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Entries in Theology (10)

Friday
Mar032017

Do theology with humility

I don't remember exactly where, but within the tome that is my Systematic Theology textbook (albeit, an excellent tome!), a comment is made about doing theology with humility. One of the greatest lessons I have learned this past year is the need to hold knowledge with humility.

When one is in seminary, learning new things, it is often difficult to withhold one's excitement. It's a great experience to have frequent epiphanies as we learn. Why did I not see that? is a frequent question. Another question, as we discuss questionable doctrine is "how could I have believed that?" 

It's comforting to know that our understanding of doctrine and theology is a process. Sometimes, you have to believe something questionable, and see the consequences in all their misery, before you can find the patience to sit and work through things. Sometimes, when we are young Christians, we are so eager to learn that we grab on to something and hold it fiercely without asking ourselves why.

My theology professor has shared a few stories about his own developing theology as he was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary. The way he put it to me recently, he is a graduate of DTS, but he's not a "Dallas man." My hermeneutics professor, last year, shared many stories about his gradual change in various doctrines as he learned more. Both men hold their views with humility. There was no, "Man, how could I ever have believed that?" There was just gratitude for continuing to learn.

My theology prof is pretty brilliant. He thinks well on his feet. When someone in the class asks a question that leaves me wondering what they are actually asking, he seems to have figured it out right away. But there is no whiff of superiority from him. I can learn from someone like that. I don't suppose that I will ever have the level of knowledge that he does, but I don't get a feeling of inferiority being around him. The kind of people I can't learn from are those who present themselves as having attained some level of proficiency that makes them a little cut above others.

I have no idea where my seminary education will take me other than I plan to be teaching in my local church as long as they will have me. I want to be a teacher who holds her knowledge with humility. I know for sure that if older women want to minister effectively to younger women, coming across as if we know it all is not the best way to approach things. Showing others that we are still growing in our faith is a more excellent way.

Instead of thinking "how on earth could I have ever believed that?" I think a better response is, "I'm so thankful God continues to show me truth."

Saturday
Feb252017

Studious ones, beware!

I have cold. One of those knock-down-drag-out-get-the-license-number-of-the-truck-who-hit-me kind of cold. It's been a while since I was sick; probably more than two years. Thankfully, my son arrived home last weekend to remedy that fine record. It has slowed me down. Thankfully, I was able to finish this week's theology paper, and Lord willing I will finish my ethics case study for submission by Sunday at midnight. Next week is Reading Week, so I am free to be sick.

Yesterday was a do nothing day. Other than supervise the puppy, who decided it was fun to slip through the gap in the chain link fence and run into the neighbour's yard, I lay on the couch most of the day. I'm reading through the book of Romans, and it was my intent to read a number of translations. After reading in the ESV and the NSRV, I'm on to the NASB. I want to read in the NET bible next. It was nice to read in large chunks despite my runny nose and increasing pile of Kleenex on the coffee table, although it did prove to be too tempting to puppy to ignore. More running. Good news, after four weeks since my ankle fracture, I can run. A little. And inelegantly.

I saw someone re-tweet something recently. I can't remember where, but it was to the effect that studying theology all day long is never enough because God is great. I agree with that, but I have discovered (a fact about which I was cautioned as a new seminary student) that studying theology, while giving me joy, can easily lead to apathy toward personal devotions. Many years ago, when I began homeschooling, I made it my habit to rise early and read the Bible and pray. At that time, early morning offered the best opportunity for peace and quiet. Now that my chicks have flown the coop, I don't have that difficulty, and there are mornings when I have a lot of reading to do, or am preparing a paper, and it's easy to skip my Bible reading and prayer because I can put it off until later. And there are days when I forget because I've put it off.

It's easy to comfort myself that after, all, I am studying theology. Isn't that the same as Bible reading and prayer? Not really. I gain a great deal of spiritual insight from my theology class. Some of the most deep spiritual lessons have come my way through our textbook. But to sit before God, ready to communicate with him, to go before the throne of grace to pray and offer praise, is not what I'm doing when I'm studying.

As I study the relevant Scripture passages for this current unit on justification, the Holy Spirit can speak to me, and I can utter a praise to God as I see what I've been given, but a purposed time out for communion with God is more, and ought to be sought with priority. I've found myself more and more feeling pressed in the early mornings to get homework done so I can get on to other things. I need to resist that. 

The study of theology has to be for more than giving one the tools to object to someone else. It has to be more than equipping someone to support her pre-suppositions. It should be an extension of our relationship with Christ. It should fortify it, strengthen it. It should make us want to commune with him more. Most of us have the time. Lately, I have found myself being sucked into the vortex of online drama. Yesterday morning, I happened to catch a whiff of a furor over an article that a certain famous Christian wrote, and I realized afterward that I'd wasted about thirty minutes on it. Thankfully, I had no pressing plans, but that cannot continue. I would have been better off sleeping.

The study is not the end. It is merely the vehicle for knowledge to come, and with knowledge comes understanding, and with understanding, gratitude and praise. That should be the goal whether we're self-educating or attending seminary.

Monday
Jan022017

Women, know your limits!

That is the title of a very funny video. You should watch it. That's not exactly what this post is about, though.

One of the doctrines we discussed in my theology class last semester was the doctrine of humanity. We are not God. We are not immanent nor are we transcendent. We are neither all-powerful nor self-sustaining. That is who we are by design.

In the context of the doctrine of humanity, our textbook talked about the reality of our limitations. Erickson says:

Limitation is not inherently bad. There is a tendency to bemaon the fact of human finiteness. Some, indeed, maintain that this is the cause of human sin. If we were not limited, we would always know what is right and would do it. Were humans not encumbered by finiteness, they could do better. But the Bible indicates that having made the human with the limitations that go with creaturehood, God looked at the creation and pronounced it "very good" (Gen. 1:31). Finiteness may well lead to sin if we fail to accept our limitation and live accordingly.

Later, Erickson adds: "Proper adjustment in life can be achieved only on the basis of acceptance of one's own finiteness." 

I found that principle very thought-provoking. The implications of this are significant. Accepting our own finiteness means we need not feel the pressure to be perfect. We don't need to feel the pressure to always be right. We women talk a lot about not needing to be perfect. Will we ever understand that fully without a complete understanding of our finiteness?

Tis the season for resolution making. Goals are good things, but as we make them, we do need to recognize our limitations. One of my closest and oldest friends lost her son in November. This woman is one of the most godly women I know; truly a woman saturated in Scripture; truly a woman who consciously participates in her own sanctification, always desiring to grow in the Lord. She did not plan to grow in the ways which lie ahead, and which are a direct result of this loss. I may want to become better organized in 2017, but God may have other plans for me. I may want to read X number of books in 2017, but God, being unlimited in his knowledge, may know that something else is far better for me. Our plans are not always God's plans.

I wonder if some of the frustration we often feel at our circumstances is because we resist the limitations which are part of our own nature. It is not part of our current culture to suggest that one is limited. We can "do anything." Humans can do many things, but they are not God. Scripture reminds us: 

Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite (Ps. 147:5).
Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable (Ps. 145:3).

God is infinite and unsearchable, but we are not. And that is okay.

I am not really a resolution-maker. The goals I have are fairly general. What I do want to focus on, though, is the implications of my finiteness. It seems to me that being able to rest in God is intimately connected to accepting that reality. It doesn't mean I must be passive, but it does mean I need to know my limits.

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.

Thursday
Oct272016

Affliction is one of God's medicines

Clearly that sentiment would not be very popular today. Even in some Christian circles, afflictions are seen as more inconvenient than anything. But there was a time when life spans were shorter, illnesses weren't so easily dealt with, and struggle was more frequent in the everyday lives of people. We live in an age when affliction is seen as an interloper, not a part of life.

There I was last Friday night with my two assignments for Dr. Haykin's class, completed and freshly printed, waiting to be handed in the following day. I was in my flannel jammies, with plans to sit in front of the television and watch Shetland. I was excited about the next day, which also included my son's engagement party. I decided to play with the puppy for a while to tire him out. Two hours later, I was in the E.R., after a bumpy amublance ride, with a dislocated and fractured ankle. After having the dislocation fixed and the leg stabilized, I was sent home with Percocet, and told to report to the fracture clinic the next morning. By late Sunday afternoon, I had gone through surgery, was out of recovery, and equipped with some hardware in my ankle. 

It was not the weekend I had planned.

Yes, this throws a monkey wrench in my plans.

Someone asked me if I was sorry I got the puppy in the first place. I'm pretty sure people without puppies break limbs. In fact, as I saw the surgeon, I was reminded that this was my third break in three years (get the calcium and weight bearing exercises going!). I didn't get to my class. I'm not getting to my other class today. I will resume school duties next week, but my poor husband is run ragged at the moment making tea, doing laundry, and ensuring that I don't fall face first off my crutches.

This is minor in the grand scheme of things. I can look forward to healing at some point. There are people who will never walk again. I'm not going to complain. I'm thankful for a husband who has a job which allows him to take time for me. I'm thankful for friends who bring soup and buns and cake. I'm thankful for family who bring food. I'm thankful for kids who come to help out. I'm thankful for a friend who is a hairdresser and will come and pick me up to cut my hair.

It's so easy to think that we're blessed when we're swimming along nicely. We feel like we're on top of the world. And when trouble comes our way, we get disgruntled. I don't like having to sit on my rear end all day. I don't like not being able to go out with my dogs and run. But this could be so much worse. Yes, it's a bummer, but it's not that bad.

A good friend sent me some words from J.C. Ryle:

Affliction is one of God's medicines. By it he often teaches lessons which would be learned in no other way. By it he often draws souls away from sin and the world, which otherwise would have perished everlastingly. Health is a great blessing, but sanctified disease is a greater.Prosperity and worldly comfort is what all naturally desire; but losses and crosses are far better for us if they lead us to Christ.

I have no idea why this happened other than I need to remember that I'm not 25 years old anymore and running through the house is perhaps not recommended. The reading for my theology class this week focused on God's governing activity. I am reminded that God's governance over my life, and in fact over all the unviverse is good. This is a bad thing to have happened, that is for sure. But God is still good. Theology is so very practical!

By the end of the day, after navigating the house with my crutches, and managing pain, I will be tired, and probably cranky. But God is still good. And I want to remember this truth.