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Entries in Seminary Notes (140)


Seminary true confessions

Last Thursday was my first day of seminary. I'd been waiting for this opportunity. I was excited about it. But as I got up in the darkness and got ready, one thought ran though my mind, and I expressed it to my husband: "I don't want to go."

What on earth was that about?

Last week at this time I was waiting for some test results. Early in February, I was experiencing some persistent chest pain, and I had lost weight without trying. Women at 50 don't usually lose weight without trying. It isn't fun to lose weight that way. These things were beginning to stir a little concern in me, especially as the wait between doctor's appointment and test dragged on, and then time between test and being given results dragged on. One's impatience and even the barest amount of internet research into symptoms can get an already over-active imagination working even harder.

Anxiety is a funny thing. It breeds more anxiety. You start to get anxious about being anxious. It's also something you don't want to whisper too loudly, because we Christians don't get anxious, no no, we don't. We must lack faith if we get anxious, right? 

My growing anxiety about these tests results spilled over into my attitude as I left for school that first day: what if I fail? What if I'm a bad student? What if I can't do the work? My anxieties grew even more as I went through that first day, as I listened in discussion to the other students talking. So many brilliant women. Quite providentially, one of the first passages we looked at as we practiced working with the text was Philippians 4:6-7. Each time we went through it, my conscience was pricked, and I thought about those verses a lot.

As I worked on my homework this week, preparing to hand it in, a good friend gave me an encouraging word about waiting for test results. She said that it was good that I had school to keep my mind on something else, especially because I was in the Word. That really jumped out at me. 

I've read about people who attend seminary talk about how the academics of it all can leave one forgetting what the heart of theological study is: knowing God more intimately. My purpose for attending seminary was to learn more about God, and I knew that, but I went into it with more pressure to be perfect that was necessary or desirable.

Doing a job well is something I always want to do. In fact, if there is any possibility I will really be bad at something, I don't do it at all. Hence, my reluctance to play laser tag. I went on one of those outings with my family in February, loathing every minute, because I'm terrible at shooting at things. And in all honesty, that's okay with me. I won't be doing it again.

I'm glad I went through the past few weeks of wondering and uncertainty about my health, because it really challenged me. Where is my faith? Is it in my ability to study well or produce well-written blog posts or bible study questions? If it is, it shouldn't be. My faith should be in Christ, and in His Word. My joy should be in the study of His Word, and how I want it to change me, not on getting an A. If I do, fine, but I think I'd rather not care so much if it means I'm missing the bigger picture: that the word is to be learned so that my mind will be renewed. That was my reason for going to seminary. Only three days in, and I was forgetting already. 

The good news is that my test results did come in, and it's something which can be treated quite easily with medication and diet modification. My tendency toward perfectionism can now be directed into researching these matters. In the meantime, as I prepare to hand in my first assignment tomorrow, I'm not going to give into the stress of thinking it has to be perfect. I believe I observed well, interpreted correctly, and put together some good questions. The best part is, one of the passages was James 1:1-18, about counting trials a joy. If my assignment is not as well-received as I might like, well, I guess I'll live with it. And I'll be glad of the lessons I've learned as I've studied. And I'll be praying that those lessons will grow in my heart.


What is the goal for women's bible study?

That question was the one of the first questions we discussed last week at my seminary class. Before we could even begin to discuss how to write a bible study for women, we had to ask ourselves what is the goal. The way the question was phrased at one point in our discussion was, "What kind of women we do want to be?" The answer was that we want to be women who love the word of God. Any bible study we undertake should leave us loving the word of God. 

Get into the text

As we discussed how to implement a study that would leave a woman as one who loves God's word and wants to meditate upon it day and night, we concluded that the study must contain a lot of interaction with the text. While there is room for preaching (where others exposit the text for us), there is room for women interacting with the text themselves. Therefore, bible study should contain a lot of interaction with the text. A lot.

But bible study is more than an academic exercise. What is the point of having in-depth interaction with the text if it does not change us? That is another goal of bible study: to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. That means that bible study must be done with a mind to applying the truths to our own lives. Application is based on observing and interpreting the text, and that takes work.

As we studied the bible passages with the goal of producing lessons, we practiced observing the text, interpreting the text, corrrelating the text, and then applying the text. This can be a very lengthy process. One of my assignments will be to develop a set of flow questions, which include observation, interpretation, correlation, and application questions, on Mark 5:21-43. I began working with this passage in class last week, and I'm still working on it. Reading and re-reading, looking for things like contrasts, cause and effect, progression, comparisons, etc. This is similar to Precept's approach; it's inductive study.

We concluded that a good bible study will have the student engaging in a lot of observation before interpreting, and that the student will work toward her own interpreations, even if she does need a little help. Of course, commentaries are not suggested until the student has done her own study, and that's always how I have worked.  

Reviewing other bible studies

On the last morning, we reviewed bible studies which are published. We were each given one to look at, and were encouraged to flip through it and evaluate the study based on the balance between biblical depth and group dynamics. Of course, many were good with group dynamics and light on interacting with the text. Many of them asked more "feeling" type questions than they did observation and interpretation questions. 

One of the women had a study by Beth Moore, her study on James. We actually spent a fair bit of time discussing that as she gave her report. Many of the women there had done Moore's studies before. What was seen was that while Moore's studies do focus on a passage of Scripture, frequently there contains more of Moore's commentary than there does opportunity for the student to dig into the text, especially when it comes to thoroughly observing the text. In one example, the student was asked two or three questions, but that was followed by Moore's commentary. It was basically like watching Moore exegete the text, not having the student do it. Commentary is always more meaningful when we've done our own indepth study first. 

Doing studies with Moore may be good for a new student of Scripture, who feels uncertain about doing her own study, but for someone who really wants to dig into the text, we felt it wasn't the best option. A number of the women there said they started out doing Moore's studies, and ended up leaving them for something with more interaction with the text and less commentary. There was never anything negative said about Moore, and the other aspects of her ministry which has often been critiqued were not mentioned. We looked at it strictly from what is the best way to get a woman into the text of Scripture.

I have worked through a couple of Moore's studies. I have concerns with them. But from now on, when someone asks me about doing them, I will mention what I have learned. For getting into the text, they just aren't the best option. If you're not looking to engage deeply with the text, but want to watch someone else exegete the material, that's a different goal altogether.


Seminary Notes - Day 3

The first three days of my four day module at seminary are completed. They were long days. I don't think I'd want to do every course this way. An intensive format is good in that the material is always right at the forefront of your mind, but it also eliminates the opportunity for mulling things over in between sessions. I arrived home around 6:00 each evening, and was in bed by 10:00 to get enough rest for the next day. The time I had at home was spent with my husband, and tending to my home. The hour drive home gave me time for thought, but mostly, I was just eager to get home.

I really enjoyed the first two days, but I found the last half of yesterday tedious, and I didn't enjoy it as much. The morning discussion was excellent, as we looked at evaluating bible studies, but the afternoon was all about how to train a "curriculum writing team." That was a major focus of the class, i.e. training others, so there was a lot of talk about people skills, group dynamics, administering training sessions, etc. Kind of reminded me of a corporate training session. And while I think training others is valuable, I had a couple of reservations.

A "team" of writers means a very different result than what you'd get from one person (or even two) working on a study. The approach to the team idea was that each lesson was worked on individually by a different person. Each lesson would be submitted to the editor. Before someone could be on a curriculum writing team, she had to go through training. It came across as a large-scale project. That is not the same as me sitting down to write a study for use in my local church or even to submit for publication in the way that Keri Folmar produced her studies for publication. I got the feeling from the professor that she is used to working with very large groups, on a large scale. She confessed to enjoying training others more than writing bible studies, and that was apparent. The young woman sitting near me was having a hard time envisioning this process in her little church which is less than 75 people. She just wanted to know how to put material together. 

My other reservation was that it seemed like the step from writing the bible study to becoming a trainer of someone to write the study was a little hasty. I don't know as if writing one or two studies qualifies me to train others how to write them. I wish we had spent more time practicing the various aspects of putting together flow questions for lessons. My "big" assignment for the end of the class is to write a five day lesson plan on a topical study. I don't like topical studies, and we spent very little time discussing that, so en route home yesterday, I was seriously wondering how badly I might blunder this big assignment. I wish we had looked at some examples, or at least done more than read those pages from the manual.

One of the things which did yesterday, which I enjoyed, was to evaluate bible study workbooks. There were some provided, and we were invited to bring some of ours. One of the women brought in a Beth Moore bible study on the book of James. There was absolutely no personal criticism of Moore nor were any aspersions cast upon her character. It was simply a look at what we determined were some shortcomings of her material. And for that post, you'll have to check back later, because I'm already a little long with this post.


Seminary Notes - Day 2

I intended to share what happened at seminary yesterday once I got home, ate dinner, and relaxed, but my brain was pretty worn out. If I didn't know I'm a morning person before this class began, I would know now. In the afternoon, after 2:00, we were working silently on developing observation, interpretation, and correlation questions for two passages, James 1:1-18, and Mark 5:21-43. After that, we were to be ordering them in a flow which would direct the lesson. I really find mid afternoon is not my favourite time for such concentrated work, and I really struggled to focus. Fortunately, these are not due for a while.

Creating bible study material is a writing exercise as well as a study exercise. It means knowing how to communicate questions in a way that will generate deeper thinking, and without giving the student the answer. The student needs to work for an answer. I was taught once that when I organize discussion questions, I ought to ask it in a way that the answer is obvious, and the student feels a measure of success. That worked with homeschooling, but for students of the bible, it does tend to make it too easy. Certainly, for beginners, we may want to approach it in that way, but for a keen student of the bible, they ought to be directed back to the text. That is what we have been doing for the past two days: looking at the text. 

One of the things I enjoyed yesterday was when we were able to share some of our questions with the person next to us, and hear theirs. Corporate study is always so helpful. Later, we shared some of our questions from the Mark passage (the healing of Jairus's daughter) and some of the correlation questions were so good. One of the goals is this study, which we're going to be looking at today, is the benefit of producing curriculum as a team. I'm interested to see how that will work. We will also be learning how to evaluate a published bible study. We had to purchase three for the course, and we've been invited to bring some if we have them. I'm bringing Keri Folmar's study on Philippians, because I think that will fall under the "good study" category.

The prof's co-teacher talked a bit about writing struggles and how we can overcome those, and as she shared some of those struggles, I could nod in understanding from my own writing of my blog. It's a different kind of writing, but the struggles are still the same. It's nice to know that we all have writing struggles now and then.

Today is the last day until April 18th, and there two assignments due in between today and then. After April 18, there are two more assignments due. I have really benefitted from spending time with other bible teachers, but I will be glad not to be away from 7:30 until 6:00 p.m. I am ignoring the fact that I have to prepare a lesson for Tuesday's young mom's bible study. Fortunately, I had the foresight to make arrangements for my Sunday school class for tomorrow. However, when I start teaching from Ephesians 5, I'll be utilizing some of my new found knowledge.

One of the women in the class who is about to graduate (this elective is her last class) had done very little of this kind of study. It just goes to show that Seminary may teach you a lot, but when it comes to some of the the more hands on things like writing a study, or even leading a class, there is no expectation. I see the timing of my ability to attend seminary as quite providential. 

Onward and upward.


Thankful Thursday - The Seminary Edition

Today, I am thankful for safety to and from my very first seminary class. It's an hour drive, which isn't too bad. I decided to take the time in the car to listen to good music, so Fernando Ortega came with me on my travels.

The class has about thirty women, from as young as early twenties to someone her her late sixties. There is also a variety of backgrounds. Some are pastors wives, some are seminary students, and some are auditing the course so they can take the skills back to their home churches. I suspected that I would have many "I feel small" moments as I began, and I was right. When you sit in a room of really astute women, it can do that to you. Plus, the two teachers are very skilled and knowledgeable with the topic.

The class is about designing bible study curriculum. As we opened the day, we introduced ourselves and shared why we were there. My reason was that as a teacher, over the years, I have found it difficult to secure bible study material that is both theologically robust and encouraging. The prof said she liked that phrase "theologically robust" so much she wants to use it in the course description. I told her she could thank D.A. Carson for that phrase, because I certainly didn't come up with it.

We spent the day reviewing basic inductive bible study skills, working with some passages in Philippians, James, and Mark. Sometimes, we worked individually, and sometimes, we pooled our efforts. At the end of the day, we did a structuring assignment. I was "elected" from my side of the classroom to go to the whiteboard to do the work with another of my classmates. The classmate who came with me is graduating from the MTh program this year, but even after three years in seminary, some of these bible study skills were new to her. I've done nothing but learn bible study skills, and I guess I'm glad I have had experience with them. The prof has clearly spent time attending training from Precept Ministries, ones I've taken, too. If I hadn't had some of the training, I think I might have been a little lost at points.

It is very tiring to sit all day long. I know understand the desire to stand up desks. Sitting all day, and then driving home for an hour left me feeling pretty tired. I have some work to do yet, which is not due until Saturday, but I may get a start on it tonight after I've rested a bit.

My son attends this school, and during the chapel time, he was leading music, and I had hoped to get in there to see him, but we didn't stop until noon, and by then, chapel was almost over. I hope I can see him tomorrow.

The highlight of the day was a young woman, a mother of a 6-month old baby who is being cared for by her husband. This woman has never been exposed to this kind of focused bible study. It was very overwhelming to her. At one point, she asked, "What's a commentary?" But she wants to know the bible. At the end of the day, she was in tears, but not because she was frustrated, but because she was so amazed and blessed to discover this kind of teaching. No one had ever shown her how to study for herself in this way. Seeing someone react that way to discovering the riches of God's word was worh the price of the ticket, as the saying goes.

Tomorrow, once again, I'll be on the road early, and hopefully rested, and prepared for more learning.

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