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Entries in Seminary Notes (76)


Let's get this party started

My school has a new portal for its students. Not only can I access my course history, marks, and grade point information, I can view my current registration and the relevant syllabi. Yesterday, I was able to find out my book list for the two courses I'm taking, and despite having other books I would like to finish before classes begin, I placed the order for my Augustine class. I already have the textbook for my systematic theology course, Christian Theology, by Millard Erickson. I've already read much of the first chapter, and so far, it's good. 

For my class, "The Life and Thought of Augustine," I will be reading:

Confessions. Obviously. How can one have a course without that?

St. Augustine: A Life. I will be doing a critical review of this book, so I hope my books arrive on time. I would like to read it as thoroughly as possible.

The Trinity. I'm especially looking forward to this in light of the brouhaha about the trinity which erupted over the summer.

Instructing Beginners in the Faith. I'm not familiar with this one, but looking forward to reading it after having read the description.

Augustine: The City of God Against the Pagans. I've always wanted to read this, and having the incentive of a class always makes it more likely I'll finish it.

There are quite a few writing assignments, but fortunately, I have them in the syllabus already, so I can plan ahead. My systematic theology class has weekly assignments and quizzes, plus an exam worth 50% of the mark. I kind of like the idea that I won't have to write four papers like I did last semester, because writing essays is so tiring.

I'm looking forward to getting started. As a child, I always looked forward to the beginning of school and the new material; I still do.


Advice for middle-aged, female seminarians

Jared Wilson had a good article this week directed to young seminarians. It was a good article, but much of it didn't apply to me since a) I am not young, and b) I am not pursuing seminary to further my career. I'm just there because I want to learn more and see where it takes me. Comments like this are very well-spoken, but they don't really mean a whole lot to me:

But too many young seminarians are thinking more about platforms, fame, notoriety, followers, book deals, speaking gigs, and so on than they ought to.

Nope. I have no illusions about any of those things.

I've only been a seminary student for a little over a year now, but I do have some thoughts for older women in seminary. I hesitate to advise all women because maybe younger women have different reasons for going to seminary. I can only speak for myself.

Feel Small. Yes, that's right. Feel small. Don't be afraid to feel overwhelmed by what you're learning. This could apply to anyone, really. If you didn't know that you don't know everything before you started seminary, you'll figure that out right away. It's a good thing. Feeling small may prevent you from sounding like a know-it-all.

Be Enthusiastic. Learning is fun! At least, for me it is. I love to share what I'm learning. Find a friend who is willing to listen to you share your experiences so you won't irritate everyone around you with how cool all of this stuff is.

Don't Let Being the Only Woman in the Room Intimidate You. Yes, I had that happen. I took a course last semester called "The Old Testament in the New." Doesn't everyone want to take that classs? Apparently not. I sat at the back of the room that first day, watching everyone file in, and my heart sunk a little. There were men older than I, and a few who were old enough to be my children. Fortunately, the prof for that class was extremely encouraging, and over lunch one day, he even commented about how scary it must be to be the only woman in the room. 

Listen. Wilson's article said to listen 10x more than you speak. I agree. Soak it in like a sponge. If you know the answer, consider letting someone else speak. He or she may have insights you didn't have. Definitely speak up, but be willing to listen, too. I know this is 2016, but I really do get the feeling that women have to work a lot harder in seminary to prove they aren't dumb, so strive to speak when you have something valuable to say. The men in my class last semester were very kind, but occasionally I did feel like not only did I have being a woman against me, but being over 50 wasn't in my favour, either. 

Make It About God, Not You. Instead of thinking "How can seminary benefit me?" think "What can seminary teach me about God?" When all is said and done, I think that is the way to keep focused and to foster humility. Humility is something every student needs.

Pray. Like Wilson, I suggest prayer, and not only for yourself. Pray for your school. Pray for your school's finances, faculty, and leadership. Investing in an education extends beyond the financial. We want our schools to be successful. When I pray for my school, I pray specifically for its outreach in the community, that it would draw others in, and that it would train men and women of God to take the gospel forward.

I'm wondering what lessons I will be learning this year.


Back it up with Scripture

The first assignment I had in my seminary course this past semester to was to disscuss the importance and implications of the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament. I always feel uncertain about first assignments, because one does not know how the prof will mark. I'd had this prof before, but it was a Bible survey course, and we had exams instead of writing essays. 

When I got my paper back, I was relieved that I had not completely fouled it up, and I was happy with my mark. However, there was a comment from the prof saying that the strength of a few of my arguments would have been bolstered with some references to Scripture. That is not a new thing. I had that observation from my hermeneutics prof. I can be lazy with that.

Sometimes, when we've been in the church a long time, we know the general principles, but we may not know exactly where to find biblical support. That means getting out our Bibles and looking. I've done it myself on previous occasions while writing something.

When I was in high school, I had a really excellent history teacher, and he advised me to write as if the reader knows nothing about my topic. Of course, depending on our audience, it could possibly come across as patronizing, but I think the principle is a good one. We can't always assume the reader understands. When it comes to writing biblical content, we most definitely cannot assume that everyone understands. Levels of biblical literacy vary from person to person. Furthermore, we have to ensure that our understanding is biblically based, so when we write, showing our readers our sources is advisable.

In teaching my Sunday school class this spring, I asked my students (all who have been in the church for many years, most since they were children) if they knew who the Moabites were. No one could tell me. There are women in that class who have been in studies in Genesis and Exodus, and they did not know. I took them to some passages in Scripture to show them. Especially when we teach, we need to show the students how and where we drew our conclusions. It's part of modelling good teaching.

I can be lazy about providing the proper references myself in within the body of a blog post. When I make assertions about the nature of God, I should provide support. It's a good exercise, after all. In the 2016/2017 academic year, I will be taking Theological Foundations. I'd better get used to providing support for what I write.


The Old Testament in the New: it's complicated

Last Friday, I handed in my last two papers for my course, "The New Testament Use of the Old Testament." Coming on the heels of my hermeneutics class, I thought it would be a good follow-up. It was a great course, and I am glad I had already taken hermeneutics before starting it. 

All of those phrases, "that it might be fulfilled," and the allusions (especially the gospel of John!) turned out to demand a lot more attention that I had thought. There were matters of how those Old Testament Scriptures were interpreted in the Apostolic period, and if the New Testament writers emulated those practices. There were textual matters that were beyond me simply because I don't have any exposure to Hebrew and minimal exposure to Greek, thus confirming my plans to take both Hebrew and Greek at some point. 

Writing a paper on this topic meant reading more commentaries in a short span of time than I ever imagined I would. I also learned a lot about how to choose a commentary for specific purposes. I discovered that even though Word Biblical Commentaries are horrid to navigate, they are recommended for a reason. I was very thankful to discover Karen Jobes' commentary on I Peter, which was like the key that opened up my understanding so that I could write my paper on the use of Leviticus in I Peter 1:15-16. I'm technically too old to be a "fangirl," but I think I am when it comes to Jobes.

It really is hard work to understand and explain the Bible. I found it challenging to ask myself, "Why did Peter use this?" or "Why did John write this way?" I mean, we can't get into their heads, so all we can do is look closely at the text and the background they wrote in. The human/divine nature of Scripture is something that really was emphasized as I studied. I learned a lot this semester about the importance of the cultura/social context that the New Testament was written in. I also added about fifteen books to my Amazon wishlist.

I was reminded again how much there is to learn and how far I have to go. It's exciting in a way, to know that there is so much more. I can't say that my love is to study the use of the Old Testament in the New, but I enjoyed the challenge of this class, and now, whenever I see the phrase, "So that it might be fulfilled," I'll think about that passage a little more carefully.

In September, I will be taking a course on Augustine, as well as Theological Foundations I. Looking forward to both.


Don't let theology rob you of wonder

I'm in the middle of writing a paper about how John uses Isaiah 53:1 and 6:10 in John 12:38-40. It's interesting hopping back and forth between books. Yesterday afternoon, I took a break to hang some clothes on the clothes line. When I returned to my desk, I forgot which passage I was in. But this is great fun.

I have armed myself with a good number of resources:

Among that pile of books is a commentary on John by Leon Morris. It is an older commentary, first published in 1971. It's expensive to buy now because NICNT has replaced Morris's version from the series with one by J. Ramsey Michaels. To buy a paperback version of Morris's is $85 on Amazon. One can purchase it used, but it's still not cheap. The copy I took out has been re-bound with one of those plain, black non-descript bindings common in university libraries. It's seen better days.

But it's a treasure. I like Leon Morris already, and this is simply adding to that sentiment. One of the things that has jumped out at me is the way Morris uses the phrase "Our Lord" to refer to Jesus in the commentary. Most commentators will use the name "Jesus." I love the way Morris continually refers to him as "Our Lord." Even D.A. Carson's commentary (which I love) uses the name Jesus. I have seen in other older commentaries the use of the term "Our Lord." Perhaps it is just a practice not observed any longer.

I love the use of "Our Lord." It reminds me of who Jesus is. He isn't simply a historical figure. He isn't just a man, or a charismatic leader. He is Lord. That title assumes that there are servants. We are his servants. As I read through Morris's commentary, seeing that phrase over and over again, I am reminded of just who it is I am studying.

In seminary, it's easy to get caught up in the work and the details and lose sight of the wonder of God. I think that can also be said of theological debate. Debate is often necessary as doctrine is hammered out and clarified. But there is the temptation to be more concerned with the pursuit than the Lord we serve. Theology does thrill my heart, but it has to be more about the Lord than the academics of it all. I don't ever want learning to come between me and understanding exactly what that means.