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Entries in Seminary Notes (106)


Bible readers need to be good readers

Last semester, my prof spent some time highlighting the need to pay attention to details. Over the term, I thought a lot about his words regarding detail as it relates to my Bible reading. Sometimes, I am not a careful reader. Recently, I was reading some comments by one of the Puritans regarding meditation, and I was surprised at how I had to slow down to comprehend everything. We're not used to new words words or syntax that makes us slow down. 

Being a good reader is essential for Bible reading. In my hermeneutics textbook, I read these words about being a good reader. 

As we will see, the role of the Spirit in understanding God's Word is indispensable. The Spirit convinces God's people of the truth of the biblical message, and then convicts and enables them to live consistently with that truth. The Spirit does not inform us of Scripture's meaning. That is, the Spirit's help does not replace the need to interpret the biblical passages according to the principles of language communication (emphasis mine). Through the centuries, if people have correctly understood God's Word, it is because they have employed proper principles and methods of interpretation. That did not mean, of course, that they all had "formal" biblical training. Rather, they were good readers -- they used common sense and had enough background to read accurately.

I'm pretty sure there are hoards of people who would disagree with that. There are many who think that fancy book learnin' is not needed if we have the Spirit. Note that it isn't a matter of formal education. It's about being good readers. This is one of my goals this semester; to become a better reader. I want to slow down and retain more. And I want to pay attention to the details.


Thoughts on my second semester of seminary 

I've finished my second seminary course. This one, a survey of the entire bible, was much different from the first one I took, which was about writing bible study curriculum. It was, in a word, heavier. The work load was heavier, and the reading demands heavier. But I loved it. I had two eight hour class sessions, but they did not seem long to me. I was sorry when it was over. 

The higlights of this semester were many. The first was reading through the entire bible over the semester. It was a lot of work, but it was excellent. Not only did I get a wonderful picture of the bible as a whole, I also saw found areas where I want to go back and study more in depth. As I went through the course, I was back and forth between the course material and the course catalogue to see which of the biblical courses I want to tackle later. After I finish hermeneutics next semester, I'll be ready to start learning more.

Another highlight was getting to know some of the other students, both men and women. We had an online forum where we regularly had discussion, and it was great to read the thoughts of others, to be challenged and encouraged. Next semester, I'll be attending class weekly, and I am praying for God to give me the initiative to foster relationships with people. I don't make friends easily (this may not be a surprise to many who know me), but I want to get to know others better. One week when we had an eight hour class, there was a lunch provided, and I sat with two single women, a single man, and a young husband and father. It's good to foster friendships with people of different circumstances.

When I began seminary, I knew that it would be a time for feeling small, and I had many of those moments. When I heard some of the thoughts of fellow students which challenged my own, or gave me a new way of looking at things, I had that feeling. It was a good feeling. It's good to know that there is always room to learn. I have been teaching the bible for almost twenty years, and at times, I've assumed I know more than I do. This semester showed me that there is so much more to learn. I feel like a teenager in my head (if not in my body), because the world is opening up in ways I didn't expect at the age of 50.

Another highlight is seeing the wisdom of God in keeping me out of seminary until this particularl moment of my life. It was the right time. I don't think I would have had the same experiences as I've had this semester had I been twenty years younger. I don't think my attitude would have been the same. There is much I would like to write, and it has frustrated me that I cannot get it down or that it seems no one is interested in what I would like to write. I understand now why my writing feels stalled: God has so much more for me to learn. I'm excited to see what that will be.

I'm feeling ambitious now that I've finished this class. In September, I'm definitely taking Hebrew. My academic advisor is the prof, and he assures me I will enjoy it (what else would he say?). I am also taking the plunge for Church History with Dr. Haykin. One of the other students told me to be prepared to read "one hundred million words" if I take that class, but I'm up for the challenge. It means giving up some things, but I want to do it. I don't know what will come of this educational pursuit, but I'm going to have fun finding out.


Learning from single women

This semester, there were a few single women in my seminary class. I got to know one of them pretty well. We sat together during class times and we ate lunch together. 

This woman, around thirty, I'd say, is certain she will always be single. Yet she has lots of ideas and dreams about what kind of things she could do in ministry, and no, not just to singles. As I talked to her, she shared with me some her frustrations about women's ministries. Whether it is the kind of events planned or the content of biblical teaching, it frustrated her that very often, everything gets reduced to a woman's relationship with a man. 

There is a young woman who has been at my Sunday school class on a few occasions. I taught her as a teen, and she's all grown up now. And she's single. And she has similar frustrations. She doesn't want people always trying to fix her up with a friend of a friend. She simply wants to live her life in Christ, whatever that entails.

I have learned a lot from both of these women. I have learned that I need to think carefully about how I teach. Knowing my students is important. If I have a room of young mothers, then yes, referring to motherhood is probably okay. But what if I don't know all my students? What if I'm standing there in front of thirty women whom I don't know? I can't help but think of how difficult it must be to stand in front of two hundred women, not knowing where each lady is at the moment.

Lately, I have been trying harder to remember that we are all individuals who stand before God, regardless of whether we are wives and mothers. While I know my students well, I'm trying to resist applying the Scriptures for them. There is a need to bring the text to bear on our every day lives, but rather than telling, I ought to be asking. My professor this semester was very skilled at that. We covered the whole Bible in three months, and he was able to bring every assignment to bear on our every day life, and he did it by asking questions. Asking questions means distilling the teaching to its principles and reflecting on them. That can be hard work, but teaching is hard work. 

I'm about as "traditional" as it gets: stay-at-home wife who raised her kids and makes her home her vocation (I've been a housewife theologian since 1989. I wasn't a good theologian in 1989, but I was a developing one). I encourage other women to stay at home if they want to and can manage it financially. Compared to my single friend, my life is completely different. Yet, I had more in common with her than I do with some of my fellow married mother friends. How can that be? Well, we have a mutual love of Christ and His Word, and a desire to learn more.

If we want to know how to minister to single women, I think we need to talk to them. Instead of assuming we know what they need, let's ask them. Let's get them involved in ministry that isn't confined to other single women. And let's not assume that their single life is merely to be endured until they get married. I sometimes wonder if the vast amount of marriage books, blogs, and counsel hasn't made us idolize marriage a little. Yes, marriage is important, but we are not redeemed through marriage, and it's an earthly relationship. The one we have with Christ will last for eternity. I wonder if single women have a better view of this reality.


Spiritual Bookends

The bible ends where it began: with a creation. In Genesis, it was the first creation. A perfect garden; a place where fellowship between God, man, and creation was perfectly harmonious. The bible, in Revelation 21:1-22:5 ends with a new heaven and new earth, where that perfect created order is restored. In between those two points is a sad tale after the fallout of sin. This was the focus of my last seminary class of the semester. Quite interestingly, two events occurred at the same time:

First, a friend and sister in Christ lost her battle with cancer.

Second, terrorists attacked the city of Paris.

The need for renewal was only too apparent with these two events. For my friend, cancer had done what it does to the human body. In the space of a year, it had done its work. There was no renewal for her on this earth. But she no longer needs that body. She is in the presence of the Lord. Her illness and death was a reminder that our bodies are not meant to be eternal. No matter how good our diets are, how local our food is, how often we exercise, or use essential oils, our bodies are not going to be renewed on this earth. Any actions we take merely postpone the inevitable. Complete renewal will only happen when the end comes and we are given resurrected bodies.

If there is anything that has reminded me of the fragility of human intervention and political forces it was the attacks in Paris. Is anywhere safe? Governments and the powers that be can and should take action to punish criminals -- and terrorits are the worst of criminals -- but even they with their power cannot renew the earth as God promises in Revelation 21-22.

They cannot provide this:

A new heaven and earth
No more tears
No more death
No more mourning
Eternal judgment for the unrighteous 
The eternal light of Christ
The eternal presence of Christ

Justice on earth is only a pale shadow of God's justice. Human justice can be vindictive; God's justice is borne of mercy and holiness. While our human institutions can intervene to help, ultimately, only God can provide eternal justice. Earthly doctors can provide cures for some, but ultimately, only God can assure the relief of suffering and death.

Our class was asked to share why we thought the message of Revelation 21-22 was important for 21st century people. My answer was that the majority of the world, including many of us as Christians, are incredibly earth-bound. We put our hopes in government to do what only God can do. We love too much the things of the world. We are so very comfortable here on earth. I, a homebody who loves to be among her books, friends, and family, am as guilty as the next person. The new heaven and earth reminds me that I should have an eternal purpose. As a Christian, I should live in light of the eternal. If I am just as earth-bound as the unbeliever, how can my testimony have any impact?

It was a good way to end the course, and it has left me thinking a great deal.


Give yourself 90 days

I began reading through the whole bible on August 17th. I will finish sometime at the end of this week. Not exactly 90 days, but given that I was away on a couple of trips during that time, it's not surprising.

My prof assigned the reading. Because he's my academic advisor as well, I knew it was coming, so I started early. I'm glad I did. After I'm finished the reading (which is 20% of the course mark), I can focus on studying for the final exam.

My prof warned us that we may not find this kind of volume of reading what we're used to when bible reading. I think he was surprised when one of the students shared that he thought it was the best part of the class. He was getting up an hour earlier every morning and loving it. I, too, found this one of the best parts of the course.

I think there is a misconception that reading at such a pace excludes any "devotional" aspect of the reading. When we think of devotional reading, we automatically think of sitting over a passage for a time, rolling it over in our heads, and perhaps praying over it. There is no reason when reading a faster pace we can't do that. Every day when I read, I selected a few verses to record in my journal and later reflect on. Often, I would do my reading in the afternoon, and then as I walked with the dog afterward, I would think about what I had read. A couple of times I listened to the bible in the car when my car trip was longer. On one trip, I was able to listen to the entire book of Daniel, and I thought about it for the rest of the day. No, fast reading doesn't mean we're not reading "devotionally." I've read slower and felt very little devotion. I think devotional reading starts with an open heart, not necessarily the perfect time frame for reading.

I thought of some of the longer books I've read, especially novels. One of the longest ones I read was The Stand, by Stephen King. It's over 1,000 pages. I read it in five days. Now, while King is a great story-teller, it's not complicated reading like parts of the bible, but I think sometimes, we automatically think the bible will be hard, so we balk at the thought of reading it from beginning to end. When my husband read Les Miserables, another tome, it was definitely more than five days. But other than the three month break from the book (Hugo really did ramble at points so he put it down for a while), he finished it in under a year. It is possible to finish the Bible in a year.

One thing this exercise did is reveal to me which biblical courses I want to tackle first. Once I get some required courses out of the way, the first course I want to take is on the Pentateuch, and after that the Poetical books. There were so many questions I had which we couldn't stop to answer because we had to plow on through.

It was an excellent exercise. It did eat into my reading of other books, but that was not a bad thing, either. Theology books, commentaries, and Christian living books are great, and I love them. But it was good for me to spend more time in the word alone. I am pretty sure that I too often simply give assent to someone else's conclusions before properly coming to my own.

It's definitely not something I'd do every year, but if you have a chance to do it, go for it. You'll really enjoy it.