to love theology as it was "unwomanly" for Scarlett to be good at business? Sometimes, I identify with Scarlett because like her, I am selfish and vain. Other times, I identify with her because I feel frustration that the unwritten codes often have more influence on how women conduct themselves than does biblical teaching.

I don't know how long it will be until I read Gone With the Wind again. But I will read it again. Perhaps if I live to be 80, I'll pick it up again. And I'll be curious about what looks different at that time.


Daily Readings - John 12:44-50

J.C. Ryle - Daily Readings
John 12:44-50

He who believes on me does not believe in me but in him who sent me (John 12:44b)

Concerning the unity of the Father and the Son, we must be content to believe reverently what we cannot grasp mentally or explain distinctly. Let it suffice us to know that our Saviour was not like the prophets and patriarchs, a man sent by God the Father, a friend of God and a witness for God. He was something far higher and greater than this. He was in his divine nature essentially one with the Father and, in seeing him, men saw the Father that sent him. This is a great mystery, but a truth of vast importance to our souls. He that casts his sins on Jesus Christ by faith is building on a rock. Believing on Christ, he believes not merely on him, but on him that sent him.


Live the life we're given or bloom where we're planted

I always take note of articles about seminary education. Education is a topic which generally interests me, and more so now that I'm a student. I love to hear about good resources for students, and recently I found myself reading blogs by a student who attends Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She was sharing about being taught by D.A. Carson and Kevin Vanhoozer. Big names those. I've only read Vanhoozer, but I've heard Carson speak a number of times, and I can only imagine the richness of his teaching. When I hear about students who attend schools which are well-known or who are exposed to teaching by well-known scholars, it is my natural disposition to think "I wish I could do that." I can be a perfectionist and that means wanting the best; the best resources, the best tools; the best instructors. That, of course, is my pride rearing its ugly head. After all, what is my purpose for education? Is it to say I've been taught by so-and-so? 

For a few moments this past week, I imagined what would have resulted if I'd discovered my love of learning before I became a wife and mother (because that love really came to fruition in such a context). Would I have braved leaving my country and my home to attend a prestigious seminary? I don't really think I would have. It's nice to think of being able to do so, but I don't think I would have done it. I'm not really the adventurous type, and when push comes to shove, I wouldn't want to live anywhere other than Canada. I am a homebody. This is where I'm from and where I want to be. If God should call me elsewhere, so be it. But right now, he has me here.

I love my school. No, Kevin Vanhoozer doesn't teach there. It isn't world renowned. But, again, what is my purpose for attending seminary? Heritage Seminary fits exactly with where I am and who I am. I love being home. I love being with my dogs and my husband, and having my kids close enough to visit with regularly. I love the little town where I live and how close it is to other amenities so that I don't have to live in a big city. I love driving to school in the early morning past corn fields and gently sloping pastures. I love being only an hour away from school. I love every minute of my class time, but I also love driving home along the river road and being back by tea time. God has blessed me.

My profs have all been excellent. They care about the students. One of my profs was at one time offered a position at a prestigious school. He turned it down because it would not have been good for his family. I am thankful to have been taught by someone like that. There is value in learning from excellent teaching, and my school does bring in teachers for special courses such as the one this month taught by Stephen Wellum and the ones taught by Michael Haykin. But I love being able to have a professor on a weekly basis, all year long. Online and modular learning are great, but I do love traditional classroom learning where I can get to know people.

My purpose for seminary is so that I can learn more about God. The benefits also include learning how to think better, how to improve writing, and to be part of a community. I can get all of these right where I am. God placed me in this small town for this time in my life so that I could do what I'm doing. Living the life we're given is the best we can do for God; bloom where we're planted. It's good advice.