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Entries in Seminary Notes (76)


Biblical ethics demands good hermeneutics

On Saturday, I had a day long class in Moral Theolgy. One of the things we discussed was the use of biblical imperatives in making ethical decisions. Our prof read a variety of biblical imperative and asked us to, without giving it a lot of thought, raise our hands if we felt the bibilical imperative was one to be maintained universally. Here are some on that list:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deut. 6:5).

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses (I Tim. 5:23)

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should also wash one another's feet (John 13:14).

Women should remain silent in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34).

Some of them were very straightford, such as the first one. Others, like the verse in I Corthinthians require a little more context. As we discussed this matter further, many of the lessons I learned in hermeneutics last year came back to me. I was thankful that I'd already taken hermeneutics. I think anyone attending a seminary class ought to begin with hermeneutics. If the basis for our ethics and our doctrine is the Word of God, that we understand hermeneutical principles is crucial.

Hermeneutics is not the same as Bible study. Certainly, attending a Bible study is a good thing. Buying a Bible study book is a good thing. But sitting down and learning principles of interpretation is something else. If I'm going to buy someone's Bible study book, I want the writer to have at least pondered those issues at length. No, not everyone can go to seminary (which is why I would love to see churches offering hermeneutics classes for its congregants) but books are easily accesesible and are not expensive. 

I've already written about my favourite Bible study resources. I will say again here that my favourite introductory book is Journey into God's Word. Yes, it is written by a man, but I do not believe women must learn from women. If they can, that is great. However, I've yet to find a book written by a woman that provides what Journey into God's Word does. This notion that I can only buy books written by women because only women can "understand" my particular needs is, in my opinon, misguided, and possibly self-indulgent. I know a lot of women want to read books by women whom they think they could be friends with in real life. They want some kind of personal connection. I just want the knowledge the author can impart, whether she is a woman or not. 

Every day, we make ethical decisions. As Christians, we want to appeal to biblical imperatives. If we don't know how to interpret those imperatives, we will have bad moral theology. It really does come back to the Bible. If this is our standard, we ought to know it, and know it well. And we are not in a position where that is a difficult thing.


Bring in the reinforcements

Yesterday was the final exam in my theology class. It was an eventful morning. The day dawned cold and windy. We had significant windchills and some blowing snow. My older son was to drive me to school (cast is off, but it will be a while before I can drive) and bring me home. About ten minutes into our ride, his windshield wipers stopped working. This is a bad situation when there is blowing snow and salted roads. We pulled over to the shoulder, and with the wind whipping around him, he looked at the problem. End result: we called my other son who quite providentially was also home for a quick visit. He arrived with my car and was able to take me to school while other son turned around and went to the shop to have the car looked at.

About another ten minutes into this leg of the trip, traffic slowed down drastically; something not typical of this road. After waiting 45 minutes and traveling little more than a kilometer, we saw the emergency vehicles bring two very damaged cars. I'm thankful we weren't the ones in the accident. 

Thank goodness for cell phones. I emailed my prof and told him I would be late, and he was good with that. The exam ran from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., and I arrived in the room at 10:00, with only three of the other students remaining. I was thankful to have arrived, limping along as I was. And now, I have a little break.

I was thinking about what I've learned this past semester, and I think what I've learned is not really anything entirely new. Sure, there are little factoids that I've learned here and there, but I'm familiar with the various doctrines we studied, because I have been reading theology for a while now. What has stood out to me the most is the things which have been re-inforced.

First, presuppositions. I knew going into this semester that pre-suppositions are important to consider and understand. I was reminded again about this as we read different views on doctrinal matters. Many times, I saw clearly that my understanding was more a function of my pre-suppositions than it was from anything studied. That is not surprising. We are all growing, and there are many things we believe because we have been told, and not because we've thought about it.

Second, Scripture. If people don't believe the same things about Scripture, the chance of consensus on anything is pretty unlikely. What we believe about what Scripture is determines how we approach all of the other doctrines. It seems to me that we are still battling it out with regard to Scripture, and as long as we differ on its nature, debate will go on.

Third, intellectual humility. I have been fortunate enough to have had a prof this semester who is very intellectually humble. He is not wishy washy in what he believes, but he is a willing listener, and gracious in discussion. He has been teaching for a long time, and he knows a whole lot more than his students, but he does not hold his knowledge with pride or arrogance. I've always felt like learning should make us feel grateful, and I've been grateful this semester.

I'm looking forward to next semester already. My texboooks for Moral Theology are on their way, and I'll be taking the second half of the theology course. Hopefully, I'll have less eventual trips to school.


Train Up Female Seminary Professors

My son graduated from the institution where I am currently attending seminary. He received his Bachelor of Church Music from Heritage. He still has friends at the school, and some of them are young ladies who have an interest in seminary education, too. I am hopeful that more young women are taking time for theological education. Heaven knows they may or may not receive it in their local churches beyond what it takes to run a successful pot luck. I am fortunate that my church does indeed promote the study of Scripture for the women of the congregation, but I would also say that I have been met with various levels of surprise right down to confusion as to why on earth I might need (or want) a seminary education.

Last week, we had a lunch following chapel for the seminary students. We have one every Thursday, usually made up of a simple but tasty fare of soup, crackers, and fresh rolls. Last week, there was a Christmas theme with hot turkey sandwiches and yummy salads. It was a really nice end to the day, and I sat a table with other women, one whom who is the director of the Women in Ministry program. She is one of a very short list of female professors at the seminary level. This past semester, Carolyn Weber was a guest teacher. We do have a female counselor at the school, but it is a small school, and a small faculty means it's less likely that a woman will be a professor.

I have watched the young men in my classes look to the faculty for mentoring and guidance. That is what is meant to happen. The men in our faculty are not just academics. They have the goal of guiding and shepherding the young men in their future pursuits. Some have been in pastoral roles themselves. Last Thursday, Dr. Baxter gave a fantastic message about the Incarnation. That man is a preacher. I can see why young men who desire to minister look to these men for guidance. They have experience and knowledge.

I am hopeful that there will be more women to guide and shepherd female seminary students. We need to be encouraged not just in how we conduct ourselves as women or be given advice on how to minister to women. We need encouragement in our academic pursuits, too. Is it assumed that every women who goes to seminary will simply return to her church to teach women? Perhaps she will have a different role. Perhaps she will go into writing and publishing. Perhaps she will go on to get a doctorate. My daughter is currently in her fifth year of a PhD; it is a marathon, and it can get tiresome and tedious. She has female professors and colleagues who can encourage her. Our co-ordinator of women's ministry is very encouraging, and I enjoyed sitting with her last Thursday. She is incredibly supportive. But she is doing a doctorate herself, and she is only one woman.

I hope that some of the young women who are now beginning seminary will have support in their goals. I have noticed that if a young woman is doing higher education in nursing or counseling, there is lots of support because she is seen as doing something "practical." And yet, there are women who desire to think deeply. If she's not seen as having something tangible to show for her years at school, the support isn't quite as automatic. I'm fortunate in that my husband, my family, and my closest friends are very supportive. I don't know if that's the case for every young lady, but for the ones that I know, they certainly have my support and prayers.


Exam Review: Beware of contemporary theologies

My final exam in theological foundations is on Thursday. I am reviewing the 690 pages of text reading as well as the 50 pages of lecture outlines. Thankfully, Dr. Fowler prepared us well by having a weekly quiz, so that I'm not drawing a complete blank as I go back.

One of the chapters we looked at discussed the methodology of theology. Erickson recounted some of the changes in contemporary theology. For example, there are no more theolgical "giants" like there once were. We don't have a lot of Augustines, Aquinases, or Calvins these days. The explosion of information has narrowed the focus of theology so that most theologians are "experts" in one particular area rather than being conversant in a larger range of study.

Erickson gave some warnings about aligning ourselves too closely with contemporary theologies. He pointed out that the love of popularity in other areas has infiltrated theological circles so that we have scholars drawing large audiences before there is any longevity in their teaching. He said:

. . . beware of too close an identification with any current mood in culture. The rapid changes in theologies are but a reflectioon of the rapid changes in culture in general. In times of such rapid changes, it is probably wise not to attempt too close a fit between theology and the world in which it is expressed . . . it is perhaps prudent at the present time to take a step back toward the enduring form of Christian truth, and away from an ultracontemporary statement of it.

. . . the result of unreserved commitment to another person's system of thought is that one becomes a disciple in the worse sense of that term, merely repeating what has been learned from the master. Creative and independent thinking ceases.

I was particularly struck by that second sentiment. I remember hearing D.A. Carson at a conference say that latching on to one or two teachers is a bad thing, but once one has looked at many, he is on the road to learning. We do like our little groups, and I can see how the rise of what is known as "tribalism" in Christian circles has become an issue. I think it's alive and well. The desire for independence in thinking isn't promoted as much.

Onward and upward. I'm hoping to get a lot covered today.


When is the last time you heard a sermon on the Trinity?

Or, when was the last time you gave a sermon on the Trinity?

That is a question Dr. Haykin asked us at the beginning of the last class of "The Life and Thought of Augustine." There were a few pastors in the class, and the answer was what he anticipated: not lately. I have been attending my church for twenty years, and I've never heard a sermon on the Trinity specifically. It comes up in passing, but not as the focus on the sermon. I remember once sitting in a lesson to 5th and 6th grade students where the teacher tried to teach about the Trinity, and the typical (inadequate) analogies were given: the egg, water, the shamrock.

Interestingly, a similar discussion arose when Dr. Fowler brought up the content of worship songs (one of his particular pet peeves). He pointed out to us that a popular song actually supported modalism in its lyrics. I asked him if he thought the person in the pew even really gave much thought to that, or could even recognize what modalism is, or do they care?

I can not help but wonder if what we as the congregants expect from our pastors rules out sermons on things like the Trinity. How many of us go into church expecting to be told something to do? We want guidance, but is it guidance that forces us to work through the Scriptures ourselves? Or do we want some kind of therapy? If we expect a sermon to be a group counselling session, then of course the Trinity will not be an appealing subject. It's not really easy to preach the Trinity to begin with, but to find something practical must be a huge task.

The Trinity is a complex thing. It is a mystery. And its "cash value" can't be found in an exhortation to go out and do something. It's one of those truths that shows us who God is. Perhaps we should stop expecting pastors to tell us what to do and just let them preach the truth. Perhaps we should not flinch when they want to preach doctrine.

When school is finished for the semester, I hope to dig into Fred Sanders' two books, The Deep Things of God, and The Triune God. After having studied De Trinitate this past semester, I think it will be helpful to read these.