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Entries in Seminary Notes (117)


Seminary headaches

This past week, Dr. B. gave us the assignment to interpret Daniel's seventy weeks, taking into consideration the principles of interprting apocalyptic literature and beginning with the date 538BC. My prof is not amillenial, so this means taking a more literal look at the seventy weeks. He told us that his students always hate this assignment, and as I got into it, I understood why. I agonized over it all week, thought about it, prayed for a clear mind, and in the end, when I went to submit my answer to the online forum, I was pleased to see that I was not alone in my uncertainty.

We submit our responses to an online forum, and then we interact with one another. When I went to post my assignment on Saturday evening (the assignment was due by the end of the weekend), the only other response had at its title "My head hurts." Late last night, the majority of us had submitted, and there were titles such as, "Are you kidding, Dr. B?" and "My head hurts, too." In the end, not one of us had tried to say with any certainty the meaning of those seventy weeks.

In our interpretation process, we have been following a pattern of looking at the five aspects: the context, the covenantal place, the passages relation to the whole canon of Scripture, the culture of the recipients, the community of interpreters, and the literary elements. Only after looking at those do we bring it into the contemprary context. I followed that pattern briefly, and came up with an interperation that basically said I don't know what the weeks mean, but I know that they were meant to provide hope for the original audience, and they should provide hope for the church, too. The hope comes from the coming of Messiah, the fulfillment of God's covenant, the covenant that opens the way to salvation for Jew and Gentile alike.

Aside from yet another lesson in humility, this was a great lesson in taking biblical interpretation step by step, in looking at the text and patiently reading. The process was as important as the outcome; at least to me. I could find tomorrow that Dr. B thinks we're all cowards for not being more explicit, but when you don't know, you just don't know. This reminded me that when we are studying Scripture, patience is required. Reading slowly is a lost art, I think.

It was also a reminder that every scholar starts a commentary on Daniel with an eschatological position. To really gain my own understanding of this, I would have had to look a number of different views, and I didn't have time. That was yet another reminder of the work that is interpreting Scripture. We are very blessed to have scholars who have done the work that we have not done ourselves.

This was also in a lesson of how valuable knowing the original language could be. Dr. B thinks we should all be taking (or have already taken) Hebrew, and if encouraging us in that direction was one of his goals, he succeeded with me. Even reading the obscure commentary by Keil and Delitszh would have been made easier knowing Hebrew. I finally gave up and decided I'd write I could and let the chips fall where they may.

Tomorrow, we will be given our prof's more detailed analysis of Daniel 9. I'm looking forward to seeing what he has to say. I'm glad I wasn't the only one with a seminary headache this past week. Going back to school, and graduate school at that, at the age of 51 is not a walk in the park.


Seminary graduates or clones?

When I was in university, I took a course about 17th Century Europe. I didn't do well on the first three essays. With each one, I was told that my analysis wasn't going in the right direction. Even though I was able to back up my thesis, it was the thesis itself she didn't like. I suspected that if I merely embraced her analysis, rather than developing a thought of my own, I'd get a better mark. Lo, and behold, I was right.

When one is in seminary, understanding the theological bias of the prof is pretty important. This was brought home to me this week. Our assignment is to interpret the seventy weeks of Daniel; in a few paragraphs. Yep, I'll get right on that. Our prof knows that students don't like this assignment. The difficulty of the passage is only made more complicated when one tries to find a commentary. The dating of Daniel is crucial to its interpretation. Whether one is a dispensationalist or not makes a difference. I know what my prof thinks about the dating of Daniel, so do I just go with a commentary that supports his view? It's a short assignment; I don't have time for three or four commentaries talking about the seventy weeks. Men have spent years on these issues, and I'm thinking I can get a handle on it in a few days?

Thinking about this matter raised (again) questions in my mind. To what extent do seminariees produce clones rather than graduates? How often do we students simply embrace what the prof is telling us without much thought? To what extent are we thinking through these things? Are we afraid to disagree with a prof because we are afraid of a bad mark? Do we hang on their every word because we feel so inadequate? Are we all afraid of asserting our views for fear of looking arrogant or prideful? These are questions I wrestle with. 

In the end, this brief assignment on Daniel's seventy weeks is not a life-altering matter. I find myself annoyed to have to delve into Daniel's seventy weeks when I want to get started on the three papers which are due next, and are worth 60% of the course mark. It would be so easy to just regurgitate what I know my prof will approve of in the name of finishing the assignment. But is that good for me in the long run?

Whether we're profeessional theologians or ordinary theologians, how we develop is not insignificant, and the process itself is valuable as we learn more of God. How much are we simply mirroring the people from whom we learn? Every theologian is a product of the ones from whom he or she has learned, but we're not there to become groupies. I definitely benefit from the expertise of my professors, but I'm not there to become a disciple of my prof; I'm there to continue to learn as a disciple of Christ. It's sometimes hard to know where the line between that is.


Too much theology?

Is there anything as too much theology? I didn't think so, but the past few weeks, I've been wondering. My seminary class has a lot of reading. In addition to learning the course material, I am also beginning my research for my hermeneutical papers. That means more reading. It means commentaries, and it means lots of Bible reading, because the first thing to address when writing a hermeneutical paper is the context. Between school and weekly planning for teaching Sunday school, I've found my interest in other thelogical books a little half-hearted. In May, I will be starting a course about how the New Testament uses Old Testament Scripture. I have a feeling I may continue to feel this way.

Perhaps it's because I'm getting older, and I don't juggle multiple books like I used to. I find that trying to juggle too many draws my focus away from the school work, and I want to be focused. On the upside, seminary has meant I'm reading other things. And I'm actually reading without a pencil in my hand, which I seldom do, but sometimes, it's good to do that. It's good to have a break from the theology. Sometimes, stepping away for a break is good to just process things and let them settle in my brain.

My husband and I both began reading The Last Kingdom series, which is about Alfred the Great. It's set in the 9th Century, and there's lots of battles. I never thought I'd like this kind of book, but I really do. I'm about to start the second volume, and my husband just started the third. There is eight in all, so we should keep busy with that.

I am about to finish a book called The Famine Plot, which is about the Irish Famine. The author, Tim Pat Coogan has written many books, and was a journalist. I've read two of his other books, one on Michael Collins and one on Eamon DeValera. Coogan's mother, Beatrice, wrote a novel set in the time of the famine, The Big Wind, and I picked that up recently.

In April, Dr. Michael Haykin is bringing Karen Swallow Prior to my school to speak about Hannah More. I decided to give in and see what all the fuss was about, so in preparation for her lecture, I want to read Fierce Convictions. Judging from those who liked it, I suspect I will, too.

I don't know if I'll get all of these finished before May, which is my goal. Once the deadlines for my papers get closer, I know I won't have as much time. As for all those other unread books, I'll just have to pencil them in for the summer.


A voice of reason

When I first became a Christian, and started perusing the television in search of Christian content (yes, I was that girl, and when my mother caught me watching Jimmy Swaggart, she told me to shut of the television), I heard my share of end times dialogue. I found the whole thing confusing and frightening, and didn't pay much attention to that stuff until much later, when I studied it in a group bible study. I was still confused and uncertain at the end, and I really balked at some of the application leaps that were made in the discussion time. I wish I'd had this at the time to help me. It's from Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, by Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard:

Interpreting Revelation in light of the events of its day should caution over zealous interpreters against looking for detailed correspondence between the events predicted and contemporary news items in the twenty-first (or any other) century. Many items familiar to first-century audiences contribute to the overall imagery without necessarily corresponding to any specific "endtimes" referent. Christian scholars generally agree that the writers of the popular endtimes paperbacks in the local Christian bookstore have missed the message! A perennially best-selling work of nonfiction, Christian or otherwise, in the United States has been Hal Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth, yet over and over again he violates fundamental hermeneutical principles. He assersts that in Rev. 9:7-11 John was describing armed helicopters and their tailgunners! Now to be sure, Lindsey draws some striking parallels between John's locusts and modern-day flying machines, but in doing so he ignores the meaning that would have occurred to John's original readers in favor of one that could never have been imagined until a few decades ago. This violates the most basic principle of hermeneutics: seek the meaning of the text . . . Lindsey and many others would avoid such errors by observing a basic rule of hermeneutics that interpreters are prone to abandon when studying Revelation: the text cannot mean something that would have been incomprehensible to its original audience.

The authors raise good points.


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.