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Entries in Seminary Notes (146)


Seminary adventures

On my shelf, I recently added two books. One is a survey of the Old Testament and the other is a survey of the New Testament. The OT survey runs about 800 pages and the NT survey about 500. That's a lot of textbook. I dont' know how much will be required reading. 

The professor who teaches this class is also my academic advisor. In conversation with him a couple of months ago, he told me that one of the things he encourages his students do over the course of the semester is to read through the whole bible. That means reading through in about 90 days. He says it won't be like other bible reading. There is no time to dwell on the text; the point is to press through the whole book in keeping with a course which is a survey course. I decided to get a jump start on this venture, and yesterday found a reading plan for 90 days. It works out to about 14 chapters a day. A friend read through the bible in 90 days, and she said it worked out to be about an hour each day. Ninety hours of reading; in addition to the other reading. I'm up for it, though.

I know from my own experience that sometimes, when we love the study, it's easy to become consumed with the process. In the context of the bible, we can become more involved with the study, and forget about what it is we are reading. I've only taken one seminary class so far, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it is easy to become lost in the study and forget all about why we're doing it. As I read through the bible alongside the course material, I am praying that the Spirit will continually remind whose word this is, and that I will gain a whole lot more than facts.

Something else I think will be important for me as a seminary student is regularly serving in my local church and being involved with other people. One of the things I have learned in the past few months is that gaining knowledge of God is meaningless if we're not going to reach out to others in love. We can't live in a vacuum no matter how much fun it is to hole oursevles up with our books. Thre great thing about service is that it doesn't have to be grand. It can be something as simple (and fun!) as working in the nursery.

Now, here's hoping I don't get too bogged down with the reading.


Lots of heart, but where's the theology?

One of the assignments I have to do is review three bible study booklets. These titles were given to us:

Nehemiah, Overcoming Challenges, Bill Hybels
God's Comfort, Jack Kuhatschek
Romans, John MacArthur

The assignment is to do the second chapter homework for the book and then evaluate the material based on the balance of observation, interpretation, correlation and applications questions. There also must be a good balance between those "heart" questions, and the the other kinds of questions. We are also to evaluate it on whether it looks like it would promote good group dynamics.

I have never heard of the second author. I know who Bill Hybels, but have never read anything by him. And, of course, I'm very familiar with MacArthur. We used his study guides when we taught teens. 

I had a look at the Hybels study guide last night. The second lesson was based on Nehemiah 4, where Nehemiah and those who are rebuilding the wall face obstacles, mostly from the ridicule and malice of Sanballat and his cronies. Nehemiah and the people persevere so much that at one point, they have tools in one hand and weapons in the other to protect the work.

The theme of this chapter is killing momentum. There are four momentum killers: ridicule, threats, fatigue and discouragement, and frontal attacks. There is one correlation to other Scripture passages, to Ephesians 6:10-18 and 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, which definitely fits in with the theme of protection from enemies. 

The lesson definitely focuses on how a person can put these principles into practice in his own life. How does this example look in my life? Who is ridiculing me, and how can I react? Where do I see attacks on what I'm doing? How can I encourage others when they are feeling tired and discouraged. Nehemiah is seen as an example of how to overcome the momentum killing that goes on in our lives. And those things are good things to know.

What is totally missing from this study is the place of this narrative in the larger picture of Scripture. Generally, application follows interpretation, and I didn't see a whole lot of that. Why is the book of Nehemiah in the bible? What does it say about God's redemptive purposes? I recognize that I have only looked at one chapter. I may go back and see what the remainders are like; there are only six in the whole book. But if this is representative of the study, then I think it's missing something. There wasn't really much about the background of the book provided in the introductory section.

In the opening pages, the study promises much in the way of developing community:

We all long to know others deeply and to be fully known by them....The first section of these six studies creates a place for deep knowing and being known. Through serious reflection on the truth of Scripture, you will be invited to communicate part of your heart and life with your small group members.

When I read that out loud to my husband, his reaction to that was, "NO!" He really is not the typt to share the most intimate recesses of his heart with a group of people in a bible study. This would not be the study for him, I suspect. What I found interesting in the introduction was the absence of a promise to know God better, or that it was even a goal. There was talk of celebrating God, but there was little in the way of talking about how the study would help one know God better.

On the upside, the Scripture was focused on in some detail, and even though I think the student should have been asked to do more than he was asked, at least there was focus on that. 

I think I'll do the MacArthur study next. It ought to provide an interesting contrast.


The joy of peer evaluation

This past weekend was the final class day for my seminary class on writing bible study curriculum. I have learned a fair bit, although the emphasis on training others to be bible study curriculum writers, I thought, took away from time that would be better spend on honing the skills of writing the studies themselves. 

On Saturday, we gathered with our four sets of flow questions, and broke into groups to do a dry run through them to see how they would be as a bible study. I think the idea was a good one, but the time constraints were too much. Three to four people in a group, each with four studies, and twenty minutes each? There was no way we were going to get it all done. And the studies were meant to take an hour, so they didn't actually get utilized in the way they were meant to.

When I was in school, I never liked group work much, and I didn't like it much on Saturday, because, ultimately, what happens is that someone's work doesn't get evaluated, and everything is rushed through, which is exactly what happened. I honestly did not come away with any feedback about the one study that was actually looked at for more than a few minutes.

I was in two sessions with a student whose studies were longer. I was told to ask 10-12 question, but apparently, we were allowed up to fifteen questions (something mentioned in the manual that I clearly overlooked), and this woman took advantage of that. This meant that her studies were longer. In the last session of the day, I was in a group of three. My study was the last to be examined, and after this woman's 15-16 questions, there was about eight minutes left for mine. It was rushed through, and in the end, the other student with the long studies pointed out that my application question at the end wasn't really an application question, because it didn't tell the student to do anything. I'm not even going to get into what I think about application questions, but at the end of the day, I didn't feel like the peer editing was all that fun. 

I think peer editing can be really great, but in such a large group, with such time constraints, I felt like it was not done as well as it could have been. And of course, everyone wants her study to be looked at and evaluated, and there were women who didn't seem to realize that time constraints meant we had to keep moving and not stop for dialogue. I did indeed learn from what others did, but I'm not really sure I got the most benefit from the exercise.

Probably the most frustrating part of the day was the end when we were going over the last assignment, which is a five-day homework plan for a topic. The writer of the sylllabus was not present, so it was left to the co-teacher to field our questions. It's hard to answer questions about a syllabus you haven't written. I left feeling rather confused, and faced an hour long drive home, which began badly, when I got on the highway and there was an accident, slowing down the traffic. It was my 28th wedding anniversary on Saturday, and I wanted to get home to spend tiime with my husband.

It was a day of feeling small, and I supposed we all need those days. It was meant to be a day of fellowship, and it was. We each brought something to contribute for the lunch, and that was nice. Time will tell what I have learned. It was a tiring day, and I was glad to get home.


Will I ever appeal to the ladies?

I've been spending a lot of time working on my assignments for seminary, which are due on Saturday. I'm nearly finished. Here is what I have completed:

Scripture worksheet (showing my study of the passage), one set of flow questions with answers, and one set of flow questions without answers for the following passages:

Philippians 1:1-18
Colossians 3:1-17
Esther 4:1-17
Luke 1:23-45

I received some feedback from my prof last week. She said my biblical obsesrvation and interpretation are solid, but she would like to see more "heart questions." Within our flow questions, we're to ask a variety: observation, interpretation, correlation, and application. Some of those have to appeal to the heart. I actually thought I was doing that, especially given that we're limited to 10-12 questions. Apparently, I need more.

I confess to be puzzled by "heart questions." I know that the Scripture must pierce the heart, and there is room for asking the student to ponder the text an ask how it addresses her life at the moment. I just seem to fail at finding a way to ask those questions well. I did my best with the heart questions, but at the same time, I didn't like some of them.

One of the things we have to do is ask a "warm up question," which is supposed to get the class thinking. The warm up questions have to be heart questions geared to the application. They're supposed to generate the ability for someone to respond with a "story," about herself. I found those questions difficult, because in all honesty, I don't know how I feel about the over abundance of sharing "stories" in a bible study before first really looking at the text. Maybe I'm far more narrow than I originally thought.

My warm up question for Colossians 3:1-17 begins with, "Imagine you're getting a make-over." I think it's lame, and I feel slightly ashamed for asking that. But a girl's gotta do what she's gotta do in order to get the assignment done.

I shared with my young moms yesterday that I had written that question, and the ones who come to my Sunday school class all laughed, and agreed that it was a question I would never ask in our class. One of the ladies said, "And we come to your class because you don't ask us questions like that."

And yet, some women love those kinds of questions. Me, I'd rather open up with a little review, or ponder on something interesting in the text. I took this class because I wanted to learn more about writing my own bible studies, and I have learned some of that. But what I've also learned (and I already knew, so thanks for the review!) is that I am not sure any bible studies I may write will appeal to a very large audience. I'm sure I come across as very heart-less because I won't ask a student to put herself in the shoes of a character and share her feelings. I'm reluctant to make very specific application questions, because I can't read into the hearts of my students, and I don't want to make my personal application their application. I just want to get them thinking.

This has been a lesson in learning to humble and gracious while still producing work I can live with. It will be interesting to see how my assigments are received.

The last assignment I must complete is to prepare five days of homework for a bible study on a TOPIC, which is my unfavourite way to teach. God is testing me, clearly.


Writing needs speaking

I've been working on a big assignment which is due on April 18. I have to do worksheets for four passages, with questions and answers. This is not as easy as one might think. I am limited to 10-12 questions, and for a passage like Colossians 3:1-17, that is limiting. If I was preparing to teach that passage, I'd have a lot more. I'm more an incremental teacher, building on small pieces. The approach this course is taking is that a good observation question should have many answers. A yes or no question is not good. I asked a yes or no question on my James assignment, and I was reminded not to. I don't know as if I agree with the general principle that a question with a yes or no answer is always a poor question.

Yesterday, as I was working on a passage from Philippians, I was struggling with my questions. The questions are supposed to be written in such a way that they direct the conversation. This means that I must be envisioning how the discussion will go. One thing I have learned from teaching is that often, the act of speaking can bring into the dialogue things that we don't think of sitting in the quiet of our studies, preparing lessons. Over and over again, while teaching, I have had occasions when, as I speak, something else comes to my thinking. The input of the class members, the discussion, and the act of responding often brings up something I never thought of. When I prepare for teaching, I will often talk through my lessons out loud to myself, and there are many times when more ideas will come to mind as I speak. I'm sure some expert out there could probably explain what kind of cognitive processes are going on in the act of speaking. Whatever it is, speaking often helps writing.

So, here I was yesterday afternoon, struggling with feeling that everything sounded so contrived and scripted, but I finally finished. I did manage to finish one assignment and am half done with the next passage. I stil have to work on a passage from Esther and Luke. I am wondering if I shouldn't be talking to myself as I think of these questions.