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Entries in Seminary Notes (83)

Friday
Mar032017

Do theology with humility

I don't remember exactly where, but within the tome that is my Systematic Theology textbook (albeit, an excellent tome!), a comment is made about doing theology with humility. One of the greatest lessons I have learned this past year is the need to hold knowledge with humility.

When one is in seminary, learning new things, it is often difficult to withhold one's excitement. It's a great experience to have frequent epiphanies as we learn. Why did I not see that? is a frequent question. Another question, as we discuss questionable doctrine is "how could I have believed that?" 

It's comforting to know that our understanding of doctrine and theology is a process. Sometimes, you have to believe something questionable, and see the consequences in all their misery, before you can find the patience to sit and work through things. Sometimes, when we are young Christians, we are so eager to learn that we grab on to something and hold it fiercely without asking ourselves why.

My theology professor has shared a few stories about his own developing theology as he was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. The way he put it to me recently, he is a graduate of DTS, but he's not a "Dallas man." My hermeneutics professor, last year, shared many stories about his gradual change in various doctrines as he learned more. Both men hold their views with humility. There was no, "Man, how could I ever have believed that?" There was just gratitude for continuing to learn.

My theology prof is pretty brilliant. He thinks well on his feet. When someone in the class asks a question that leaves me wondering what they are actually asking, he seems to have figured it out right away. But there is no whiff of superiority from him. I can learn from someone like that. I don't suppose that I will ever have the level of knowledge that he does, but I don't get a feeling of inferiority being around him. The kind of people I can't learn from are those who present themselves as having attained some level of proficiency that makes them a little cut above others.

I have no idea where my seminary education will take me other than I plan to be teaching in my local church as long as they will have me. I want to be a teacher who holds her knowledge with humility. I know for sure that if older women want to minister effectively to younger women, coming across as if we know it all is not the best way to approach things. Showing others that we are still growing in our faith is a more excellent way.

Instead of thinking "how on earth could I have ever believed that?" I think a better response is, "I'm so thankful God continues to show me truth."

Saturday
Feb252017

Studious ones, beware!

I have cold. One of those knock-down-drag-out-get-the-license-number-of-the-truck-who-hit-me kind of cold. It's been a while since I was sick; probably more than two years. Thankfully, my son arrived home last weekend to remedy that fine record. It has slowed me down. Thankfully, I was able to finish this week's theology paper, and Lord willing I will finish my ethics case study for submission by Sunday at midnight. Next week is Reading Week, so I am free to be sick.

Yesterday was a do nothing day. Other than supervise the puppy, who decided it was fun to slip through the gap in the chain link fence and run into the neighbour's yard, I lay on the couch most of the day. I'm reading through the book of Romans, and it was my intent to read a number of translations. After reading in the ESV and the NSRV, I'm on to the NASB. I want to read in the NET bible next. It was nice to read in large chunks despite my runny nose and increasing pile of Kleenex on the coffee table, although it did prove to be too tempting to puppy to ignore. More running. Good news, after four weeks since my ankle fracture, I can run. A little. And inelegantly.

I saw someone re-tweet something recently. I can't remember where, but it was to the effect that studying theology all day long is never enough because God is great. I agree with that, but I have discovered (a fact about which I was cautioned as a new seminary student) that studying theology, while giving me joy, can easily lead to apathy toward personal devotions. Many years ago, when I began homeschooling, I made it my habit to rise early and read the Bible and pray. At that time, early morning offered the best opportunity for peace and quiet. Now that my chicks have flown the coop, I don't have that difficulty, and there are mornings when I have a lot of reading to do, or am preparing a paper, and it's easy to skip my Bible reading and prayer because I can put it off until later. And there are days when I forget because I've put it off.

It's easy to comfort myself that after, all, I am studying theology. Isn't that the same as Bible reading and prayer? Not really. I gain a great deal of spiritual insight from my theology class. Some of the most deep spiritual lessons have come my way through our textbook. But to sit before God, ready to communicate with him, to go before the throne of grace to pray and offer praise, is not what I'm doing when I'm studying.

As I study the relevant Scripture passages for this current unit on justification, the Holy Spirit can speak to me, and I can utter a praise to God as I see what I've been given, but a purposed time out for communion with God is more, and ought to be sought with priority. I've found myself more and more feeling pressed in the early mornings to get homework done so I can get on to other things. I need to resist that. 

The study of theology has to be for more than giving one the tools to object to someone else. It has to be more than equipping someone to support her pre-suppositions. It should be an extension of our relationship with Christ. It should fortify it, strengthen it. It should make us want to commune with him more. Most of us have the time. Lately, I have found myself being sucked into the vortex of online drama. Yesterday morning, I happened to catch a whiff of a furor over an article that a certain famous Christian wrote, and I realized afterward that I'd wasted about thirty minutes on it. Thankfully, I had no pressing plans, but that cannot continue. I would have been better off sleeping.

The study is not the end. It is merely the vehicle for knowledge to come, and with knowledge comes understanding, and with understanding, gratitude and praise. That should be the goal whether we're self-educating or attending seminary.

Friday
Feb242017

Should we repent daily?

This week, in my theology class, we studied conversion. We discussed the essential elements of conversion, repentance and faith. The principle of repentance is everywhere in Scripture. The idea that we must turn from our sin and turn to God shows that active repentance is not just one direction. We turn away from something toward something. When Jesus came with his call of "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 4:17), he meant to turn away from sin and turn to God. Without repentance there is no conversion.

What does it look like for someone to turn toward a life in Christ as opposed to living a life apart from him? At times, I wonder if I live like I've repented. I have been wondering about the reality of a daily repenting. We sin daily, should we not repent daily? Yes, we have full forgiveness in Christ, but how often do we presume upon that forgiveness? How easy it to let little things creep in? Apathy, bitterness, selfishness, the fascination with the world.

In conjunction with this week's study, we also looked at union with Christ. Our union comes through the Holy Spirit. Our spiritual vitality comes from the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is present with us through the Spirit. Do I reflect that? I often wonder if I don't look a lot like everyone else out there. And I don't mean to suggest that I am somehow special, but I do think that being a Christian should mean I do not follow the ways of the world. I think that is getting harder and harder to achieve. Attempts to live distinctly from the world are often difficult to put into practice, because it can become legalism quite quickly. We may feel apprehensive to make choices that distinguish from the world, because inevitably someone will accuse us of legalism. We may even use the fear of legalism as an excuse to do something that is ultimately questionable. 

Every now and then, the blurry line between the world and the church discourages me. And I wonder how I contribute to that. How do I communicate that I have repented of this world and turned toward God? And we must turn from the world. As entertaining and enticing as it can be, it is not the place for us. If we are one with Christ, we ought to feel alien to it. That is a hard thing to understand and make sense of. But I think it's a worthwhile matter to consider. And I think part of it is a daily decision to place our allegiance to the kingdom of God and not the world.

Wednesday
Feb222017

The Legacy of Good Teachers

If you were to ask me what my preferred method of education is, I would likely say that if you can homeschool, do it; especially the Kindergarten to 8th grade years. But at the same time, I have to say that I am so thankful for the teachers I had who left me with enduring lessons. If you can leave high school with the memory of one or two teachers who left their mark, I say that is a good thing. As a 52 year old student, I am thankful for lessons given to me by teachers I have had.

First, my high school chemistry teacher, Mr. Lunn. I didn't learn a whole lot of chemistry from him (not his fault), and he was often too technical for a bunch of 10th graders. But his suggestion of study methods, borne out of his own university years, was one of the best I received. Mr. Lunn shared with us how in university, he would buy spiral bound notebooks and just write and write his notes until the material was imbedded into his brain. I followed that advice, and today, even with many of the technical ways of note-taking, I still rely on notebooks. I was up early this morning, preparing to write a commentary on the difference between the Protestant view of justification and what is in the Council of Trent (in two double-spaced pages, no less), and I did a lot of writing by hand, and intend to do more. It has always been a useful study method. Thank you, Mr. Lunn.

Second, my high school history teacher, Mr. O'Hearne. One of the best I had. A kind man, and a wonderful teacher of Canadian history. Mr. O'Hearne taught me the principle of historical significance. For someone who became a history major, this was valuable advice. His question was always, "Why is it important?" He taught me about looking at the present reflectively: how did we get here? what forces in the past directed us? Mr. O'Hearne was also sensitive. That year I had him was a hard year, my last year of high school. I had just moved to that school from across the country. He told me it was a huge thing to have happened, and I should not be so hard on myself when I had struggles. Thank you, Mr. O'Hearne.

Third, Miss Dockerty, my 10th grade math teacher. She taught me the value of getting help. Me and math? Not good friends. Not since 3rd grade. She arranged for me to have a tutor, and because of that I did not fail math that year. We often try to muddle through on our own, and it takes a sympathetic teacher to reach out and help. I was resistent at first, mostly because of my pride. She persisted in suggesting help. Thank you, Miss Dockerty.

Fourth, Professor Westhues, my first year sociology professor. He taught me what true learning is. He always said if we can see where someone else is coming from, and how they got to their conclusion, while disagreeing, and maintaining our own conclusions, we have experienced true learning. As a new Christian in a class where one of the topics was "The Sociology of Jesus," I struggled with the content from a faith perspective, but I understood why he had arrived at his conclusions. I'm finding his encouragement about that matter very helpful as I study theology. Thank you, Dr. Westhues.

Good teachers, whether they are your parents or someone else, leave marks on students, even when they don't realize it. And one of the greatest gifts a student can receive is a teacher who first of all loves her subject matter, and second of all, loves to learn. I know that to be true about those four teachers whose memory stays with me. I am positive that my current prof, Dr. Fowler, will be among that list some day.

Friday
Feb172017

The blessing of an unchurched home

My husband and I had two very different experiences growing up. He was a from-the-cradle church kid. Church twice on Sunday; prayer meeting on Wednesday; youth club on another night. Vacation Bible School, church camp, going to Christian concerts; he was saturated in Christian culture. Not so for me.

I love my parents, and they were the exact parents God wanted me to have to be who I am today, but Jesus Christ was mostly a curse word in my home. There was absolutely no spiritual influence. No prayer before meals; no church on Christmas or Easter; no Bible stories. The only evidence of Christianity in our home was an unread Bible and a crude little manger scene taken out at Christmas. The first time I heard the creation story was in my Kindergarten classroom, and after that, over the years, I longed to know who God was. I had my times of going to Sunday school with a friend, being taken to Pioneer Girls with a friend, and being given a Bible by the Gideons in 5th grade. By the time I was 14, I felt frustration that I knew so little. There was no one to help, and I was left to my own devices and a public library. If you think reading a systematic theology is hard when you're a Christian, try reading a Catholic one (I was baptized as a Catholic, so that's the route I took) when you're 14 years old and you have no idea what you're reading. Fourteen was not a good year for me, but God meant it for good.

One of the struggles I have often had on the occasions when I have taught young people is relating to kids who grew up in the church. And sometimes, that goes for my own kids. I just cannot wrap my head around why someone would not want to take the heritage of faith being offered to them. I have confronted many apathetic teens for whom the gospel has become a drag, and I can't relate. And it's not just teens who are like that. Many adults who grew up in the church are similarly lukewarm. Maybe it's because I'm an all or nothing kind of person, but I can't understand why when we're given this amazing grace, this unity through Christ with the God of the Universe, why some don't seek it eagerly. 

As I continue in seminary, I am learning so much, and seeing so much more to learn. Not everyone needs or should go to seminary. But the drive to know God better doesn't cost a thing, and it's easily satisfied these days: cheap books, free resources, and freedom to worship without fear. Yes, there are changes in negative ways with regard to toleration for Christians, but we're nowhere near the persecution for our faith stage in North America. There is disinterest in the things of God even among Christians. I've heard Christians talk more about politics than they ever do about God. 

When we are denied something, it becomes more precious. I don't look back on my life in an unchurched home as something that set me back or crippled me in anyway. It made me appreciate teaching when it was given to me. I continue to appreciate it. My school is not famous. It's no Westminster Theological Seminary or Southern Baptist Seminary. My prof isn't famous, but he's a great teacher, and a godly man. I'm so thankful for him showing up every week to teach. And I'm thankful for the other profs and for the president of our school who care that the school continues to do what it does.

It is a wonderful thing to have been raised in a godly home. But that on its own is no guarantee for a godly life. Who would have thought that I would someday end up as a 52 year old seminary student? I'm thankful for those years when I had to look hard. I'm thankful it was not all handed to me. It made me appreciate the opportunities I was given.