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Entries in Seminary Notes (146)

Thursday
Feb072019

Lessons Only Seminary Could Teach Me

I'm procrastinating. 

I have read portions of (and in two cases, entire) eight books so far as I research my Apologetics paper. I'm writing about the problem of evil. I have such a mish mash of information in my head, but nothing really coherent to say just yet. The paper is due next Friday, and it is my goal to have my outline done by the end of the weekend so I can start actually writing. This is such a huge topic. I'm tempted to do nothing and fritter away the day, but I know I'll regret it come this time next week.

Researching an apologetics issue has introduced me to new terms: compatibilism, consequentialist, libertarian free will, modus ponens. While Alvin Plantinga's book God, Freedom and Evil, was very helpful, it wasn't an easy read. I'm probably the most not-logical person I know, and sifting through his analysis was challenging. Yesterday, I read a section of John Feinberg's book The Many Faces of Evil where he evaluates a selection of Modified Rationalist views on how to answer the problem of evil. Then I read his own answers to the problem of moral and natural evil; it was a long day. I'm thankful for complete silence during the day, because reading that kind of material taxes my wee brain.

Despite the fact that this has been a very challenging exercise, I'm so thankful for it. Being expected to read views I don't understand and possibly don't agree with is a good thing. Slowly, my thinking skills are improving, even at my age. Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? This is not something I would necessasrily have chosen to study had I not gone to seminary.

Reading outside of our typical areas of interest is good for us. It opens our thinking to areas that we might never consider. It's like being willing to go outside our home towns. We can be very comfortable in where we engage our minds. Social media makes it possible to craft a safe little echo chamber where we don't let any of the bad guys in. But being in seminary has meant thinking about things from more than one perspective; and my school is theologically, more or less, in line with my own views. I cannot help but wonder what it would be like to go to another school that is outside my own circle. 

It's got me thinking.

Saturday
Feb022019

Real Men Send Their Wives to Seminary

When I first began entertaining the idea of going to seminary, an older Christian woman voiced a concern: going to seminary and putting myself under the tutelage of other men would compromise my loyalty to my husband's authority in my life. That concern needs evaluation on many different levels in what it implies about me, my husband, and our marriage, let alone Scriptural implications. I was so stunned by the comment that I didn't say anything.

My husband is not threatened by me going to seminary. This well-intentioned lady was not aware that my husband's ego is not so fragile as to be uncertain about whether or not he's smarter than I am. Of course he is! He can do math that doesn't use numbers. What my very average intellect lacks in basic ability, I make up for with hard work, determination, and the Spirit of God. No, he's not afraid that I'm going to be disloyal to him. And the notion of his "authority" over me has never been something we've actually hammered out. Perhaps that is wrong of us. 

I don't respect my husband out of a notion of his having authority in my life. Of course, I embrace the biblical injunction to respect my husband. It's easy to respect him because he loves me and treats me as an equal before God. Again, maybe we're doing something wrong, but I don't sit at the feet of my husband as he holds open a Systematic Theology textbook and Bible and instructs me. To be honest, he finds Systematic Theology very dry and boring. Any kind of "teaching" is evident in the way he lives his life of faith before me and in how he sharpens my thinking and challenges me.

I had out of control anxiety four years ago; my husband's theology was evident in how he ministered to me. And it didn't involve answering my questions about the noetic effects of sin or the extent of the atonement.

Men of God desire for their wives to know God better. A man who insists on being the only one to teach his wife spiritual truth is not more godly than any other man; and he may actually be in a position where he's exerting control, not instruction. A man who insists that any other spiritual influence other than his own is forbidden is not a man I want to be in a relationship with. And my husband is not one of those men, thankfully. 

At my school, there is a regular event for seminary wives. I understand that there are particular needs and challenges in that area, but what about the seminary husbands? Do men whose wives are in seminary not face challenges? Like, for example, being perceived as being somehow threatened by the male professors? By appearing weak and simpering because they allow their wives to be taught by other men while they are out working so that their wives can afford seminary?

A man who rests in who he is before God ought not to be threatened by his wife going to seminary. He should encourage her. A theologically astute wife is a benefit, not something to be afraid of. As I said, maybe my husband and I are not doing marriage right, but after 31 happy years, it works for us.

Thursday
Jan172019

Chew, chew, chew

I remember the night I was converted to Christ. It was a Wednesday in May, 1985. I had been reading the Bible for the past six weeks or so. I was confronted with sin. I believed in God, mostly from the evidence of two things: beauty in the world and evil in the world. I wanted to be rightly related to Christ, because I had seen in Scripture how crucial that was. I could not contain the urgency. I knelt by my bed and repented. It was a beautiful moment.

I have continued to see the beauty of the gospel over these past 33 years. I have continued to see the beauty of something so incredible: that the creator of the world would provide a way for me to be one with him. The gospel changes people. Sometimes (in my own case) it is slow, and sometimes it is quickly radical. I remember those first months as a new believer. They were days of excitement and promise.

Fast forward a mere four years later. My pastor was caught in the men's bathroom with another man. He was arrested and the story was in the newspaper. My unbelieving brother showed me the newspaper and said, "Isn't this your pastor?" That was my first serious introduction to the fact that even Christians fail to promote the beauty of the gospel. And of course, I began to recognize my own failure to live in light of its truth.

In seminary and online, I have seen a different way that the beauty of the gospel can be inhibited: too much dialogue. The textbook I am reading for my Pentateuch class had a lengthy section about why Moses was kept from the promised land. Many of the arguments were ones I have never heard. It felt a little tedious. I am reminded that it is part of seminary to do such things. I am thankful for professors who pray before class and remind us of why we are there. 

Online, I see the regular litany of spiritual issues. Talking heads go on ad nauseaum about everything from the nature of women to whether or not people should take their Christmas trees down in January. The thing about social media is that it feeds into the hearts of those who seek attention. In some cases, people don't feel alive unless they are having a conflict; social media can solve that predicament nicely. Chew, chew, chew; it never ends. But there is very little joy and awe of what Christ has done for us.

Yesterday, I thought, "Where is the beauty? Where are the voices who sing with joy, who are thankful to be one of Christ's?" Please do not misunderstand me; I completely understand the need for not sheltering ourselves, but sometimes, enough is enough. Faith is a personal faith, but often, from where I'm sitting, it's been reduced to propositions which are battled over.

There are two things I have to do at such moments: turn off and sit down. Specifically, turn of social media and sit down with God's Word and be reminded. We all need to step away from the noise (oh, the noise, noise, noise, noise!) and remember the simple truth that Christ saved us.

I am reminded that even a pagan can construct a theological argument. But to belong to Christ is completely at the discretiion of the Father. That is a beautiful truth. And I think that's something that should be chewed over more often.

Monday
Jan072019

Idols of a seminarian's heart

This could also be more generally entitled "Idols of a Student's Heart," because what I'm thinking about is the reality of how a love of learning can actually become an idol. This morning, I read a very good article by Christina Fox about idolatry and motherhood. I like Christina's writing very much, and I saw much of myself as a young mother in her post.

We all know that anything can be an idol. What is an idol for me may not be an idol for you. I never realized how much learning could become an idol until I began seminary. 

In high school, I was not a great student, performing really well in things like history, English, and French, but miserably in math and science. As for physics, well, that's a double whammy failure: science and math in one. When I was in university (where I could leave math behind forever), I was a good student, and I loved to see an A on my transcript, but if it was a B, I was still satisfied. My marks in seminary are the best I have ever attained. And it's great to finally not feel like a total dolt.

At the end of this semesters, I began to realize that I need to be careful about letting this become an idol. Getting good marks in Greek Exegesis class was really important to me, and there was a number I was hoping for. While my overall mark was higher, my mark on the final was 80%. When I was in high school, that was a great mark, and even in university, it would have made me happy. All I could think of was "What did I do wrong?" I also received an 80% mark on a Synoptic Gospels assignment and when I saw that, I asked myself "What could I have done to get a higher mark?" Those are both bad thoughts. I know it in my head. There's being a perfectionist and then there's being unreasonably perfectionistic.

I don't have a check list of things to guide someone into recognition that learning has become an idol, but I can tell you that if you're dreaming at night about failing classes and having trouble sleeping because you are anxious to get up and start studying more, you may be a problem. 

As a mother, I too often evaluated my worth by how well my children behaved. Later, it was in what they were doing as young adults. Now, it is how well I'm doing in school. Idolatry creeps in when we want to control, and being able to do well in seminary is a control thing for me. I often wonder if I would enjoy school as much if I were struggling to pass my classes. Would I still find the spiritual benefits as great?

This morning, I was reading Psalm 36, and I underlined this line: "Let not the foot of pride come upon me." It is true that in the context of the psalm, the psalmist is talking about his enemies and how he will handle them. It's not exactly the same as my situation, but most days, I do see my pride as my worst enemy.

Tomorrow, school begins, and I am excited. I love learning, and I love being in class learning alongside others. May my heart's ultimate loyalty be on the God whom I am learning about and not on the grade point average.

Thursday
Dec272018

Watersheds

We all have moments we call watersheds. Sometimes, they are brief moments and other times, they run the course of a period of time. I think being in seminary is a watershed for me.

I did not grow up in a Christian home. I was not given reasons for why we were encouraged to choose one moral code over the other. My parents were not unlike many other parents: we did what we were told because we feared punishment. My parents led a good life as an example, and our consciences were suitably developed. My parents showed love and compassion and taught it to us. But there was no real "why" involved. When I became a Christian, I encountered the "why." The reason we treated others a particular way was because of Christ and what his word taught us.

The problem is that when we live by simply taking at face value one set of truths without question, we often end up embracing another in the same way. I did that early in my Christian life. As a young adult, the sin in my life was all too fresh in my memory, and I wanted to be as far away as I could be from that. It's similar to the whole idea of "cage stage Calvinism" (I also went through that). I rejected a lot of what I thought would keep me from living the way I didn't want to. And, unfortuately, I didn't think through a lot of it. I'm sad to say it took me a long time to start really thinking about things. It is only when my kids became teenager that I had to confront big questions.

Being in seminary has kept that activity going and it has been valuable. Specifically, being able to talk to and listen to people from different backgrounds has been very helpful in getting me to worry less about having my own presuppositions confirmed and learning to be sensitive to others' views. I started reading Alan Jacobs' book How to Think, and one of the things he discusses is the fact that we never learn to think strictly on our own; we think in relation to those around us. That is what seminary has been giving me, and it has been challenging, difficult, but freeing.

A few years ago, when I really began to consider seminary, I was talking with a friend about the possibility. She was not in favour of it. She believed that ultimately I would end up being more loyal to my professors than the spiritual guidance of my husband. She believed that I would be like many women before me, and I would become "liberal" in my thinking. I dismissed that internally while remaining polite about her concerns. 

I understand now what she means by changing our thinking and seeming "liberal." What happens is not necessarily embracing liberal thinking. What happens is that as we begin to think and learn, we realize that many of the things we were strident about were not all that important. We realize that many of our previously held "musts" were better looked at as "maybes". We realize that sometimes, our faith was more about other people than God. At least, that has been my particular struggle. In short, over the years, much of what I embraced and promoted was simply part of feeling the need to "fit in." 

I love being in school. I love learning from others; from hearing what they have learned. And it includes more than just the professors. Being in school with people of a wider variety of age groups, ethnic backgrounds, and personal experiences has helped me to look more closely at where I have wrong thinking; where I am uncharitable; where I have blind spots. It also forces me to see Christians from different backgrounds not as "the other," but as people; as my sisters and brothers in Christ. So, yes, I can roll my eyes at the person who thinks all fiction is bad, but I can love her as well, and understand that she is just like me: trying to live her faith with integrity. Those are lessons that you can't get by never straying from outside our particular circles.

Some day, this watershed of seminary will be over. Not for a while, but it will be. What will happen then? I trust another will come along.