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Entries in Seminary Notes (117)


A gospel of authentic brokenness

My school had a missions conference this week, and instead of our regular class, we attended an open seession in the chapel. The speaker is currently pastoring a church, but in the past he spent quite a bit of time in various locations in Africa. 

He talked a fair bit about the popularity of the prosperity gospel in poor African cultures. He made the comment that in some Nigerian wedding ceremonies, the vows between husband and wife aren't "for better or worse," but "for better or better," indicating a hope that things will only get better. The prosperity gospel is spreading rapidly in Africa. This led him to ponder the question about what our gospel message looks like to others.

Something which intrigued me was his comment about a "gospel of authentic brokenness." By this he meant that we focus regularly on our brokenness, and how authentic it is. The problem comes when we never get up from that brokenness. The bearer of that kind of message never sees any victory; it's all being broken and genuine. He didn't think that was an accurate presentation of the gospel.

The emphasis on brokenness is everywhere. In the past, I have read blogs which focus almost exclusively on personal brokenness; their struggles, humbling experiences; their frailty; confession of sin. A humble, broken spirit is a good thing, but when it's all the person ever writes about, I eventually lose interest. It's all lament and no praise. The gospel is good news, and while it is necessary to have a penitent heart, there must be a moment when we rise from the ashes, so to speak. I can't help but think of Psalm 102, which spends the first 11 verses relating despair, but then in verse 12, turns back to the Lord, "But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever." Lament is good. We need to be free to lament, but ultimately lament is about us, and we need to turn back to God. I think this "gospel of authentic brokenness" can be the kind that is focused more on me than on God.

It is not surprising that being authentic and open is valued. No one likes to think that she is the only one with struggles, and it is frustrating to feel like we have to pretend that life is always rosy when we all know that is not true. I find it hard relating to people who are never honest about their struggles. But I do understand the reluctance to share about each and every one. Some people are more private, and that's just fine. 

When it comes to the gospel message we share with others, though, we do have to move beyond brokenness, because brokennness isn't enough. There has to be a moment of repentance, and repentance is not merely feeling bad. It requires action. It requires change. It requires turning away. We can't do that if we're still flat on the floor in our brokenness. There comes a time when we have to reach out and receive the forgiveness Christ offers. The good news is that Christ came so we could be healed from that brokenness. We are new creatures in Christ, and praise God, we can live in his strength.


Jesus is not my husband

One of the things I'm really hoping to learn this semester is how to approach metaphors, illusions, and types in Scripture. One of the reasons is that I get increasingly uncomfortable when people take too far the picture of the Church as the Bride of Christ.

I've been gettiing ready to teach from Hosea on Sunday, and it's been quite an adventure. I wish I had taken my prof aside on Tuesday to ask for guidance. My immediate reaction to some of the suggestions I have read can be only described as discomfort. I'm just not sure it needs to be taken that way.

God asks Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman, Gomer. God asks him to marry her in full knowledge that she is not going to be faithful. Hosea will have to buy her back from her wicked life (3:2) and take her back into his home. This is a vivid picture of God's relationship with Israel: God continues to love his covenant people despite the fact that they are unfaithful to him. Hosea's relationship with Gomer is a picture of God's love for his covenant people. We take this story into our present through Christ, who continues to love his people despite our unfaithfulness. Sitting here on the other side of the cross, we can see how that picture in Hosea pointed forward and found fulfillment in Christ. 

Hosea isn't a book about finding the "right" husband. I don't see the value in asking a student to engage her thoughts about this book by asking her to write a list of what her qualities for a good husband are.  Why not focus on Gomer? Isn't that who we ought to identify with in this book? Why not focus on the sins of Israel and see ourselves? When we do that, God's love and mercy are so clear to us. Rather than focusing on Jesus as my husband, how about asking how much like Gomer I am, and then say, "Wow, God continues to pursue his people, me included, despite our unfaithfulness"?

Jesus is not my husband. Neil is my husband. I am part of the Church which is pictured in Scripture as a Bride. These images help us to understand what God is saying in his word. It's a vehicle used to make these written images understandable. Jesus is my Saviour. He is my Redeemer. He is my King. Of course my husband can't be those things because he's my husband. I know it's popular to make more out of the image of the Bride and Bridegroom, but I don't feel comfortable doing it.

Hopefully, as the semester goes on, and I learn more about principles of interpretation and look into how others interpret this, I will learn more. Perhaps one of my three hermeneutical papers will focus on some verses from Hosea.


School is like having a job

When we were homeschooling, though I was a stay-at-home mom, homeschooling was like having a job outside the home. I was home, but I wasn't doing homey things. By the time everyone was finished for the day and lunch was over, it was well into the afternoon. There were music lessons, soccer practice, and other activities. The domestic side of life was not always given the attention it needed. I found myself doing what many working women must do: saving all the housework and laundry for Saturday.

I find myself in a similar situation with seminary. Every day this week, I have told myself: "I'm going to wash the kitchen floor." Here we are on Friday, and it's not done. I have, however, studied to prepare my leseson for Sunday and finished my assigned reading for Tuesday's class. We do have clean clothes and we have eaten good meals this week, and my bathroom mirror is now clean. My dog has been walked every day, and I shovelled the driveway yesterday. But as for the rest, it's waiting for tomorrow.

When my husband is home, I like to be finished work. While he does bring his work home with him every night (it's the nature of the job), we do like to have time together, so I am using my alone time for study. I don't want to be reading when he's home unless he's busy himself. And even then, I find my mind fresher in the morning and afternoon hours.

I'm only taking one class and I don't have small children at home. One of my classmates has three small children and is expecting another. I don't know how she does it. Or perhaps I've forgotten how I managed during the year I was homeschooling and doing my undergraduate degree at the same time.

In September, I will be taking two courses. Time will be more limited. I will not be teaching the same Sunday school class, however. Though it was a difficult decision, I have decided to move from teaching my ladies class to joining my husband in the teen class. There, I will only have to teach every 4 or 5 weeks, much less work than teaching weekly. There simply isn't time. If I want to do well, I have to give something up. And I need to be able to focus on my school work.

The opportunity to attend seminary is not afforded to everyone. I feel blessed to be able to do it. I have a husband who is incredibly supportive, and that is a huge thing. If I'm going to do this, I want to do it right. No matter how few hours a student is taking, I think she must regard school with as much seriousness as a job. 

There are quite a few other things I don't have time for, and it's tempting to wish I could be doing this or that. But God has allowed me this thing I've wanted for a while. Anything worth doing well means a sacrifice. And I just need to look the other way when something wants to pull me away from it.


Letters from Seminary - Week 1

I decided that I would try to write weekly about things I'm learning in seminary. It's a good way for me to process some of the things I learn, and I know there are a couple of friends who are interested. I had my first class in hermeneutics yesterday. Winter decided to make its long awaited arrived on Monday night, and I found myself in the car at 6:30 a.m. and driving in some nasty snow squalls. Hopefully, next week I won't have such a stressful drive in.

My professor is a very knowledgeable and energetic man. Having a prof who is enthusiastic about the Bible and teaching is a treat, and it is obvious that my prof loves God's word and loves to see others love it, too. His enthusiasm overflowed as he talked. He's been teaching almost 40 years, and he has a lot of wisdom to impart. He's one of those bunny-trail profs where some of the most excellent nuggets come from the bunny trails. He shared a very funny anecdote about his own seminary career when he learned the names of the apostles from a Sunday school pencil. It's nice to see he's human. He spoke very well of his family. His comments about his wife and the joy of having grandchildren were tender and sweet. He also had only good things to say about the school, and that speaks well of him.

I was told by other students that he expects excellence, and I could tell that was true. He spent quite a bit of time laying out the expectations for our hermeneutical papers. With regard to these, he said, "These should be works of art" and "A is always reserved for going above and beyond." After spending time talking about proper citation, he commented about our work: ". . . in your mind, everything you write should be considered for publication." That was probably one of the scarier moments. I thought for a moment that perhaps I had made a terrible mistake in attending seminary, and should pack it in right then. Certainly something I write is not going to make it into JETS or find itself on the desk of a publisher! After my momentary panic, I realized if I wanted to be able to hear those excellent stories, I was going to have to stick it out and just do the best I can.

By far my favourite comment of the morning was something he began with and that was his reminder that every time we open up the Bible we come face to face with God. He was very adamant that studying the Bible is not an academic pursuit; it's done for a purpose. We can only know God by studying this book.

He ended the class with a comment that the Bible is a dangerous book. By that, he meant that bad interpretation can lead to some disastrous results. He is clearly passionate about being careful with our interpretation. He reminded us that we needed to have "epistemological humility" as we interpret ourselves and respond to the interpretations of others. 

All in all, it was a good first class, and I left energized and determined to do the best I can. I had some snow squalls on the way home, but navigating them in the daylight was much easier. God is good.

If you are interested, my prof recently wrote a very good article at the seminary's blog. I read this when it first came out, and it was subsequently picked up by Tim Challies.


School Days

I'm excited to begin my hermeneutics class on January 12th. I am already working my way through the first reading assignment in the class text Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, by Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard. I find myself wanting to write quotes in my commonplace book at every turn. So far, I'm nodding a lot in agreement. This was my favourite passage from my weekend reading:

Hermeneutics is essential for a valid interpretation of the Bible. Instead of piously insisting that we will simply allow God to speak to us from his Word, we contend that to insure we hear God's voice rather than our culture's voice or our own biases we need to interpret the Scriptures in a systematic and careful fashion. We need to practice proper hermeneutics.

It has long been one of my pet peeves when I hear someone say he/she is going to just let God speak and not worry about theology. That sentiment is wrong on so many levels. 

In addition to this required text, my professor included a list of recommended texts. The ones with an asterisk are ones that I have.

*Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hayes. (My son gave this to me.)

*How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart. (Read this a few years ago, and really liked it.)

*An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, Walter C. Kaiser and Moises Silva. (I purchased this one after I got the syllabus. It's the one I'm most looking forward to diving into.)

The Hermeneutical Spiral, Grant Osborne. (I was tempted with this one. I have had it on my wishlist for a while.)

*Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible, Leland Ryken. (Leland Ryken on the literary elements of the Bible? Who could say no?)

Cracking Old Testament Codes: A Guide to Interpreting the Literary Genres of the Old Testament, Brent D. Sandy and Ronald L. Geise

*Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis, William J. Webb. (Also bought this for the course. The title intrigued me. The author is apparently a former prof at my school.)

Basic Bible InterpretationRoy B. Zuck.

Another book I have on my shelf, which I doubt I'll have time to look into is Anthony Thiselton's New Horizons in Hermeneuetics. I first heard about Thiselton from Kevn Vanhoozer's Is There a Meaning in This Text? and last year, I planned to read it, but it didn't happen. My textbook has already foot noted Thiselton's book, so I'm glad I have it.

There is so much I would like to read, and I know I will never accomplish that list in my head. I don't even know how much of these recommended resources I will spend time in. I have three hermeutical papers due in April, and each one must use at least 5 different sources. Each paper has to be 5-7 pages single spaced. I have a feeling I'll be spending time in the library.

If I let myself think too much about this class, I get a feeling of panic that I'm not going to be able to manage it. So, I just won't think too hard about how challenging this seems, and I'll focus on the material instead.