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Entries in Seminary Notes (146)


What do women lose in seminary?

When I first began to contemplate seminary, a well-meaning women suggested to me that it would be dangerous for me to put myself under the authority of professors rather than my husband. I did not point out to her that I basically did that every Sunday when my pastor preached. But I understood her concern. I dismissed them, but I understood them, and I knew she only raised the question because she cared about me.

I was having a conversation with a friend about some of the things I was learning, and it really troubled her that in one of my classes, we discussed the ending of Mark. To her, the fact that it is in her New King James Bible means it is meant to be there. It also bothered her a great deal to know that professors I have don't believe in the rapture. It was shocking to her that an evangelical could possibly not believe it. I didn't have the heart to tell her that in the last year, I have had conversations with at least four young men (under 35) who have put aside their dispensational roots and begun to ask questions.

I have had at least one older woman tell me that I don't need to know Greek and Hebrew, and that by discussing things too deeply, I could lose my faith. I need a "simple faith."

There is something that I have lost since beginning seminary, and it isn't my faith. I am more sure of my need for Christ than ever. I am more certain that he is the author of my salvation; that I am powerless on my own. I am more amazed than ever about what it really means to believe in a God who created me and this world. But I have lost one thing: my fear of asking questions.

When I moved here to southern Ontario in 1996, I wanted very desperately to fit in; to have a community of support. I had left my family behind and put myself in a place where I had to start over again, building relationships. There was a particular view of womanhood in my church. The thought of a woman getting up on the platform to make an announcement was an anathema, never mind a woman song leader. When I became a Bible study leader with Precept Ministries, my pastor asked me if I was aware that Kay Arthur taught men, and did I want to put myself there?

Homeschooling, Growing Kids God's Way, courtship; all of it. I accepted it without question. And a lot of it blew up in my face when my children began to question what I had been too afraid to ask. I was more concerned about fitting in. And of course, all these years, I have never felt like I fit in unless I was conforming to whatever group I had aligned myself with. It even happened when I began blogging.

I'm tired of working to fit in with other people. When I think back to the woman I was in 1996, I realize I have re-made myself into something that isn't entirely me. While I have grown and matured (thankfully), and put aside some things which needed to be discarded, I had begun to fear asking questions, and I was careful where I asked them. 

It is fear that keeps us from asking questions. We fear that we are wrong in our core belief systems. We are afraid that our faith isn't strong enough. We are afraid to seem vulnerable or dependent. But the reality is that we are dependent. We are weak. We are limited.

This past semester, I had a class in the Pentateuch. The prof is wonderful. He is sharp, articulate, passionate, encouraging, and a very conservative complementarian. I asked him a question about the meaning of the words in Genesis 3:16, that verse that supposedly tells me I want to control my husband. There was a bit of awkwardness at first, but he answered it, and we moved on. I drove home agonizing over even asking it. He was going to think I was crazy or apostate. But it was okay in the end. Having the space to ask questions is a huge relief.

So, no seminary won't make me lose my faith. If I can lose it, did I ever have it? When people ask me that question, do they know what they mean? Maybe they should ask themselves.


The seminarian's prayer

I worked for a long time on my Apologetics paper. When I found out my mark, I was disappointed. It was a good mark, but not what I had hoped. And it's my own fault. I know I have been distracted. One of my goals for this semester was to be less distracted, especially by social media and blogs. Every time I verbalize a goal, something comes along to interfere. This is why I don't make New Year's resolutions. As soon as I make it "official," something happens to distract me.

I look forward to my professor's comments on my paper. I handed another in yesterday, and I have decided that if I don't get what I hope, it will be my own fault, because even as I was immersed with that topic, I was distracted.

I was guilty of letting people online "live in my head rent-free" as my husband likes to say.

Part of being a mother is being able to focus on multiple concerns: the schedules of children, ourselves, our jobs, or whatever. But as the truth ultimately bears out, no one is really great at multi-tasking. Something always gets less attention than something else.

The past week or so, I have allowed myself to be discouraged by social media. I have allowed myself to be drawn into discussion, which makes me churn. I can only attribute this to my own pride; wanting to get my .02 cents in there. When will I learn?

When we keep company with the censorious and critical, it eats away at our creative energy. At least, it does for me. Beginning today with Kingdom Through Covenant, I'm starting research for a paper on Genesis 15. Lord, please keep me from being sucked in to anything that would distract me, discourage me, or leech away at my creative energy.

I guess you could call that the seminarian's prayer.


The difference between a great and an average writer

I'm working on a review of the book Who Shall Ascend to the Mountain of the Lord? by Michael Morales. It is, quite simply, one of the most powerful books I have read as a Christian. Yes, it is a biblical theology of Leviticus, and to many that may seem dry and boring, but this has been one of the most fantastic reads of the past couple of years.

As I review the book, summarizing the content prior to critiquing it, I'm drawn again and again to the reality that the purpose for Israel, and for Christians, is to be drawn into the presence of God. The Fall put Adam and Eve into exile; Cain was exiled; Babel caused exile; the flood caused exile; Israel was in exile in Egypt. What the exodus did was begin the process of taking Israel back toward the presence of God. The sacrificial system established that way to God's presence. The burning of sacrifice transformed flesh into a pleasing aroma, ascending to God. Today, as Christians, we are also being brought back into the presence of God, but now through the perfect sacrifice; the final sacrifice.

These are truths that are so rich and so complex that they astound me. The beauty of this process, established in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New is completely mind-blowing. This is earth-shattering truth. It's truth meant to change me.

Most women I have mentioned this book to have wrinkled their noses at the subject matter. The ones who haven't are not in the majority. It is perceived as too difficult. Any woman who graduated from high school would have the ability to read this book. No, it might not be as easy as other topics, but it is accessible.

There is a way to write about complex matter in a way that is accessible. This is what I think separates the really good writers from the ones who are average. I have likely mentioned this before, but when I was in high school, I could not understand why my teacher subjected us to Northrop Frye: boring, I thought. I survived having to write an essay on his The Educated Imagination, but it wasn't until I read it again a few years ago that I realized how brilliant a writer Frye was. The really brilliant writer knows how to distill complex matter into something even a silly high school student could understand.

Being able to write about theology necessiates a bit of learning; ideally, a lot of learning. Learning to write well takes practice and sometimes, it takes actually learning about how to write. I have no patience for the writers who say that learning the mechanics of grammar and usage is a wasted time. 

I keep thinking there must be a way to better teach women how to study and interpret Scripture, and how to communicate with clarity, eliminating that awful tendency to dumb things down or dress it up in a "girl talk" kind of tone. Why are there two poles? The fluffly "pink" kind of writing, and writing that the female author must apologize for because other women find it unaccessible? I'm thankful for the women I blog with at Out of the Ordinary. They know how to write about complex matters in an accessible manner.

As I consider my summer reading plans, I'm really hoping to continue to learn more about hermeneutics and also about how people learn in general. I am tired of hearing that women learn and communicate differently in Bible study simply because the mysterious "they" say so. I'd like to find some actual studies and resources. 

In the meantime, I really need to get this book review done. A more condensed review of the book will likely appear at Out of the Ordinary soon.


Learning to dream

I wish I was a fearless woman. I am not. I am determined, but I am not fearless. In fact, fear is my worst enemy. It has stopped me from doing what I wanted to do, or what I felt I should do, time and time again. It was often fear of not fitting in that drove many of my decisions raising my children. It was fear of failure that kept me from doing a lot of things I wanted to do. It was fear that kept me from dreaming about doing things.

On Friday, I had to drive to the school campus to return some library books. The weather had been such that I didn't feel like making the hour long drive in. But on Friday, after submitting my apologetics paper, I took the day to run errands, and I went to the campus. While on my way out, I met my advisor, who was making his way into the building. He was on sabbatical last year, and this is the first time I had spoken to him in a while. We chatted a little bit, and he asked if I had an idea of how much longer I have until I am finished. I told him I didn't know what I'd do when I did graduate, and he said, "Well, then you get your PhD."

This is not the first time that one of the profs has said something like this. When I first began thinking of transitioning from an MTS to the MDiv, I spoke to another of the profs, and he was sharing with me the benefits of both degrees. He reminded me, "Now, if you want to do a PhD, you should get an MDiv." 

Both of these gentlemen know me as a student, so they know what I am able to do. They also know that I love to study, so their mentioning a doctoral degree is not entirely surprising. But it is still an encouragement to me. In some cases, the response to pondering of post-graduate life could be this: "Well, you can start a women's ministry group or a bible study for young mothers." 

Now, I have done both of those things already, and I would consider doing them again, but in the last year or so, my restlessness in study has made my thoughts go in other directions. In short, I have most definitely been looking at PhD programs. My options are limited by the fact of geography and the fact that I don't speak German or French, something which is helpful for a research degree.

Over the weekend, I looked at a number of different graduate programs, and thought about what it is that draws my attention. I ended up looking at research programs and counselling programs both. I had a chat with my daughter and son, who both know graduate studies and programs well, and was directed to the possibility of a graduate degree in sociology and counselling. 

I have no idea what awaits me. But it's nice to know that along with Greek and Hermeneutics, seminary is teaching me to dream.


No choice can be a good thing

I got an email this past week from my school announcing that online registration was open for the spring and fall semesters. I excitedly signed in to see if the class I'm hoping to take, taught by the prof I hope will teach it, was being offered. It was. In September, I will be starting my Hebrew studies, and I'm also going to take the Theology of Church and Ministry. I'd love to take a third, but I'm hearing from others that the vocabulary in Hebrew is cumbersome even if the grammar is not, so I think I need to be careful in how overloaded I get. This semester has been heavy with reading. I spent the weekend trying to finish Who Shall Ascend to the Mountain of the Lord? I still have about about eighty pages to go, which I plan to complete today. The ease of reading a 300 page book in a few days is contingent upon the subject matter and difficulty: this one was not overwhelming, but it's not like reading puffy fiction.

As I reviewed my registration options, I had a chance to see what courses I still have to take to finish my MDiv. I have no electives remaining. The rest of my course load is required course material. I noticed that Dr. Haykin is offering a course on Canadian Evangelicalism. I'd like to take it, but I don't need it. I could audit it, but it's still time reading. I have to finish my required courses.

When we're in high school, we grumble because we have required courses. We may grumble furthr in university because our degree program has expectations. Isn't part of being a grown up making our own choices about such things? For years, in my personal studies, I've been able to read whatever I want; to follow that rabbit trail style of reading which is so enjoyable. But there is merit in being told what is good for me.

Who Whall Ascend to the Mountain of the Lord is a biblical theology on Leviticus. I may not have chosen to read this book. I must confess that in my own studies, I gravitate toward New Testament books, and in the back of my mind, as I contemplate taking Hebrew, I fear the loss of my Greek and I feel sad that I won't be continuing to learn more about Koine Greek. But spending time in the Old Testament this semester has been very enjoyable. Reading about Leviticus has opened my eyes to the beauty of the covenant with God. It has drawn my gaze forward again and again to the New Testament and the new covenant. I'm thankful that I have been told to read this book; even as I contemplate writing a review (which I thought only had to be 9-10 pages, but upon checking the syllabus needs to be 10-12 pages).

Choice is great. It's wonderful to be able to research a topic we can immerse ourselves in. But I know there are reasons for required courses, and I'm looking forward to what other little gems I'm goiong to discover along the way.