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Entries in Seminary Notes (102)


A cold dose of reality

Today, I'm attending a day long class in Church History. It runs from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. I know a few of my fellow students, but a I look at the roster, I see that there are many I don't know. It's always interesting to meet other students, because inevitably, we meet those who have read things we haven't or who have interests we don't, and we learn from them.

One of the most enjoyable parts of seminary for me has been coming face to face with how much I don't know. It's enjoyable in that it is a hopeful thing: there is no end to what one can learn. It can also be sobering, too, when we realize how little we know. Yesterday, in Greek, our prof had us each take turns writing on the whiteboard answers from an exercise we did individually. It was transcribing Greek words written in all uppercase to lower case. Of course, the fact that we would have to demonstrate our knowledge or lack thereof in front our classmates, was intimidating. I felt bad for the first few students, because it's always awkward to be the first ones. I got lucky with my word. It was an easy one: ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, or χριστος, Christ. I confess to not knowing my upper case letters as well as I should, but when I saw the first two letters, the chi and the rho, I knew what it was. I breathed a sigh of relief when I sat down.

Being in a learning environment is a good way to nurture humility, and if you spend any amount of time online, reading blogs in Christian circles, a good dose of intellectual humility could benefit us all. It's so easy to think we know everything if we publish a blog full of our own ponderings and no one comes along to refute us. Or worse, we gather around us like-minded people who are as unread as we are, and who support or insufficiently researched writings.

Being evaluted and being among people who know so much more than I has been good for me. I tend to think I know more than I do, and I need humbling. 

A while back, I had a conversation with someone who said that one of the frustrating things about online discussion was the fact that so many others were not very well-read as he. I was taken aback at this person's lack of humility. We can all be arrogant and superior, but to demonstrate it so unabashedly was something else. I like to steer clear of that kind of thinking. The minute I start using myself as the standard for comparison, I'm in trouble.

In Christian scholarship, especially, we ought to hold our learning with much humility and with gratitude. I am thankful daily for this opportunity I have to learn; and for the resources available to me. This isn't every Christian's experience. There are Christian lay people and pastors all over the world who have limited resources and opportunity despite having a hunger to know more. Gratitude makes humility a lot more likely than holding our knowledge with an attitiude of entitlement.

I have read a lot of Church History over the years. I expect that today, I will meet others who have done the same thing and others who have read much more. In the course of our discussion, I will learn from my fellow students as well as my prof. It's okay if I don't know everything. Learning implies that we don't know things. And when I do learn, I'll be thankful.


The reality of the sanctified mind

I'm re-reading Confessions for my Church History class. I have an assignment to write a book review on a primary source document, and my choices were Confessions or City of God. I wonder how many in my class will read City of God, considering the review is due on October 13th.

I love Confessions. I loved it the first time I read it, and again last fall when I read it for a class on Augustine. This time, I have to be a more critical reader if I'm going to review it. 

The role of memory is obviously crucial in Confessions, and Augustine comments frequently that he sees it as God's sovereignty that he does remember things so that he can record them. I'm about to start Book X, where he really gets into the role of memory, but it is important even in Book VIII, where his dramatic conversion is found.

In Book VIII.5, he continues on a theme of recounting the conversion of a man named Victorianus. He is moved by the account and wants to do the same, but still struggles:

I longed to do the same, but I was held fast, not in fetters clamped upon me by another, but by my own will, which had the strength of iron chains.

So these two wills within me, one old, one new, one the servant of the flesh, the other of the spirit, were in conflict and between them they tore my soul apart.

The whole of Book VIII leading to Augustine's point of crisis is filled with similar emotionally charged language. It is obvious that Augustine was torn. The first time I read Confessions, many years ago, I recognized similar experiences; knowing that something was wrong, but not being able to understand exactly what. That was the reality of a mind which had not yet been converted, which had not been changed by the Spirit.

Works of memoir such as Confessions are not written as if the author is right in the moment. Their very nature is that they are reflective. Any memories he has of the events will naturally be processed through his own current state of thinking. Augustine wrote Confessions at least ten years after his conversion, and he didn't write it all at once, but over a period of three years from 397-400. There was no journalist following alongside Augustine, recording his thoughts. Augustine wrote Confessions through a sanctified mind. So, while his descriptions of his reactions are vivid, there is a very good chance that at the time, he didn't fully understand what he was going through. Anyone who has been a Christian long enough recognizes in the second quoted passage above echoes of Romans 7. We don't call into question the veracity of the narrator's account, but we do understand that his words cannot help but be influenced by the present.

This does not mean that we can't rely on the words of Augustine. But as a work of memoir, we have to recognize that it cannot be a complete reproduction of the past. Augustine, at the time of writing, had become a mature Christian and a bishop. He was changed. Augustine cannot help but see his past through his present. The transformative power of the gospel is such that we begin to see everything as the new creatures we have become. Before conversion, it was the same: we saw the world through our current condition. After conversion, we are changed. That is one of the best things about Confessions is that we see the power of conversion.

I share Augustine's wonder at how I can remember certain events which were ultimately crucial to my own conversion. And like Augustine, I marvel at God's sovereignty in putting each piece into place. God has given me the ability to name the condition I faced prior to my conversion. But at the time, I suspect I really did not know what my ailment was. Praise God for his timing in revealing everything, leading to my conversion.


Old Lady Greek - Week 2

Well, technically, I'm not really an old lady, although the young guy who sits behind me in Greek probably thinks so. My Greek class is a mix of older and younger. I sit beside one of the other two women. She's a pastor's wife and has middle school kids. There are also a couple of gentlemen who are older.

I have taken Koine Greek before. It was over 25 years ago, and I suppose, if I had tried, I could have asked to take some sort of proficiency exam to test what I remember, but I know I would have easily failed. I just don't remember a lot. Besides, the point isn't to simply get the credit; the point is to become proficient in reading Greek. I have not really used Greek since finishing my previous studies, and you can't retain what you don't use. My prof shared a story yesterday about how he had Scot McKnight as a prof once and McKnight said even seven minutes a day would keep it fresh. I guess I'll find out if that's true next summer when there is four months between Greek II and Greek Exegesis.

I wasn't sure how much my previous learning would help, but as we went through some exercises yesterday and then broke into pairs to do some others, I realized how much I remembered. Something as simple as automatic recognition of the letters and their sounds has been cemented into my head. Of course, being able to say Koine isn't really the point, but when learning language, it really is better to associate what we see with what we hear; get all the senses going, so to speak.

In this class, we will not be going from English to Greek, but simply Greek to English. I think that is a shame. When I took Koine before, we had to do both. I believe it helps to do both. I'm not a linguist or language theorist, but it seems to me that translating in both directions helps our brains. Constructing our own sentences in another language means we must be more intimate with the way the language works.

I'm really grateful for Dr Koöistra, my first Greek professor. He clearly did a good job if I can remember as much as I have even after all this time.


Conviction, attitude, and strategy

I had my first Greek class yesterday. It was a full class. I felt bad for the guy who came last and had to find a seat. This is why one shows up early: a good seat. I prefer the back, in a corner preferably.

The lecture focused on the content of the syllabus and some introductory words about the value of studying Greek. I really like the prof, because he said something I hoped he would say: studying Greek is more than just an academic exercise; it wil help us devotionally. It will help us become better teachers (and for some, preachers), but it will also affect us on a personal, devotional level. One of the books we will be using is Zondervan's Devotions on the Greek New Testament.

There were three things he emphasized that will help us: conviction, attitude, and strategy. The conviction we must have is that we are going to learn. We need to see this as a valuable pursuit. Secondly, we must have a proper attitiude, an attitude of worship. Worship is holistic; we worship with our heads, hands, and heart. Worshiping God with our minds involves learning. If someone is given the ability to use his mind, he ought to use it for God. And thirdly, the strategy we employ is to review frequently. I liked his comment about avoding the "binge" approach. Language learning doesn't work well with the binge approach. It may work for getting through a course which, ultimately, we will never use again, but a language requires constant review.

Something which made me really pleased was what he shared about Logos software. I've got a very basic, bare bones version of Logos 7, which was available for free. I have purchased a couple of things and I've taken advantage of the free book of the month, but I don't have anything beyond the basics. It was my intention to purchase something this year. I learned that in the third installment of Greek, which is Greek Exegesis, a Logos Bronze package is a required resource. So, the students who take Greek Exegesis have that added to their tuition payment and then are given the software; and it's half price. It's still not cheap, but half price is a very good deal. Lord willing, I hope to take Greek Exegesis in September 2018; that is when I'll make my purchase of a package which contains many of the resources that help a student stay reading Greek.


Like it was Christmas Eve

I didn't sleep well last night. It was like I was a kid on Christmas Eve. I'm back to school today, and I'm very glad. 

My Greek class will be Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. I'm so glad for an afternoon class, because I live an hour away from the school, and it means when winter comes, roads will be plowed by the time I need to get going. I won't have to leave for class in the dark. That said, I will miss the beauty of the sunrise while I'm driving. 

I've already done the assigned reading for this class. I'll confess: I bought the textbooks in June and once I got the syllabus, I got started. The wonder of technology gives us our syllabi online, which is helpful. I've already done most of the first assignment, and the first quiz is on September 21st. I bought an app for my iPad which does vocabulary quizzing, and it links to the popular Greek grammars, including the one we'll be using, Bill Mounce's. It will be very helpful once the volume of vocabulary begins to grow. There are thirteen students in the class, and thankfully, I am not the only woman. A bonus is we already know each other. 

My Church History class is what they call "multi-modal." It is a combination of in class and online delivery. We meet one Friday this month from 1:00 pm to 8:00 pm (yes, seven hours) and then again later in the semester for the same time period. It's a long day, but probably longer for the prof who has to do a lot of talking. In between those two sessions, we have online lectures and discussion. I've already chosen my topic for my term paper, the development of purgatory in the middle ages. I could have chosen the topic of the influence of women in the medieval era, but honestly, it's kind of a steretotype: a woman studying women. I wanted to focus on the history of doctrines rather than women.

Right now, for history, I'm working on a book review which is due later in October. We have to choose between two primary source documents, Augustine's Confessions and City of God. This was very providential. I took a class on Augustine last year and I have the books already. I really wanted to focus on City of God, but there is no way I can get through that and write a review by October. So, I plow into Confessions again, and that is enjoyable. 

In the wake of all of the internet drama surrounding The Statement Which Shalll Not Be Named, this course load is good. I have a good reason to ignore the noise. I really have to extraneous information if I want to do well. Over the summer, I've consciously made an effort to limit social media, and it really is true that the more one stays away from it, the more she finds her interest fading when she does check in.

I'm really excited about school, and I hope it stays that way. It could be that a couple of months from now when I'm overloaded, I may ask myself "Why are you doing this?" But for now, I'm eager to get going.