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Entries in Seminary Notes (87)

Saturday
Dec102016

When is the last time you heard a sermon on the Trinity?

Or, when was the last time you gave a sermon on the Trinity?

That is a question Dr. Haykin asked us at the beginning of the last class of "The Life and Thought of Augustine." There were a few pastors in the class, and the answer was what he anticipated: not lately. I have been attending my church for twenty years, and I've never heard a sermon on the Trinity specifically. It comes up in passing, but not as the focus on the sermon. I remember once sitting in a lesson to 5th and 6th grade students where the teacher tried to teach about the Trinity, and the typical (inadequate) analogies were given: the egg, water, the shamrock.

Interestingly, a similar discussion arose when Dr. Fowler brought up the content of worship songs (one of his particular pet peeves). He pointed out to us that a popular song actually supported modalism in its lyrics. I asked him if he thought the person in the pew even really gave much thought to that, or could even recognize what modalism is, or do they care?

I can not help but wonder if what we as the congregants expect from our pastors rules out sermons on things like the Trinity. How many of us go into church expecting to be told something to do? We want guidance, but is it guidance that forces us to work through the Scriptures ourselves? Or do we want some kind of therapy? If we expect a sermon to be a group counselling session, then of course the Trinity will not be an appealing subject. It's not really easy to preach the Trinity to begin with, but to find something practical must be a huge task.

The Trinity is a complex thing. It is a mystery. And its "cash value" can't be found in an exhortation to go out and do something. It's one of those truths that shows us who God is. Perhaps we should stop expecting pastors to tell us what to do and just let them preach the truth. Perhaps we should not flinch when they want to preach doctrine.

When school is finished for the semester, I hope to dig into Fred Sanders' two books, The Deep Things of God, and The Triune God. After having studied De Trinitate this past semester, I think it will be helpful to read these.  

Monday
Dec052016

Twitter and the loss of careful reading

I have noticed over the past few months that some people on Twitter, in an effort to get around the character limit will simply Tweet in a string of related tweets. I have done that when I want to share something funny. I have had friends share funny stories in that way. But in some cases, there are users that want to provide some pretty complex theological discussion in a string of tweets. If one of the people I follow does that a lot, I may mute them for a while, because I don't want those things cluttering my feed. Personally, I don't read well with successive bytes on my screen. I want to read in the context of paragraphs, where the content is focused and well-laid out. 

I think we all know that people don't read as well as they used to. My daughter has taught undergraduate English students for the past four years. I hear the stories of how badly first year students read. I know my own reading ability has deteriorated. I find myself impatient with blogs that go beyond 1,000 words, and that isn't good, because when it comes to attending seminary, dense reading material is part of the workload. That has been the single biggest challenge at school: giving up the feeling that once the author has gone beyond 1,000 words, I should tune out. I've been actively working at increasing my reading block times so that I can get more done. It's pretty sad that in my undergraduate years, I could focus for hours at a time, but now my mind wanders after about 45 minutes, and then after a bit of a break, it may be hard to re-connect.

I don't see the practice of trying to blog in tweet bytes helpful for promoting good reading skills. I realize that people have shorter attention spans, and maybe someone sharing those things on Twitter hope to appeal to those who would not normally read a longer article. The other possibilty is that those trying to teach deep theological truths on Twitter are actually using Twitter more as a means to point out where they think their opponents err. 

I'm no one famous. I'm not a writer of published books, nor am I a scholar. But I am someone who thinks being able to read well is important. I am a good reader. I have learned how to read carefully and in context. I want to see others read carefully and well. I find Twitter so helpful for news links, for links to posts I want to read, and when I want to know what the score of the hockey game is. But if it's doctrinal teaching, I like reading something a little longer. And if it's a paper book, even better.

Tuesday
Nov152016

Stop the world, I want to get off!

Have you felt like that? I think we all have. This past few weeks, I've felt it acutely. Fortunately, for those who belong to Christ, we will get out of this world, and a new one will be ushered in. In my Augustine class, on November 4, we talked about City of God, and the discussion about the Kingdom of God and what that entails was so encouraging.

And then the U.S. election happened; and all that entails. You know what I mean; the rancor, the condescension, the crowing of the victorious, and the despair of the defeated. I know the truth of the ultimate ruler of the universe. I know the eschatological hope. But my heart goes out to those who honestly fear what will happen. There has been a fair bit of jeering (and some if it is deserved) toward those who are very fearful of what is to come, but I wonder how many of those people are minorities. My kids live in a very multi-ethnic city, and they have friends from many different backgrounds, and the fear is real. I am reluctant to mock fear. 

It does feel like the world has gone crazy. When people I once respected reveal an ugly side, it bothers me. It also makes me re-evaluate myself. Have I come across like that? Lord, I hope not. I am torn between wanting to rant at the top of my lungs or retreat entirely.

We are so distracted by the world around us. Things are enticing. We end up wasting time, partaking of the mundane, the ultimately useless. "Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things" (Ps. 119:37). How much of our time is spent on things that are of no eternal value? And how many of those are dressed up as if they are "Christian?" Sometimes, I feel as if Christian commentary is more about pop culture or politics than Christ. Yes, I know we have to engage with those things, but honestly, I don't see a lot of good coming from either location. Some of it is not worth engaging.

We are studying the origins of humanity in my theology class. This has led to a discussion of being made in the image of God means. You see that phrase a lot these days, done up in Latin for good measure: Imago Dei. I thought that the few things I'd read on the subject were useful. Millard Erickson digs deep, and asks questions I have never thought of. This encourages me in a world where I want to get off. I encourages me to ponder who God is, and by extension, who I am. This is comfort to me. And quite serendipitously, much of the course material in Augustine is dovetailing with the theology class. I'm reading Augustine's book on the Trinity. Those ancient writers knew how to ponder God well.

I've also picked up The Valley of Vision for another read, and I'm following along with a daily reading schedule that I got from Joe Thorn's blog years ago. I want to ponder God more deeply. In the face of a crazy world, he is the one to whom we turn. Only he will suffice. He is our hope. Looking to people, things, and earthly kingdoms will only provide the most fleeting hope.

I do want to get off this world, whenever God ordains that to be. It often discourages me to think about what the future holds for my kids and their kids, but I guess I'm not the first woman to ponder such a quesion. All I can do is rejoice in the Lord, see his goodness, be grateful in the small things, and cling to the hope of the coming kingdom.

Friday
Nov112016

Notes from Seminary - Bloom where you are planted

There are a variety of ways that course material is delivered at my school. That is one of the reasons why I decided to attend there. There are courses which meet weekly; there are courses which are a combination of class time and online time; there are classes which meet over four or five days during the semester, and there are classes which are intensive modules, meeting daily, eight hours a day, for up to a week. I have taken all of the kinds so far. By far, my preferred way is meeting weekly, with the intensive week-long method being the second preferred. And the reason why is the presence of community as we learn.

I was very excited to take a class on Augustine with Michael Haykin. He is a very respected, very accomplished scholar, and he is an excellent story-teller. He is an adjunct professor, but centred at Southern Seminary, so he cannot teach weekly. This semester, we have met three times sor far. Our last meeting is at the end of the month. The classes are eight hours each, and yes, they have been rich in content. I have learned so much already. Dr. Haykin loves history, and having a prof who loves his course content is encouraging and inspiring.

The other class I'm taking meets weekly, from 8:30-11:15; my systematic theology class taught by Dr. Fowler. I love this class. While I am not disappointed with the Augustine class, I have enjoyed theology more for the simple fact that weekly meetings mean getting to know classmates and getting to know the professor. Dr. Fowler has a wonderfully dry sense of humour, and he is kind, gracious, and knowledgeable. He's up to date on what's going on in the theological world. In fact, next week, he will be away, attending the annual ETS meeting in San Antonio. Yesterday, we had a really interesting discussion about Open Theism, something which he has explored in depth. Recently, Dr. Fowler was honoured with a festchrift on the occasion of his 70th birthday. He was apparently taken aback, thinking such things were only for "important" people. Maybe the average evangelical on social media has not heard of Dr. Fowler, but he has taught numerous students over the years, and if they're like me, they will remember his teaching always. His way of evaluating matters and thinking theologically and biblicly have really made an impact on me.

Because, through the internet, we have a form of access to well-known theologians, we may be tempted to think that we can only learn deeply from such individuals. There is the idea, for example, that the ordinary woman in our church cannot teach us nearly as well as one of the well-known women. When we teach other women, rather than learning how to interpret and teach the Bible ourselves, we look for pre-packaged material authored by women who are perceived as smarter than we are. In all honesty, the best women's Bible teacher I've ever had is not any of the women you may know, but one of my oldest and dearest friends. I know her heart, and that makes all the difference in the world to me.

In the future, I am required to take Church History for my degree. Over the years, Dr. Haykin has taught that class in a similar fashion as the Augustine class: four day long sessions over three months. This year, another professor is teaching it weekly. While I love Dr. Haykin's teaching, I am really hoping for an opportunity to take this course weekly with the other prof. Those men and women at my school have been put there by God for a reason. I ought to take advantage of their presence while they are there. It's like blooming where you are planted.

Tuesday
Oct182016

Augustine's Worship War

In Book X of Confessions, Augustine probes the matter of the pleasures of the senses. He does not want to allow his senses to control him, whether it is sight or sound. He recognizes that when his senses refuse to take "second place," there can be a problem. This applies to what he hears, including Church music. He is concerned that the music will overtake the message. He is concerned that he will love the music more than he will love the content. He leans to approval of the matter, but still is cautious:

So I waver between the danger that lies in gratifying the sense and the benefits, which as I know from experience, can aaccrue from singing. Without committing myself to an irrevocable opinion, I am inclined to approvae of the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired with feelings of devotion. Yet when I find the singing itself more moving than the truth which it conveys, I confess thiat this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer.

The issue of music in Church is not a new one. While Augustine struggled with the temptation to let his senses take control and seek more the music that the content, we today experience something similar with being tempted to be more caught up in the presentation of the music than the content. Augustine was concerned that his senses not be in control. Have we ever thought of our response to worship music in such terms? It is possible to really be caught up in a song, thinking it is really powerful, but in reality, it is only the music we are drawn to. Writing good worship music is the marriage of a singable, pleasing melody with rich words. We have a lot of church music today that have great melodies and appalling words.

Augustine considers it a "grievous sin" when the song is more important than the truth. That's a strong statement. There are some songs I have sung in church which musically, are pleasing to the ear, but promote terrible doctrine. Would I be willing to consider that sin?

It's interesting to see that even back then, music was an issue in church.