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Saturday
Dec102016

When is the last time you heard a sermon on the Trinity?

Or, when was the last time you gave a sermon on the Trinity?

That is a question Dr. Haykin asked us at the beginning of the last class of "The Life and Thought of Augustine." There were a few pastors in the class, and the answer was what he anticipated: not lately. I have been attending my church for twenty years, and I've never heard a sermon on the Trinity specifically. It comes up in passing, but not as the focus on the sermon. I remember once sitting in a lesson to 5th and 6th grade students where the teacher tried to teach about the Trinity, and the typical (inadequate) analogies were given: the egg, water, the shamrock.

Interestingly, a similar discussion arose when Dr. Fowler brought up the content of worship songs (one of his particular pet peeves). He pointed out to us that a popular song actually supported modalism in its lyrics. I asked him if he thought the person in the pew even really gave much thought to that, or could even recognize what modalism is, or do they care?

I can not help but wonder if what we as the congregants expect from our pastors rules out sermons on things like the Trinity. How many of us go into church expecting to be told something to do? We want guidance, but is it guidance that forces us to work through the Scriptures ourselves? Or do we want some kind of therapy? If we expect a sermon to be a group counselling session, then of course the Trinity will not be an appealing subject. It's not really easy to preach the Trinity to begin with, but to find something practical must be a huge task.

The Trinity is a complex thing. It is a mystery. And its "cash value" can't be found in an exhortation to go out and do something. It's one of those truths that shows us who God is. Perhaps we should stop expecting pastors to tell us what to do and just let them preach the truth. Perhaps we should not flinch when they want to preach doctrine.

When school is finished for the semester, I hope to dig into Fred Sanders' two books, The Deep Things of God, and The Triune God. After having studied De Trinitate this past semester, I think it will be helpful to read these.  

Tuesday
Dec062016

Your best 90 days in 2017

In fall of 2015, I took one of my first seminary classes: Biblical Introduction. It was a rapid-fire tour through the entire Bible. We looked at each book individually, but with a focus on the entire scope of the Bible. One of the requirements was to read the entire Bible over the course of the semester. That meant reading it in about 90 days. It was one of the best things I've done as a Christian. I wouldn't do it every year, and I don't think it's the only way to read the Bible, but I think it's a very worthwhile thing to do.

When one reads the Bible at this rate, she can't stop and ponder too long. That may be contrary to many of us as Bible readers, but the purpose of the exercise is to get a panoramic view of Scripture, so stopping too long isn't the point. What I did as I read and faced questions was to write them down to look at later.

It sounds like it would be a lot of work, but it isn't. I am not a fast reader, and I was able to finish by reading about fourteen chapters each day, which worked out to about an hour daily. On days when I had to go to class, I listened in the car. I found listening especially enjoyable with books like Daniel, Ezekiel, and the Psalms. On one day, I had time for both Daniel and Hosea with the drive there and back. Finding an hour in the day isn't as difficult as we might think. I realize moms with young children would have a difficult time for this, but for those with older children, it could be easier. Get up an hour earlier or forsake that television program in the evening. 

I found this very beneficial. I was immersed in Bible reading in a way I had not been before. And it is so much easier to follow narrative passages when we read them in large chunks. There were some days when I read more than fourteen chapters in order to finish to the end of a narrative passage. And there were days when I read fewer than fourteen rather than starting in the middle of a storyline and having to cut it short. Especially in the prophetic books, it is easier to read them according to their units than it is by the chapter divisions. As I read, I looked for and marked the word "covenant." It really emphasized to me the covenantal nature of our faith.

I am hoping to do this again at some point. I thought I would forget a lot of it, but there are things that come back to me at moments. Here are some plans you can check out:

Bible Gateway Through the Bible in 90 Days: I have this link in the ESV, but you can pick your version.

Bible Study Tools 90 Day Reading Plan: I followed this plan loosely. Sometimes I modified it a bit depending on my schedule.

Through the Bible in 90 Days: Here is a printable one has you reading in more than one place each day.

I know that most Bible reading plans start to crop up later in December, but why wait until then? Just get up next Monday and just begin reading!

Monday
Dec052016

Twitter and the loss of careful reading

I have noticed over the past few months that some people on Twitter, in an effort to get around the character limit will simply Tweet in a string of related tweets. I have done that when I want to share something funny. I have had friends share funny stories in that way. But in some cases, there are users that want to provide some pretty complex theological discussion in a string of tweets. If one of the people I follow does that a lot, I may mute them for a while, because I don't want those things cluttering my feed. Personally, I don't read well with successive bytes on my screen. I want to read in the context of paragraphs, where the content is focused and well-laid out. 

I think we all know that people don't read as well as they used to. My daughter has taught undergraduate English students for the past four years. I hear the stories of how badly first year students read. I know my own reading ability has deteriorated. I find myself impatient with blogs that go beyond 1,000 words, and that isn't good, because when it comes to attending seminary, dense reading material is part of the workload. That has been the single biggest challenge at school: giving up the feeling that once the author has gone beyond 1,000 words, I should tune out. I've been actively working at increasing my reading block times so that I can get more done. It's pretty sad that in my undergraduate years, I could focus for hours at a time, but now my mind wanders after about 45 minutes, and then after a bit of a break, it may be hard to re-connect.

I don't see the practice of trying to blog in tweet bytes helpful for promoting good reading skills. I realize that people have shorter attention spans, and maybe someone sharing those things on Twitter hope to appeal to those who would not normally read a longer article. The other possibilty is that those trying to teach deep theological truths on Twitter are actually using Twitter more as a means to point out where they think their opponents err. 

I'm no one famous. I'm not a writer of published books, nor am I a scholar. But I am someone who thinks being able to read well is important. I am a good reader. I have learned how to read carefully and in context. I want to see others read carefully and well. I find Twitter so helpful for news links, for links to posts I want to read, and when I want to know what the score of the hockey game is. But if it's doctrinal teaching, I like reading something a little longer. And if it's a paper book, even better.

Sunday
Dec042016

Christmas Favourites

One of the things that I love about Christmas is the regular re-visiting of favourites; whether it is food, decorations, or music, we all have our favourite things. My kids have their favourite Christmas cookies and treats, and we have our favourite music.

For the rest of December, I'm going to be posting on Sunday the songs that have been my favourites over the last few years.

Today, I offer Michael Card's "The Promise," which comes the CD with the same name. Both my husband and I consider this one of our favourite recordings.

The Lord God said when time was full
He would shine His light in the darkness
He said a virgin would conceive
And give birth to the Promise
For a thousand years the dreamers dreamt
And hoped to see His love
The Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough
But the Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough

Chorus:

The Promise was love and the Promise was life
The Promise meant light to the world
Living proof Jehovah saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus

The Faithful One saw time was full
And the ancient pledge was honored
So God the Son, the Incarnate One
His final Word, His own Son
Was born in Bethlehem
But came into our hearts to live
What more could God have given
Tell me what more did He have to give
What more could God have given
Tell me what more did He have to give

Wednesday
Nov232016

Women, we can still learn from men

Every now and then, I listen to other women, and I feel uncomfortable. It is as if in order to be fully supportive of women in the church we must abandon men entirely. There is a trend toward only reading books by women. Women read books written by women, about women, and for women. Maybe I'm a little addled, but to me, the best book isn't the one written by a man or a woman: it's the one that is simply the most helpful, the best written, and the best researched.

In the last few days, there have been quite a few articles about women's ministry. The articles which promote the reading and studying of Scripture are the ones I like best. But still, there seems to be a reluctance to recommend a "How to" Bible study book written by a man. I'm going to be honest here: I've read a lot of books about how to study the Bible, and the ones I have found the most helpful are the ones written by men. I wish they had been written by women. I would love to see women in seminary, studying the original languages, learning about hermenetical principles. That has not happened a lot at this point.

Here are some of the "how to" Bible study books I have read in the 30+ years I have been studying the bible and the 20+ years I have been teaching the Bible:

Understanding and Applying the Bible, Robertson McQuilkin

How to Study Your Bible, Kay Arthur

How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth, Douglas Fee and Gordon Stuart

Bible Study: A Student's Guide, Jon Nielson

Bible Study: Following the Ways of the Word, Kathleen Nielson

Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin

Grasping God's Word, J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays

Journey into God's Word, J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays

Introduction to Biblical Interpreation, Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard

Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, Walter Kaiser and Moises Silva

The last two titles are more advanced, and I wouldn't recommend a beginner start there, but neither would I discourage her if she wanted to. We have a tendency to start women off small, and while that may be useful for a woman who has no experience with the Bible, women are able to read difficult texts. We are a fairly literate society, and if women can be doctors, teachers, nurses, politicians, and accountants, they can handle a more advanced text.

If I was going to recommend just one of those books, it would be Journey into God's Word. No, it is not written like a book directed to women, as if the author and reader are having coffee. No, there isn't a pretty, feminine cover, but Journey into God's Word is clear and thorough. It lays an excellent foundation before proceeding to discuss the various literary genres in Scripture. And it is not long; 153 pages. But it provides a great starting point that will ultimately lead a person further in her study. Journey into God's Word is the condensed version of Grasping God's Word, and if I had to recommend a second book, that would be it. It gives a student a goal to aim for. If I was recommending a book to inspire a woman into studying, it would be Kathleen Nielson's. What we want as Bible students and teachers is to get better at what we are doing, to be more and more comfortable with interpreting the Biblical text. That is ultimately what we are doing as we teach. It's more than leading a group of women in a study. We are interpreting. And there are principles to help us with that.

I am not famous, so the chances of someone taking my views into serious consideration is probably small. I am not affiliated with a big parachurch organization, a mega church, or a famous Christian figure. But I have been learning and teaching a long time. I want the best resources I can find, regardless of whether a man or woman wrote it. If my suggestion that we continue to read books authored by men means I have failed my gender, do forgive me. It wouldn't be the first time I didn't toe the party line.