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Entries in Letters From Seminary (2)

Thursday
Feb252016

Letters From Seminary - Challenges to Presuppositions

One of the things my prof has spoken of quite a bit this semester is the development of his eschatological position. Over the years, he has studied, learned, taught, ministered, and prayed, and it is not what it once was many years ago. I am not unfamiliar with that.

A while ago on Twitter, a friend told me that it was a bold confession I made when I said that I had read The Prayer of Jabez and liked it. I, too, have grown in my theology over the years. Fifteen years ago, I knew very little of the distinctions between those who hold a more Calvinistic view than those who don't. Ignoramus that I am, I thought every Evangelical held to a Calvinistic view. I can hear people laughing as I type this. There is so much to learn.

On Tuesday, in our study of the Psalms, we discussed imprecatory passages such as the one found in Psalm 109:6-15. This spurred on a discussion about the meaning and application of such passages, and our prof shared how he'd done a turnabout with this over the years. At one time, he felt that such passages were not to be applied to the church today; another example of a growing theology. He shared with us the account of a man he knew who at one point was a preacher of the gospel but who became an agnostic because he struggled to believe in a God who would allow the imprecatory passages. That, too, is another example of a changing theology.

As I get older, I see more and more how when we read Scripture, we read our pre-suppositions into things. We assume that our experience is the universal experience. Even when we discuss things like marriage and family, we are often locked into a view of things that is not based so much on Scripture as it is on our circumstances; for me, a white, middle-class woman in North America. But we must be careful about verbalizing these things lest others conclude that we're becoming "liberal" in our old age. I must admit that I have occasionally made that ignorant assumption. Don't misunderstand me; I'm not talking about what is truth. I'm talking about making normative things that are clearly situational.

One of the things I'm learning as I evaluate my own pre-suppositions is that I need to return again and again to what Scripture says. I need to keep mining its depths. It's often a more complicated process than I thought. And if I'm not going to spend the time thinking and studying, I may end up with stunted growth.

In objection to this need for hard work and study, aside from being the argument that it's being "too academic," I've heard the objection that women from other cultures did not have access to the study methods we do, and they were fine Christian women. Some didn't read and some didn't own their own Bibles. That is true. They depended on others to teach them. However, the fact remains that here in the West we do live in a culture where these things are at our disposal. Most of us have funds enough to buy a Bible, to buy a few books. We have time. If we have enough to noodle around on the internet, we have time to study. We have computers, cell phones, tablets; we have access to resources. The problems isn't the availability of resources.

This week had an assignment for our discussion forum regarding Psalm 109:6-15. This is the opportunity to hear the voices of my fellow students. I always leave that forum thinking that I am a dope. Some of the things they come up with challenge me and force me to think harder. They force me to look at my views, and to ensure they are formulated around Scripture, not just my pre-suppositions. It is true that we will always have pre-supposistions. There is no such thing as pure objectivity. There is, however, always the option of recognizing them and addressing them. 

Wednesday
Jan272016

Individualism and hermeneutics

Yesterday's hermeneutics lecture was really great. I am regularly copying down some of the interesting things my prof has to say. Last week, my favourite was when Dr. B. made a play on word with "hermeneutics." He said "Herman must be there. Make him your friend."

Yesterday, we got on the topic of how we interpret Scripture keeping in mind the community of the church. Not only do we give credence to interpreters of the past, but we don't isolate ourselves as we interpret, rather, we seek the interpretive voices of others. Dr. B. did not have much good to say about the approach that says that I just need to take myself and my Bible somewhere quiet and figure it out on my own. He believes this attitude arises from the individualistic bent of our society. He encouraged us not to make every application about us personally, but move beyond ourselves to look at what the implications are for the entire church. Yes, there is room for personal piety, but if we continually look to make everything a personal message for us, he belives we are missing out. He also is not entirely in favour of, as a preacher, making applications for others, but rather isolating principles and seeing what the implications are.

In light of the ensuing dicussion, which took us off on a few bunny trails, I think the other students were in agreement with him. Yesterday's comment of the day was: "Commentaries are your friend."

At one time, I viewed commentaries as a last resort. Somehow (probably from my own dimwittedness) I got the notion that there was some sort of failure involved if I had to consult a commentary, never mind more than one. I have since learned that while we definitely need to pursue a diligent study of the text, commentaries provide us with a way of watching someone else interpret the text.

Dr. B. suggested that disregarding what other scholars, past and present, have to say about a text is short-sighted. He pointed out that many of the scholars have spent years reading and studying the text, and we should not be unwillinging to consult their expertise. Studying the Scriptures in community is a valuable and necessary thing. We gather together on the Lord's Day to hear the word in a community. I think we sometimes get so focused on our individual life of faith, we neglect our part in the Body of Christ. Perhaps this individualism is where the "what does it mean to me" line of thinking originated.

I was really thankful for this perspective. It conformed some of my thoughts, and it is always good to know that we're on the right track.