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Entries in Seminary Notes (87)

Monday
Apr242017

Nothing like a good argument

My school year came to an end yesterday when I clicked on "send," emailing my prof my term paper on abortion. Following my final exam in Systematic Theology on Thursday, I basically lived with this term paper. I had all the research, but it was a task to sort through everything and crank out fifteen pages. I felt a weight lift, and following that, we took the dogs out for a walk in the orchard to celebrate. I felt a little giddy, wondering what I should read first. For the next few days, I have to clean up a house which has been much neglected and then, I head home to the west for a celebration and to soak up the big sky. There is something restful and soothing about returning to our roots.

I have looked back at what I have learned this year, and I think the most significant thing is the fact that argumentation skills are lacking; in my own life and from others. Every week in theology and ethics, I had to prepare reflections that demanded sound argumentation. There was no room for emotional appeals, and that was often hard in ethics. The prof was looking for sound arguments. It was a challenge, because I do tend to be an emotional person, and having to argue dispassionately is work for me. But I am seeing the absolute necessity of it.

In order to prepare for my research paper, which was on the justifiability of abortion (or, in the case of my thesis, the lack of it), I read Peter Kreeft's highly entertaining book The Unaborted Socrates. This book presents the return of Socrates to modern times to debate abortion with a doctor, a philosopher, and a psychologist. Being Socrates, or course, he uses Socratic dialogue to debate the issues. As he simply asks questions, he frequently leads his opponent to see the contradictions or discrepancies of their arguments. In the course of his dialogues, he keeps after his opponent to keep on topic, and not skirt the issue by bringing in matters that detract from the argument. As I read the book, I realized how often my own arguments are less a focus on the issue and more my own personal feelings or misunderstandings of an issue. It was a very helpful book not only for understanding the issues around the abortion debate, but for pursuing solid argumentation with everything.

I will share one of my favourite exchanges. In the course of discussing what makes a person a person, essence or functionality, Socrates's opponent, Herrod, comments:

Herrod: Wait a minute! Are you saying a fetus is a person just because it is a potential person?

Socrates: No.

Herrod: I should hope not, because if so, then a single spermatazoon or a single ovum is also a person, and spermicide becomes homicide. In fact, even the primordial slime that evolved into us during ten million years or so is a potential person, and slime-killing becomes murder.

Socrates: Ah, yes. Our Father Slime. I found it a fascinating experience to read your science library and meet your new gods. A real advance upon ours. We thought ourselves to be bastards of the gods above in our foolishness, rather than legitimate children of the slime below. We knew so very little about the true gods, it seems.

I confess to enjoying discussion that may involve a little debate, but I know that I don't always have the best argumentation skills. I'm beginning to learn, even if it is late in life. It is interesting, because now that I have had to confront my own skills, I am beginning to recognize bad argumentation in others. And there is a lot of it out there.

Now that school is done, I've got some reading planned. I'm starting with the book Knowing God and Ourselves. I picked up a used two-volume edition of the Battles/McNeill edition of the Institutes, and I am going to endeavour to read as much as I can of it over the summer. In addition to continuing to read Canadian fiction and non-fiction, I am starting right away with a book on baptism written by my prof and Sinclair Ferguson's Devoted to God. I plan on studying I Corinthians over the summer, along with Anthony Thiselton's commentary. I don't know how much I'll get read, because it is summer, and spending time in the outdoors and with other creative pursuits is something else I have planned. I shall be ready and able to meet in September with Greek Elements I and Church History I.

Friday
Apr212017

And then comes the letdown

It has been my intention to spend less time here talking about personal matters; being less "transparent" if you will. However, this has been on my mind.

A number of years ago, my husband and I spent some time helping out at a Christian camp. It was in the final week of the official season, and we were there for the last staff meeting. The camp director had a word for those young people who had spent their entire summer serving there. He cautioned them about the letdown which would ensue after having spent an intense six weeks with the same people. We often come away from a time of service fo God on a high note, and when life goes back inevitably to the normal routine, it can make one feel a little down. I have a little bit of that feeling already, knowing that yesterday was my last trip home from school until September. I drove home in a cold, driving rain, feeling a little flat.

Since September, I have spent a lot of time with the same people.  Some of those in my Systematic Theology class are also in my Moral Theology class, so there was always a lot to talk about week by week. I love to talk theology, and having a room full of others who share that love was a great experience. I will miss those conversations. I don't have a lot of people in my life who like to do that.

I find that among most Christian women of my acquaintance, there is not a similar love. I have a couple of friends who like to do so, but most of them don't. Spiritual conversations mostly revolve around personal issues of sanctification, daily life, and more practical matters. And we need those conversations. But most of the female friends I have don't want to spend time talking about the reasons for or against a pretribulational return of Christ. And if I suggested that I had any desire to do so, I may be labelled as one who does not take Scripture seriously. Nor is there a desire to understand the fine points of justification, what it actually means to say that something is a means of grace, or what Lutherans mean when they say Christ is "under" the sacraments. I find those things fascinating. I found the notion of that an evangelical believes in purgatory fascinating. And it was so enjoyable to have others around me who felt the same.

Having a community to talk about such things was something I realized I was missing. While I do have online friends, there is nothing online like the community I experienced this past school year. One thing has become glaringly apparent to me over the past four months: I don't fit in with the little pockets of female Christian fellowship I see on my social media feeds. I don't always agree with everything the female leaders say, and that earns me an automatic place outside of the circle. 

I have a busy summer ahead. I wanted to take a summer course, and there were some good ones available, but my son is getting married, and I have home projects to tackle. I have a healthy reading list waiting for me, and I hope to get my puppy walking on a leash with a lot more manners than he currently has. But I will miss that community. I don't expect to find it online anymore. At one time, I did, but not any longer. That is a letdown, too. Things change; it is the normal course of life. One thing doesn't change, though: God wants me to know more about him, and I will keep on learning even if it is in a more solitary venue. God is good, and the letdown will pass.

Saturday
Apr082017

Getting over eschatophobia

For the last two weeks of my Systematic Theology class, we're looking at eschatology. I am waiting to have all of my questions answered, and my position solidified. That is definitely tongue-in-cheek. During a discussion in a class on Augustine last semester, Dr. Haykin said it took him seven years to arrive at a certain view on eschatology. In the past few years, I've given it precious little thought.

One thing we looked at first was the reality of extremes. There is "eschatomania," where eschatological views are the sum of one's theology; everything revolves around it. Then there are those who hold to "eschatophobia:" they're afraid of even talking about it, because of the difficulty surrounding the doctrine. I can understand that apprehension. I appreciated the comment from my textbook:

In some cases eschatophobia is a reaction against those who have a definite interpretation of all prophetic material in the Bible, and identify every significant event in history with some biblical prediction. Not wanting to be equated with this rather sensationallist approach to eschatology, some preachers and teachers avoid discussion of the subject altogether.

I understand that sentiment of looking at the end times and the tendency to assign an eschatological significance to every news story that comes along. My concern with this came to a head a number of years ago when some of the young people in my church, having been exposed to dispensational teaching all of their lives, came to the conclusion that Tony Blair, who was then Prime Minister, was the antichrist. 

I think I have had a case of eschataphobia these past few years.

Many years ago, in my first year at the University of Waterloo, I attended a Bible study. I had been a Christian for less than a year. I remember I was shocked that the leader of the study didn't appear to share the views that I had been taught. Note the significant phrase, "that I had been taught." I had not come to these views on my own. I was a very young believer, so it was not surprising. It's all part of the process of growing in our faith. About fifteen years ago, while homeschooling, I was shocked to hear that some Christians don't believe there will be a rapture. My church places a huge importance on that teaching, and I was not sure what to think. So, I really didn't think much at all.

And now in these last two weeks (which is surely not enough time) I must look at it. And I've decided that it's not all that scary after all. I am not sure where I will land. I think I need to give it a lot more consideration than a few days. The lesson in all of this is that we must sort through these matters on our own. And we have to be intellectually honest enough to admit when opposing views challenge us. I feel quite comfortable following the example of Dr. Haykin, and giving myself a little time.

Friday
Mar312017

All good things come to an end

I realized yesterday that I only have two more regular classes in my theology class. On the 20th I write my final exam, and on on the 23rd, my Moral Theology paper is due. I will be sad when it's over.

I have been in class with most of the students all year. The majority who began with me in September also took the second half of the course. Some of them are also in my Moral Theology class, and often on Thursdays there are discussions about that class as well. I have come to really appreciate and enjoy these people. And what I really like is the diversity of ages and experiences. Yesterday, as usual, there was laughter and fun in the midst of learning theological truth. I'm really going to miss that, and I'm going to miss my prof's teaching and wisdom.

I think this year more than any other, I have seen how we need to value older teachers. As I have listened to Dr. Fowler, I have heard more than just someone who knows theoretical knowledge. He has also practical ministry experience. In Moral Theology, when we discussed divorce and re-marriage, he shared personal insights about his own experience as a pastor. He has done a lot of work on the issue of baptism because his doctoral dissertation was focused on that. But he has also dealt with baptism in the capacity of a pastor. All of the theological issues we have learned this year he has dealt with both experientially and academically. I wonder how many pastors have a certain idea of what they believe regarding various doctrines, only to have those challenged as they confront them pastorally. 

This year, school kept me busier than last year, and that was a good thing. I spent less time online, although I still need to pare that down a bit. Yesterday, it was a cold, slushy, bitter ride home, and I was glad to come home and unwind with a cup of tea as I checked my email. I had a brief look at Twitter, and I was struck by how we can become so keyed to what see online that we may not have time for other things. There is much chewing over Rod Dreher's The Benedict Option. And there is some issue regarding a Billy Graham rule and a Donald Trump rule. At this point in the semester, I don't have time to check that out. Sometimes, getting embroiled in these matters (which will be cast aside for something else in a few weeks) just eats up time I need to spend elsewhere. And it exhausts me just watching how long some will continue a debate in 140 characters, refusing to let someone else have the last word. Where do they get the energy? 

This time next month, I will be spending time with my family, celebrating my dad's 80th birthday. I'm heading out to the prairies, and am eager to get my camera out and re-charge. But I will miss my weekly meetings with my fellow students. I'm looking forward to Greek I and Church History beginning in September.

And now to get that term paper done and study for my exam.

Friday
Mar242017

Challenged in holy living and productivity

Yesterday, at my school, our Ministry Leadership Day hosted Tim Challies. It was a well-attended gathering; there were quite a few people standing at the back of the chapel. For a young man attending, I think he would have seen two positive things: a good example of someone exegeting a passage of Scripture, and being challenged in the area of productivity. I had no idea I would get as much out of the productivity session as I did. I went to the day intending to purchase Visual Theology, and came home instead with Do More Better.

The first session had Tim sharing from I Thessalonians 4:1-12. It was a very good session. I have never heard him speak in the venue of preaching, and I was really challenged by it. The theme of the session was how to live holy lives, and he focused on the areas of being sexually pure, loving others, and living quietly. The last point, living quietly, was about embracing being unremarkable. He even mentioned that perhaps these days, with our love of celebrity, it is more radical to be unremarkable. I think that was a good message for everyone, but especially for the young men there with a future in the ministry.

Lately, I have felt that despite having the time, I seem to accomplish less than I would like. The second session, where Tim introduced principles for productivity, gave me some good pointers; ones I had not anticipated getting. In the past, I confess to being a little aloof toward productivity books and tools. I don't have a job outside my home, and my responsibilities are few compared to my husband, who juggles many. Why would I need productivity tools? I had my mind changed. I find it is good to have one's mind changed every now and then.

One of the aspects of the second session was doing an inventory of our responsibilties. That alone, is a good exercise. Tim mentioned a few things which I had never thought of before. He recommended using tools that are best suited to the task, i.e. don't use your email to remind yourself of something; use a scheduling tool. He recommended separating our tools to scheduling tools, information tools, and task management tools. I am hoping to make better use of my Google calendar in the future, and I am planning on starting to use Evernote. As I looked at it yesterday, I saw how convenient that will be in keeping track of information with regard to working on my term paper over the next month.

One thing that happens when your kids move out and you are presented with this life of reduced domestic details is that it is easy to simply stop worrying about them. As I walked through my living room yesterday evening, with the sunset streaming through the sheer curtains in my living room, I could see a layer of dust on the hardwood under my desk. I used to be better at housekeeping. I am sure using productivity tools for work or school research is a good idea, but why not for home organization? Maybe the reason I am not getting enough done is that I'm not as organized as I thought I was. 

Regrettably, I could not stay for the afternoon sessions, and I was particularly disappointed I missed the Q&A, because my prof was on the panel. But through the wonder of digital technology, I can catch it later. I left feeling challenged, and that is good. Being challenged will give us renewed purpose.