Tag Archives: Seminary

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.

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…

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.

How not to live well.

A robust theology of creation has a bearing on our view of work, I think. Work is not in and of itself the result of the fall. I won’t get into the details of such a theology, but simply say that it results in an understanding of most work as good and profitable and in keeping with our design as human beings.

But conceptually, what does this work look like? Does it simply mean “work hard and do your work well”? What does “well” mean? I’m sitting here huddled in a study room in the library. I should be finishing an assignment–one of three technically due by next Tuesday–and I’m caught in a tension I’ve created for myself. It’s between wanting to do something well and recognizing that I cannot do it all.

Before I came to seminary, I was told by someone in our denomination not to worry about marks so much. That’s difficult for me. I feel like the grade I receive on a paper reflects whether or not I did the paper well and right.

I’ve also been told on a number of occasions by one professor at least that I should not read my books word-for-word. That’s also difficult for me. If I’m going to read something, it seems to me that I should read it all. But that can get me into trouble. Sometimes the reading never ends, but my time does.

There are some maxims that float around the seminary. “Sometimes finishing well means simply finishing” (or something like that). In terms of work (including study) as an act of worship and as a part of an integrated life that includes other things like family and physical needs, “Sometimes getting an A on an assignment means getting a B from the Lord.” They might sound like trite platitudes, but they are true in many respects. Because doing something well is something much more holistic than simply getting a good grade or creating the best product or learning the most stuff. Life isn’t a compartmentalized thing, made up of individual units that can be measured in isolation from the others. My family life factors in to doing school well. So does my spiritual life. I may get A’s (As?) in my classes, but I’m not always (ever?) getting A’s in terms of a well-integrated life.

What this means is that sometimes simply getting things done is more important than doing that thing as well as possible. At least, “as well as possible” can only be measured truthfully in relation to every other aspect of my life. To measure my best for something in isolation from the other aspects of life is to create impossible expectations for myself, because my best in this sense–that is, any one thing in isolation–will always crowd out everything else.

And that, friends, is not how we live well.

Islam and Current Events

Today was the first day of a week-long class called “Islam and Current Events” (interesting timing with the death of Osama bin Laden). It was very stimulating. The professor (Dr. Nabeel Jabbour–from off-campus) noted that there are two sides of the coin in terms of what is presented regarding Islam and the Middle East. Muslims get one side; the West gets another. One of the aims of the course is for us to get the side we don’t normally hear.

Joel noted accurately that pretty much everything he said today is new material. It was all very interesting, but what was of particular interest to me was trying to understand Islam from a Muslim point-of-view.

Christians normally approach the topic with what they assume is a direct-correspondence approach: compare our guy and their guy, our scriptures and their scriptures. They have Muhammad, we have Jesus; they have the Qur’an, we have the Bible. We make the connections, assuming their figure and scripture are analogous to ours, and think we understand Islam.

Dr. Jabbour argued that this kind of comparison does not, in fact, work to understand Islam. Christians won’t understand Islam if they assume the same thing about Muhammad and the Qur’an as Christians do about Jesus and the Bible. It’s not simply a matter of saying, the Qur’an is their authoritative book, just like the Bible is our authoritative book.

In fact, the comparisons that work–that is, the views that we could say are analogous between the two religions–are quite unexpected. Here are the main ones we discussed:

1. We  cannot directly compare Jesus and Muhammad. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the eternal, uncreated word of God. Muslims believe nothing of the sort about Muhammad. In Islam, the closest analogy to Jesus is actually the Qur’an, which they believe is the eternal, uncreated word of God.

2. The closest analogy for Muslim belief about Muhammad is Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both Mary and Muhammad are believed to be passive receivers of the eternal, uncreated word of God–Jesus Christ and the Qur’an, respectively. Mary was a virgin, meaning that Jesus wasn’t simply the result of normal reproductive means. Similarly, Muhammad was illiterate, meaning that he did not just record the words of the Qur’an on his own. Mary was miraculously pregnant; Muhammad received the word of God by dictation, which his photographic memory retained rather like a tape recorder. Both have historically been venerated.

(I’m not interested in discussing critiques of the virgin birth or the dictation theory of the Qur’an. I’m simply highlighting the proper belief-comparison as discussed in class.)

3. The Bible and the Qur’an are not directly comparable either. The 10 Commandments would perhaps be comparable, because they are believed to have been dictated (actually inscribed) by God. Historically, however, Christians have not officially believed in a dictation theory of the Bible (divine inspiration and dictation are not the same thing). The Qur’an, by contrast, is believed by Muslims to have been dictated by God (through the angel Gabriel), so that it is the direct word of God.

The best analogy for the Bible in Islam, then, is their books on the life and teaching of Muhammad. Muhammad made a distinction between the dictated revelations he received and his own teachings, much like Catholics make a distinction between the pope’s ex cathedra statements and his other teachings. The professor didn’t say whether Muslims consider Muhammad’s non-dictated teachings authoritative, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they do.

So, an interesting lesson. It won’t do to simply compare Jesus and Muhammad or the Bible and the Qur’an. The proper analogies are, in fact,

  • The Qur’an and Jesus
  • Muhammad and Mary
  • The Bible and books about Muhammad’s life and teachings

Fascinating stuff.

Summer reading and such

I didn’t plan to give up blogging for Lent. It just sort of turned out that way. Aaaaaand my readership continues to slip away…

I handed in my last paper of the semester yesterday. Now I start thinking about the reading I need to do for the two classes I’m taking in May.

Tonight is the seminary grad banquet. Neither of us is graduating, but we’re going to the banquet. I am winning some kind of award (it’s an honour just to be nominated!). Tomorrow morning we leave for a 6-day stint at Elkhorn Lodge or some-such, a resort north of Neepewa and on the edge of Riding Mountain National Park. It’ll be the Vandersluys’s plus another friend, then a few days later that friend and his wife, and then a few days later another couple friend. It should be good times. I hope. Let’s be honest: the kids a kind of the wildcard here. But there’s a pool and possible horseback riding and hikes.

But after that, after the getaway and the classes in may, I will read what I want to read.

What I think I can reasonably finish in the summer:

Theology:

  • N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God
  • Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship
  • Thomas Halik, Patience with God: The Story of Zacchaeus Continuing in Us
  • H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture
  • C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
  • Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

Biography:

  • Eric Mataxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Fiction:

  • Gavin’s sermon from a couple of weeks ago inspired me to pick up Three by Flannery O’Connor again and read at least The Violent Bear it Away
  • I’d like to have a second go at Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude.
  • Something else by Graham Greene.

Maybe this list isn’t reasonable for me to finish. All of these books will be beneficial reads, but I think now of the books I would benefit from practically by reading them this summer, such a s William Willimon’s Pastoral Theology (a text for a Winter 2012 course) and something on spiritual direction. Plus I need to re-learn Greek over the summer in preparation for the school year.

Let’s be honest: this reading list looks almost nothing like I will actually read this summer.

Changes in education?

At his blog, Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight recently began a series of posts on a book examining changes in U.S. higher education.  One particular statistic he noted stood out to me:

First, students. Here is a set of facts: From the 1920s to the 1960s full-time college/university students spent approximately 40 hours in academic pursuits — classes and study. Today the students spend 27 hours. That means about 13 hours a week studying. Prior to the 60s it was about 25 hours.

This diminution of time has resulted in no appreciative change in grade point average or upon progress toward completion of the degree.

I should note that at least two of my professors, if not more, have told us that courses are designed around the idea that for every one hour of class time, we spend two hours studying. For one class that’s an additional 6 hours of work, for a total of 9 hours per class. With a full schedule of 5 classes, that adds up to 40 hours per week. So the expectation or standard has not changed, at least not here, but habits have.

I’ve never actually calculated time spent studying outside of class time, so it may well be that I’m meeting expectations, but I suspect not. It’s not easy to do with 3 children and a spouse who is a part-time student as well. I’m sure this wasn’t any different prior to the 60s, but still.

I sometimes wonder if I’m short-changing myself in my education if I don’t use the full 40 hours every week, even if it is to some degree out of my control. On the other hand, it occurs to me that the nature and focus of education is changing. In the face of increasing availability of resources and information, this change might be necessary.

It seems to me that in many respects education is shifting to a focus on laying the foundations and preparing students to use the resources available to them for help. This may not sound any different than the past, but I’m suggesting something slightly different than “learning to do research”. This arises out of my experience learning the Biblical languages, so perhaps my theory applies only in that context.

At least two of my language professors have made a point of saying that there’s no sense in going the long way around learning the Biblical languages if there are shorter, easier ways available. This might sound like the lazy approach, so hear me out.  30 years ago, my language professors would have been required to learn many individual and unusual verb forms for Greek and Hebrew, and they would have been required to memorize the meanings of many hundreds of words. When translating, they would spend much time trying to figure out what word X was and then more time leafing through a lexicon to find out how it’s used. Once they found the meaning(s), they would be expected to memorize them.

These same professors are not insisting on the same rigour in their own students. Why? Because there are many affordable resources available to make the process of translating and interpreting the text much easier–many of them available online. Their theory is that it’s better to get on with the business of reading and enjoying the text and thereby learning the languages, instead of getting bogged down in the work leading up to that.

Is this a good or bad development? I don’t know. It certainly seems to make the learning experience that much more enjoyable. And, quite frankly, it doesn’t make much sense to spend hours memorizing paradigms when the parsing of various verbs is available online at the click of a button or in books organized by chapter and verse. Granted, the hard prep-work may make for a faster progression to smooth and direct reading of biblical Hebrew and Greek, but that kind of reading will presumably come over time anyway.

Whether this applies to teaching and learning outside of the languages, I don’t know.

School and work-related epiphany

Hi blog and readers. I continue to neglect you. We’ve actually had little to no internet availability at home since last Friday. But that has been good. I’m more productive when I’m not checking Facebook for 20 minutes every half hour or so.

The end is in sight. I preach on Hebrews 13 in class tomorrow and, as usual, am dissatisfied with what I have prepared so far and will continue to feel this way, no matter how many times I revise. After that I have to write an analysis of Ruth 4:13-17, with focus on Hebrew narrative sequence, theology, and the editor’s textual notes in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (the critical Hebrew text on which modern translations are based), masora parva (marginal textual notes added by the Masoretes in the Middle Ages). The paper is kind of like a commentary on the text, but it’s not supposed to look like a commentary. I have never written a paper like this and have no clue how to put something like this together in prose format. Then I have a short interaction with an article to write. And then on the weekend I will write the final paper for my Old Testament Text and Interpretation class.

That may sound like a lot, but I can see the end and it seems manageable.

My epiphany:

The courses offered at the seminary have varying degrees of difficulty. Some assignments require an enormous amount of work to complete and others can be completed quickly and with ease. Since starting seminary I have felt two things about the “easier” courses.  First,I have felt like the “easier” courses were short-changing me on my education. While I do think that some of the courses could use improvement or a slightly altered focus, I have come to realize that it is not an unrealistic expectation for a professor to have that I will supplement my course readings and assignments with additional material. No professor has vocalized such an expectation, so it may not actually exist. What is nevertheless important for me to recognize is that to some degree I make the course experience as valuable as I make it. If I choose to simply dash off the “easy” assignments without much thought, because I know I’ll get a good grade anyway, the loss of learning is my own fault, not, for the most part, the professor’s. Seminary is, in some senses, only a starting place, a foundation for life-long theological and pastoral reflection.

That actually isn’t my epiphany, but a lead up  to it. My epiphany, which came to me this afternoon, is this:

The second thing I have felt about the “easy” seminary courses is guilt over the relatively little time I spend on completing assignments. I don’t know if this is what people mean when they refer to the “Protestant work ethic,” but somehow it is ingrained in my head that only assignments into which I have poured blood, sweat, and tears are valuable and worthwhile doing.

If I get a good grade on a difficult assignment, all is well and good. However, when I get a good grade on an assignment which was easy to complete, I feel some degree of guilt, because it feels like the easy papers don’t deserve good grades.

It occurred to me today, however, that this isn’t simply a question of difficult papers being more deserving. What that perspective neglects to factor in is that my brain may well function better in different assignment contexts. If I recognize that some assignments are easier simply because my brain is better able to process them, then suddenly a paper can both be easy and quick to write and of a quality deserving a good grade.

This may not seem like something worth the term “epiphany”, but it makes a huge difference to the perspective I have of my own work and relieves a whole lot of unnecessary guilt.

It’s that time of year again.

By which I mean Birthdadventresearchpaperismas. It warms the cockles of my heart.

Today is my birthday. Unfortunately, as a student my birthday always falls on one of the most stressful parts of the year. Papers due and such.

Here is what I did today:

  • 7:01a.m. – 8:10a.m. – Get up, shower, have breakfast, open gifts, hug my children, kiss my wife.
  • 8:10a.m.-8:30a.m. – walk Madeline to the bus, walk to class.
  • 8:30a.m.-11:30a.m. – Listened to five different 20 minute sermons, evaluated 2 of them, and discussed them all.
  • 11:30-1:10 – lunch, settle the kids for naps.
  • 1:10-1:30 – read through the section on Hebrews 13 in N.T. Wright’s For Everyone series commentary on the book.
  • 1:30-1:40 – catnap
  • 1:40-3:30 – summarized 3 out of 9 chapters of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind for a book review due on Friday. I hate summarizing. It is slow, plodding work, particularly because I am going by my underlining in the book, rather than a separate set of notes.
  • 3:30 – 4:30 – give kids snack; wander; type very little; make tea
  • 4:30 – 4:45 – unknown
  • 4:45 – 5:30 – Play Wii with Luke (we borrowed a Wii from friends to see if we should get one.  Answer: no, we should not.)
  • 5:30 – 6:20 – supper (boerenkol)
  • 6:20 – 6:50 – watched an episode of Corner Gas with the kids while eating dessert (home-made apple pie and ice cream). Intermittent fielding of phone calls from family.
  • 6:50 until now – write blog post.
  • This evening: Alas, more summarizing of the book.

Also, December 12 (4 days from now) will mark 7 years of blogging. Not sure if I’ll post that day or not.

At some point I plan on mentioning my favourite books of the year. I’ve read more books this year than any other year in history. I’m at 35 books for the year, plus a skimmed book as well as who knows how many articles (at least a book’s worth).  There were some real good’ns amongst the books I read. I was thinking of posting them now, but I think I’ll wait for another day.

One of my birthday gifts was Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, which I think I may read over the Christmas break. It may turn out to be a favourite.

A throw-away post to hold you over until next time.