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Entries in Seminary Notes (146)


Biblical Greek, exams, and other seminary-like matters

I wrote my Greek Exegesis exam. It was long, and it was not a freebie. I did not write a perfect exam, but I finished in the alotted time. The exam had two long passages from the New Testament for translation. After the translation, we had to parse verbs and then point out grammar, syntax, and semantic features of the passage. In the last fifteen minutes, I had a question that made me go back and re-consider how I translated something. I am glad for that.

I loved my Greek studies. This is the last Greek class I'll have in my MDiv. Next language to tackle is Hebrew. That will start in September. I wish there were more Greek classes. One of the things I love about it is that it makes me a better Bible reader in general. With every translation, I have to ask myself "why?" Why is the writer using this construction as opposed to something else? What is the writer trying to convey with his language? Just like writers in all languages ponder over word choice, so did the Bible writers. Greek prompts me to spend more time on the "what?" before moving on to "what about me?" 

I will be continuing on my own, starting by reading through the entire Greek New Testament, beginning in January. I'm starting with I John because it's an easy book to read. I'll work my way up to the more difficult books. I also have some other material I want to probe into. I have an entire book about prepositions that I want to read. I dread prepositions because their semantic ranges are flexible. I'm usually a little uneasy about how to translate them; I know one way over another can have a significant impact on meaning.

I have decided I don't do my best work during an exam. There is definitely a skill to writing an exam. At one point yesterday, I looked at my watch and realized it was getting down to the crunch. I also had drawn a total blank with one word. I almost felt panic, but then I just worked on something I did know. Exams are good in some ways and not so helpful in others. I am willing to bet I'm not the only one who doesn't perform the best under time constraints.

I will miss my classmates. The room was pretty evenly split between college age students and seminary students. I was the oldest person in the room. I sat with kids who are young enough to be my own children, and I enjoyed talking with those younger kids. Yes, they have room for growth, and yes, sometimes, they say things that are just plain silly (don't we all?), but it's valuable to talk to young Christians. Listen to them; find out what they are thinking and what their attitudes to the Church are. We shouldn't immediately dismiss them because they're young. 

One of the benefits of being on campus, in class, (as opposed to taking classes online) is being able to talk to other Christians. We are able to talk to people who have had different experiences than we have. It is the perfect environment for iron sharpening iron. Sometimes, the discussions we have at break time teach us as much as the ones during the class. This semester, in both classes, there were a lot of discussions about life within the Church. I learned a lot from those discussions. 

And now it's time to await Christmas.


Ladies, do the work

"I have no idea what this is saying."

That was my reaction to a quiz in Greek Exegesis a few weeks ago. I thought I had studied enough, but looking back, the week beforehand, I had slacked off. My mark was a reflection of that reality.

Today, I checked my mark from last week's quiz. I knew I had done well. I finished the quiz feeling confident, despite knowing that there was something I did not do right. When I get the quiz back tomorrow, I know where I will have lost the mark. The difference between last week and a few weeks ago is that I did more work.

It's tempting to think we can get good results without work. And it's not surprising. In a day and age when teachers are not allowed to fail students for poor work, is it any wonder? In an age of social media and blogs, it is a race to see who can post first, so that we don't necessarily research well. We are afraid of leaving our blogs empty for a day, so we rush through. I do it regularly. But when it comes to my school work, I have to put the work in.

The same goes for women who want to be theologically astute. If we as women want to be taken seriously as theologians, we have to do the work. We have to take time away from other things that may stand in our way, and open our Bibles and any other books we may need to help us sort through things. We have to know how to think. That may mean asking someone to help us learn to think. This is probably not a popular sentiment, but how about sacrificing something to take a seminary class? Or at the least, audit one? How about spending less time reading the opinions of other women and being told what to read and whom to read and start sifting through things on our own? How about spending less time listening to podcasts to hear other people talk about matters and sort through them on our own?

I recently read a website for women and saw its recommended resources. There was not one actual biblical scholar among the recommendations. These recommendations were designed to be "accessible," but how about throwing some harder ones in there? How about a commentary that is more intermediate? How about a systematic theology book? The reason why I mention this kind of resource is because those writers have done the work. They may have laboured for years on one book of the Bible. Yes, start with accessible theology, but don't stop there. Part of recommending good resources is pointing people to the ones that will equip them to discern on their own, and that means challenging women with more difficult fare.

And if it's a matter of wanting to read only women (something I totally disagree with) then read Karen Jobes's work. 

I want to read the best resources I can find. If that is written by a woman, great. If not, I'm not going to promote women's work just because I want to be supportive. When men do that, don't we women get a little irritated?

We need to do the work. It always brings results.


Why you're at seminary makes a big difference

One of the things I love about being in seminary is the fact that in addition to learning biblical content, I am also learning a lot about theological education and a lot about my own attitudes toward education.

I have no aspirations to be a pastor. That's not why I am there. While I can't exactly say that I've looked at all the evidence for and against women in ministry, and have examined it enough to be really convinced one way or another, that is not my goal. I lean toward the fact that I don't think women are intended for the pastorate. Leadership is one thing, but the pastorate is another. Anyway.

Knowing that I'm not headed there means that how I receive the education I'm getting may differ from someone else. Case in point: while there are women in my classes, the overwhelming majority is male. The majority of them are headed for full-time ministry. In particular, there are young men headed for the ministry, and for them, in the forefront of their minds is "how will this affect my preaching?" More than once in both my Synoptic Gospels class and my Greek Exegesis, such issues have come up.

One occasion in particular, one guy asked how one of the more complex matters could be drawn into the sermon. To me, the question was a no-brainer: you don't take everything you learn into a sermon or lesson. Sometimes, it's more about how our thinking is shaped. The prof did an excellent job of answering the question. I have noticed that the practice of preaching is a matter of great concern for these youngs guys, and while I can understand that, I hope that many of them, over time, will understand the value of education for their sanctification.

Having a good skill set is valuable, but all skill sets require a foundation. We want to know why one thing works and something else done. When it comes to theological education, the process of learning to think is as important as bringing that knowledge to bear on a sermon or lesson. Teaching (and I suspect preaching) begins with the one who wants to know the truth, who wants to proclaim the Word of God, who loves it. Good teaching/preaching begins with someone who loves the study regardless of what it will "do" for him/her.

Since am not going to be a pastor, I don't think of what I'm learning in terms of "how will I bring to this to bear in a lesson?" I'm already aware that what I learn will be utilized in future teaching; it's obvious. For now, I just want to learn, no matter where God takes me. One of my male classmates on Monday asked me what getting an MDiv will "do" for me. I answered, "Give me more school." I don't think he got it. But he and I are headed toward different things. I do hope, though, that all students in seminary will at some point feel that joy of learning for its own sake. It's a good feeling.


Where the seminary rubber meets the road

I began reading a volume by Martyn Lloyd-Jones. It's been a while since I read something by him, but after re-organizing my bookshelves over the weekend, I was able to remind myself which books are read and unread. His book  The All-Sufficient God is a compilation of sermons on Isaiah 40, originally given in 1954. Compared to the regular fare I'm given in seminary it was vastly different. And in a very good way.

Sometimes, seminary students can be a little over the top. We enjoy picking apart arguments, looking at critical discussion and parsing verbs. For the nerdy, it's a little wonderland. But regularly, we must be reminded that the point of a theological education is not the pursuit itself. It's to be better equipped to serve God. And that means being able to take something complicated and make it understandable for a general audience.

My major paper for Synoptic Gospels has three options: first, take an account that is present in all three of the Synoptic Gospels and do a 14 page paper; second, prepare a sermon manuscript and exegetical outline on a passage from one of the gospels; and third, do a children or youth lesson one one of the accounts in one of the gospels. 

Now, that first one sounds like the cadillac of seminary papers. It gives a student a chance to show off her research skills, her ability to hunt down resources that provide compelling commentary. It gives her a chance to show she's a real seminarian. I'm not going to do that option. As fascinating as that sounds, it occurs to me that it is a good thing to be reminded about why I'm doing all of this. Even if I was a man and was going to have the freedom to be in pastoral ministry, it would be good for me to do this. To take something complex and distill it into something that a teen can understand is difficult, but proof that I understand it.

Seminary students need to be pulled back down to the everyday on a regular basis. 

It's so tempting to make ourselves feel smart and above others by spouting off the difficult things we're learning. And I'm sure I'm as annoying as the next student. But what is the purpose of all of this? Even something without saving faith can do that. Even something without saving faith can read Greek and Hebrew and talk about theological matters. As a Christian who teachers, it means so much more than providing intellectual thrills. I need to take what I'm learning and use it to help others understand it. 

I was undecided about my paper until yesterday. As I sat in our classroom full of high school students who are just beginning their lives, I remembered how confusing that time was for me, and because I was not a Christian then, I had nothing to hold on to. These kids have something at their disposal: teachers who care about their spiritual growth. Sure, I'll probably look at some academic commentaries for my preparation, and yes, I'll use the Greek text. But it will be for a purpose: to bring it to a place where a teen will understand and learn. I'll probably use my class as a "test run" before I hand in the paper just to see how they respond to it. It's where the rubber meets the road. Maybe it doesn't seem as elite as the other options, but isn't that why I'm there?


Why Are You In Seminary?

More than once since I began seminary, I have had people asking what I'm planning to "do" with my education. By far the most popular question is: "Are you going to be a pastor?" 

Some people are very encouraging. One of my former Sunday school students, when I shared with her my current course load said, "You rock, Mrs. Shay!" When other people hear that I'm taking Greek, there is a look of suspicion. Am I learning to "break the code" so that I can usurp the authority structures in my life? To be fair, when we have really good English translations, why would I need to take Greek? It is an honest question. I generally don't explain that question much. I just let them think I'm nerdy, weird, or quaint; whatever suits them.

A few weeks ago, my husband met a Trinidadian farm worker who is here for the harvest season. He invited him to church, and afterwards, we had him back for a meal. He saw my bookcases and asked why I had so many. When I told him I was in seminary, and that it involved studying the Bible, he said in a very strong Caribbean accent: "You gunna be a preacher lady?" When I said no, he could not fathom that. In his country, there are quite a few female pastors, apparently.

This weekend, while out shopping for a dining room table, my husband and I went to a Mennonite furniture store not far from where I attend school. As we were chatting about the possibility of coming back for one of the tables, I mentioned that I am in town twice a week. The sales lady asked why, and I told her where I was going to school. "That's great! Are you going to be a pastor?" I said I wasn't, and her follow-up question was the second most common question I'm asked about seminary: "Why aren't you going to be a pastor?" And that is an answer that takes more time to explain.

This woman's opinion was that women add something to the Church. I agree with her. Women do have something to offer the Church. Yes, it is in discipling women, helping them raise their children, and be good wives. But it is about so much more than that. In the examples we older women set, are we setting the example of thinking deeply about theology? Surely, with so many women in the Church, and with so many different personalities, it is about more than saying: go ask your husband or your pastor. The Church needs women because the Church has women in it! 

And really, for all those men who are learning to be pastors, does it not benefit them to understand what it means to minister to women? Who would be more able to help pastors understand just how that is done? 

It's a no-brainer.