Category Archives: Seminary

Kitchen conversations

The other day I was walking to work, between open fields pure white with snow. It was a clear blue day, the sun shining bright, but there was a cool breeze blowing across the fields, setting the power lines to humming. It put me in a bit of a melancholic mood, which is not necessarily a bad thing. I felt a bit of the isolation out here in this beautiful place we live, maybe a bit of loneliness.

I thought of my friends from Providence Seminary and the conversations we would have almost every day during class breaks. We’d wander the halls, almost inevitably ending up in the seminary kitchen area. Someone would boil water for tea, and we’d lean back against the counters or sit on them while we waited. We would discuss and debate and question and explain. There would be a number of conversations going on at once, spilling out into the hallway. It was mostly theology we talked about, stuff that came up in class, stuff we read, controversies we heard about, and all of it peppered with wit. Later we’d run into each other in the library or near the bookstore and we’d pick up where we left off.

Those were good years. And I miss them right now (water rises to my eyes).

I started this blog nine years ago last December. I didn’t own at the time, but it was called The Eagle & Child right from the beginning.

The Eagle & Child is a pub in Oxford, England, where J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and other members of the Inklings would gather Tuesday mornings for a pint and some good discussion. They discussed their own literary works-in-progress, and I imagine theology and philosophy was also covered.

… The concept of the Inkling’s gatherings was sort of what I had in mind for this blog. It was to be a place where people “gather” to discuss life, faith, literature, philosophy, and so on. (from my About… page)

And for a time, at least, that’s what happened here. Lots of theological (and sometimes political) discussion and debate, and a bit of a community developed. I started blogging less and less frequently around the time I started to move towards vocational ministry and it almost died completely through the last three years of seminary. That was surprising to me, since I had expected seminary to provide lots of “blog fodder”. I’m sure there were a number of reasons for the decrease in blogging, but it occurs to me now that what I had envisioned for this blog–the, as it were, Eagle & Child experience–was happening in the hallways of Providence Seminary. I didn’t need this blog, because I was having face-t0-face discussion and debate.

That seminary kitchen was my Eagle & Child! Were I to start a blog like this now, I might just call it “Kitchen Conversations.” Kitchens are where the best conversations happen most of the time, and that particular kitchen in the seminary is where “the Eagle & Child” became real for me.

Maybe I’m idealizing. Maybe nostalgia has taken control of my memory and my emotions and circumstances and created something didn’t exist in quite the way I remember it. But I don’t have access to that kitchen any more. I won’t be discussing Torrance or Bonhoeffer or Wright or even Bell while leaning against that kitchen counter as the kettle begins to gurgle and spit. Not anytime soon, anyway.

So maybe this will mark a return to this space. And maybe it’ll mean more of a contribution to the joint blog I occasionally contribute to with the very guys I was having those discussions with. And new face-to-face conversations will be had where we live now, and they, too, will be good.

But I’ll still miss those seminary kitchen conversations.

Nestorius, The Pericope of the Adulteress (other writings)

A couple of more papers to add to the “other writings” list, which may or may not interest you.

The first is my first major research paper for seminary. It was actually a distance-learning class I took through Briercrest Seminary on the Patristic Fathers (basically early church history and theological development with a focus on the leading theologians of the time). Over the course of my reading I became fascinated by the Nestorian controversy, a famous (in church theological circles) heresy in the fourth century (I think) about the relationship between divine and human natures in Jesus. I was fascinated because it seemed like a fine example of hair-splitting and I couldn’t quite figure out why Nestorius got the treatment (excommunication) he did, particularly since some of what Nestorius argued for was affirmed in later church councils. In the last 150 years or so, theologians have been rethinking Nestorius’ status, wondering if he was himself in fact a Nestorian (in spite of the fact that that heresy will forever bear his name).

This paper was particularly helpful for me because it made me realize that “heresy” is not necessarily an evil thing. That is not to say that I affirm heresy. What I mean is that we tend to think of heretics–the purveyors of heresy–as people intent on destroying the church. What I discovered during the course of writing this paper was that those who have been branded “heretics” by the church (often rightfully so) were in fact sincerely wrestling with their faith in and understanding of God. They were often (always?) concerned with believing rightly and faithfully and honouring God.

This is often true, I find, even among the more serious heresies, such as Arianism or the teachings of Marcion. These men were trying to be faithful. That doesn’t mean that they were right–sincerity is not a guarantee of theological correctness–but it also doesn’t mean that they were intent on destroying the church.

I haven’t re-read this paper in more than three years, so I have no idea what I think of it now. But I do remember that the professor said it was a delight to read. Here it is: “Personality and Terminology: The Nestorian Controversy” (terrible title– pdf, 15 pages).

The second paper I want to link to today is the longest I’ve ever written. The pericope of the adulteress (John 7:53-8:11) came up several times in 2011. You’ll notice that your Bible, if it was published in the last 40 years or so, marks off this passage saying in a footnote or elsewhere that “the oldest and most reliable manuscripts” do not include this passage. The New English Bible omits the passage altogether and places it in a footnote at the end of John. One of my professors said that he would not preach this passage because he did not believe, based on the evidence, that it is original to the text. Most text critical scholars feel the same way (hence its marking off in our Bibles).

The fact is, this passage appears in various forms in different places in the New Testament manuscripts as well as in other writings. However, I don’t think simply saying “the oldest and most reliable manuscripts do not include this passage” tells the whole story accurately.

The paper is 31 pages long (plus bibliography) and it still does not fully engage everything I think is worth engaging on this topic. It’s quite technical, as it covers all of the manuscript evidence, but it also engages (though not as much as I would have liked) questions of inspiration and the source of scriptural authority.

Here you go: “Pericope Adultera (John 7,53-8,11).”

Again, if you read either of these, let me know what you think.

(I have now started a page of “other writings,” where I will, from time to time, post additional papers, publications, etc. Of course, the best laid plans, the road to hell, etc.)

God’s Love and God’s Wrath (Other writings)

After the discussion that arose with the post about being unwittingly Orthodox (“Unwittingly Orthodox?“), I thought it might be interesting to post my paper on God’s love and wrath, which was the last major research paper I wrote for my degree. It then occurred to me that there are a number of other papers I could make available here for posterity’s sake. I will begin to do so today–feel free to read them or not read them as you will.

The paper on God’s love and God’s wrath and how they relate developed out of a question that came to mind during one of our seminary chapels, in which Romans 5:6-11, or a portion of it, was quoted. It says this:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. (NRSV)

There is a tension in this passage between God’s love and God’s wrath that I could not resolve. Not that all tensions in scripture need or can be resolved, but something about the tension between needing to be saved from God’s wrath and God saving us from his own wrath bugged me enough to pursue the question. Originally it was going to be an exegetical paper, limited to interpreting this passage, but it soon became clear that it needed to be more theological.

The response to the paper, which I had to present to the class and defend, was generally positive. While most seemed to agree with my conclusions, I sensed some discomfort (though nothing specific was expressed) at the possible implications of those conclusions. There was also a question about the way the paper was organized, which I acknowledge could have been better–my organizational choices were made for aesthetic reasons rather than for the natural/rational flow of the argument.

Anyway, here it is: “Love Wins? God’s Love and God’s Wrath in Romans 5.6-10” (pdf, 20 pages plus bibliography).

If you do read it, tell me what you think.

Unwittingly Orthodox?

Scot McKnight posted this video of an (Eastern) Orthodox (EO) priest (? possibly not a priest) explaining the difference between the Protestant view of the atonement and the Orthodox view:

What’s interesting about this video is that the EO view presented is more or less the view I argued for (without knowing it is EO) in my final major paper for seminary. Additionally interesting is that my thought was informed by T.F. Torrance, a Reformed (that is, Protestant) theologian.

So, either Torrance and I are unwittingly EO Christians or this video has a narrow view of Protestant atonement theology.* I’m guessing it’s the latter.

* I’d say there are several Protestant views on the atonement, not just one.

Lots of news.

I suppose it’s time for me to say something about what’s next for us. I’m generally inclined to keep things like this to myself until such time as it feels right to talk about it, and that takes time to build as I process and begin to understand my own feelings and perceptions and let things settle in me. And I also kinda sorta wanted to wait for the official letter from the church, more as a formality than anything, or maybe as something to confirm that this is really real (’cause it’s a bit surreal). It’s easier to keep things from you, dear readers, but not so easily from friends who have traveled with us on this journey and who know the stages we are at and want to know what’s happening. And information is seeping its way out into the world, by word-of-mouth, Facebook, etc. (and Dixie writing a post about it today).

So I’ve been called to The Field. That’ll mean something to some of you and nothing to others. So: I’ve been called by a church in a field quite literally in the middle of nowhere (that is, it is not in or near a town). Plopped in a field in the middle of the the Wetaskiwin-Camrose-Ponoka triangle of Alberta. It’s called Malmo Mission Covenant Church.

It’s an associate pastor position, with responsibilities for youth, families, discipleship, intergenerational stuff, etc. A pretty broad position, in my view (hold the weight jokes, folks), with room for growth and learning and change and shaping. I’m quite excited (and nervous) about that. This is a process that started last fall sometime when I put my name into my denomination’s “system.” That was followed by phone calls, interviews, prayer, votes, and so on. Well, I suppose it goes back farther than that and even farther still.

The name of the church may sound familiar to some of you. That’s because it’s the one Randall is pastoring. That’s what makes this additionally surreal. Randall was there when the stirring began and had a big part to play in my developing sense of “calling.” To work with my friend, mentor, former pastor, and someone with experience and wisdom to share is quite a privilege as well.

So, the Vanderfamily will be moving to Alberta. When we got the announcement of the church’s vote while traveling in the car a couple of weeks ago, I said to the kids, “I got the job in Alberta. What do you guys think of that?” And Luke replied, “Okay I guess. But we’ll miss you.”

Adorable! Funny! So innocent! Or should I be concerned that he seemed unphased, that it didn’t seem like a big deal that Daddy was going away while they stayed here?

In some sense we have been for some time now carrying the burden of our childrens’ grief at moving away from their friends. Particularly Madeline’s. But the kids are excited at the prospect of this new adventure. I don’t think it has quite hit us yet that we are leaving friends as well. We’ve built some lasting ones here and it will be difficult to leave them. Of course, if we weren’t leaving them, they’d eventually be leaving us. That’s the nature of friendships made at educational institutions. But I do think that I am at least subconsciously beginning to grieve, if such a thing is possible. So I’m worried a bit that this post will sound too melancholic for what is actually good and exciting news. The excitement is building with each day, but that doesn’t mean grieving doesn’t get added to the mix.

A new chapter. A new adventure. A new home. A new community. New friends. New experiences. New joys. New mistakes. New successes. New lessons. Lots of news in the next couple of months.

Hello May!

Hello May. And readers.

It has been nearly a month and much has been accomplished. For one, I graduated from seminary. I am now a Master of Divinity. Given the name of the degree I had high expectations, but contrary to those expectations, I was not conferred with any special powers. I’m hoping that they’ll be given when I receive my diploma after they’ve confirmed that all of the degree requirements have been met.

It’s a bit surreal that it’s all done now. Three years gone just like that. I’m not quite sure what to do with myself now that I have nothing pressing to do.

I was one of four people nominated for Valedictorian. At that point I was not interested in writing a speech on top of all the other things I had to do before the end of the semester. I was quite relieved when the graduating class nominated one of the other four to be the Valedictorian.

The other three nominees were asked to talk about their seminary at the grad banquet for 3-4 minutes  experience. I figured I’d think something up during the banquet and scribble it on a napkin. Then last year’s Valedictorian told me that her speech was only 5 minutes long! Suddenly those 3-4 minutes of sharing seemed like a much bigger deal. Mild panic. But all went well.

It was a relatively relaxed weekend. Festivities were done by noon on Saturday (then college festivities began). Which meant the rest of Saturday and Sunday with my mom, my brother, and the Otterburne Vandersluyses (Dixie’s parents unfortunately could not come because of health problems).

Here’s a picture of me in my cap and gown after the grad ceremony (taken on my brother’s iPhone):











And then some other stuff I’ll tell you about some other time…

On theological mumbo-jumbo.

I don’t have a habit of giving myself theological labels. But I have said that, insofar as I know what it means, I am not a Calvinist. I am deeply troubled by Calvinism’s notion of predestination, whether it is double predestination or single (which, in my view, is by implication the same as double predestination). It may well be that I simply don’t understand the nuances of Calvinist thought, but, Calvinism having been explained to me a number of times, it never gets any clearer.

I’m reading an article by D. A. Carson–“God’s Love and God’s Wrath”–for a major paper due in a couple of weeks. It occurred to me as I read that I cannot deny the general notion of “election” because it’s there in scripture. Whether it is “clearly” in scripture is debatable. In fact, how we understand election is one of the foundational differences between Calvinists and Arminians. The notion is there. We’re just can’t agree on what it means.

As much as I cannot deny the notion of election, I equally feel like I am not in a place to take that notion much further than that: there are “elect”. Beyond that we start getting into the question of who’s “in” and who’s “out”, which, while not completely inappropriate, too easily devolves into sectarianism and a level of dense and nit-picky theological mumbo-jumbo that exhausts me in its sheer unhelpfulness. As if we can have any degree of certainty about who “the elect” might include. Even if we do manage to define every theological concept relevant to “election” to its finest point, so little of it (if any at all) is, in the end, in our control, that thinking about it seems like an exercise in futility.

I guess it’s a pastoral bent in me that rails against this kind of discussion. The gospel is not about who is “elect”, it’s about Jesus Christ as (and currently Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel is influencing my thought) the fulfillment of God’s work to set the world right through his covenant promises to Israel (or something like that). That leads to salvation. We can’t determine with a great deal of certainty whether or not we are among the elect who will be saved until it’s too late to do anything about it (if indeed we could do anything about it!). So what’s the point of worrying about who is “elect”? All we can do is trust in and follow the example of the one who lived, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven, and will return. Never mind “elect”.

Maybe I’ve missed the point of Calvinist “election” entirely. Or maybe this makes me an Arminian.

Not that it matters.

The end is nigh.

It is slowly dawning on me that (at the time of writing) graduation is about five weeks away. This is both an exciting and a terrifying prospect. Exciting because I’ll be done with research papers and I’ll be able to do guilt-free pleasure reading. Terrifying because this is where the real leap of faith happens, entering the “real world” once again. Terrifying also because there is so much left to do in these next five weeks. In no particular order:

  • Write and present an exegetical paper on 1 Peter 4:12-13.
  • Read 2 books and write three short critiques (there’s a third book I just finished reading).
  • Research and write a 20-page paper on the relationship between God’s wrath and God’s love in Romans 5:1-11 (my topic choice).
  • Write a sermon (Matthew 22:1-14 – the parable of the wedding banquet).
  • Co-plan and co-lead Good Friday service at our church.
  • Write and present another exegetical paper on another couple of verses from 1 Peter.
  • Write a philosophy of ministry
  • Write a summary of a workshop I attended at the Church Planting Congress in Winnipeg last November, including a 3-page bibliography of resources for further study on the subject.
  • Write a final translation exam on 1 Peter.
  • Prepare 3 special services (for a class on Pastoral Theology): wedding, funeral, and baby dedication.
  • Various smaller weekly assignments.

I oscillate between despair and hopefulness, between feeling like it’s doable and feeling like it’s not. When I reflect on the smaller assignments, most of which will not be difficult or particularly time consuming, I am hopeful. When I consider the 20-page paper in particular, I am filled with a certain level of dread. I’m just thankful that I’m interested in my topic, which is a rare occurrence.

Onwards and upwards! Up and at them!

Of school and (auto)biographies

Well, today I handed in the last assignment for that twice-extended course from last semester. It feels good, but not as good as I had expected. There is more to do, I guess. This week I’m in class all day, every day for a one-week modular, called “Pastoral Theology”. Modulars are nice because after a full day in class I feel justified in not doing any schoolwork in the evening. I may regret that later, but that’s where I’m at right now.

Next week it’s back to business, but finishing that first semester course and getting through another course (at least its classroom part) makes next week feel a bit like a new start. There’s still a lot of work to do before I’m done, but I’m not starting off behind. I’m right where I’m supposed to be, more less.

* * *

I haven’t done a whole lot of non-school reading this semester. What I have read, usually before going to sleep, has been (auto)biographies. It feels like it might be that kind of reading year. It began with Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor: A Memoir. It was very good. I sometimes feel like Peterson was working in an ideal situation of sorts–he planted a church and pastored that same church for 29 years. It’s not a situation most pastors find themselves in. But then Peterson makes it clear that his story is not one we should try to imitate, as if it’s a blueprint for successful pastoral life. But he nevertheless provides useful insight into the life and practice of a pastor that I can walk away with.

Next I tried to get into Frances Donaldson’s authorized biography of P.G. Wodehouse.  I had been looking forward to that one for a while. It was mildly interesting, mostly because the lengthy introduction sang the praises of Wodehouse’s writing style, including reflections from his more-respected-in-literary-circles contemporaries. I, too, sing those praises. But it wasn’t smooth reading and, quite frankly, Donaldson spends more time psychoanalyzing Wodehouse than I care to read about. I quit partway through the first chapter. I may pick it up again in the future.

The next day I started reading Stanley Hauerwas’ Hannah’s Child: A Theologian’s Memoir. Hauerwas is always provocative and this book is no exception. It’s sometimes a little too detailed in terms of the specifics of his education, but it has nevertheless been a good read so far. I pick it up whenever I have a spare moment. It is in the introductory chapter where Hauerwas has this wonderful line:

I have…tried to live a life I hope is unintelligible if the God we Christians worship does not exist.

I like that. I was hooked after that.

What’s next? Maybe Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Or maybe another volume from Frederick Buechner’s series of autobiographies. Or maybe I’ll re-read Carpenter’s Tolkien biography.

I’m not sure what the appeal of the (auto)biography is. It’s partially about getting a look inside the life of someone you admire or relate to. Maybe there’s a bit of vicarious living that goes on, too.

Lent and other things

A short update for faithful readers:

This last semester of seminary was supposed to be a little lighter than the others. Alas, it was not to be. Due to a conflict last semester, I had to take one course as a directed study, which meant it got pushed to the bottom of the pile, which turned into two extensions. I’m nearly finished that course now, having recently finished the major paper. That paper, on the question of the authority (e.g. should it be in the Bible) of the story of the adulteress in John 7:53-8:11, turned out to be 35 pages long, including a 3-page bibliography. That’s over halfway to a master’s thesis, folks! I say this not to brag, but to note the ridiculousness of the work I did, given the paper could have been as short as 15 pages. And, quite frankly, I’m still not satisfied with the result. But it’s handed it. I needed to move on.

Why? Because I’m busy with the four other classes I’m taking this semester. Papers, translation, presentations, reading, teaching. The list goes on. But the end is in sight!

* * *

Lent. I gave up Facebook. This is a legitimate, if lame, fast. I’ve also tentatively and half-heartedly given up several other internet things…I think. If I have, I’ve broken that fast almost daily already. I’ve also–again, tentatively, and half-heartedly, given up snacking. Mostly Facebook. Though even there I’ve already broken one of the purposes of a fast: to make room for God and orient myself towards him. I’m hopeless, aren’t I?

* * *

It suddenly dawned on me yesterday that in a couple of months we will likely be saying goodbye to our friends here. And there are a lot of them. In fact, I suspect I will have many more people to say goodbye to here after 3 years than I did when we moved away from Prince Albert after seven years. This will be depressing. I am bracing myself for much watery emotion from myself. It almost gets me now, when I think about it.

And then I think of our children–especially Madeline–saying goodbye to their friends. That doesn’t help, either. We now carry not only our own emotions, but those of our children as well.

Life goes on, the blog remains silent. Things will pick up.