Seminary


Words: 51,400, footnotes: 530, pages: 133, finishing the first draft of my ThM thesis: PRICELESS!

Yes, that gag is overdone, but it still made me chuckle, and that’s the point. . . isn’t it? Maybe not. Anyway a big part of my work is done. Most of my thoughts are now on paper. Now I just need to work on making them good and coherent thoughts. 

Title: “The Story of the Vineyard: Jesus’ Retelling Isa. 5:1-7 in the Parable of the Wicked Tenants”

Advertisements

One of the things that becomes evident when you begin formal Bible study is that you begin to question the protestant doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. Here is what I mean by this. As you begin your ‘formal training’ you begin to acquire what can only be called ‘special knowledge’ (sounds very gnostic). You now know Greek and Hebrew (and for those select few, Aramaic). You know more of the historical backgrounds of the texts (or at least what current scholarship thinks it knows about those backgrounds). You begin to exercise, what your professor tells you is a ‘sound hermeneutic.’ All this is ‘special knowledge’ that the average person in the pew does not have. 

Now, imagine yourself in church and people begin asking you questions (they know you’re in seminary after all). You begin to rattle off what you heard in last week’s lecture on the book of Romans, talking about historical background and the Greek root of verbs, and the average person begins to doubt in their own ability to read the Bible themselves. 

Here is my problem. The doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture came about (at least the Protestant formulation of it) in rebellion against the medieval catholic view that only the church (i.e., non lay-people) could interpret Scripture. When I look at the church today, it seems to me that we have replaced the ‘church’ with the ‘academy.’ If you haven’t written a critical commentary on the Gospel of Mark who are you to interpret it? As I begin to be a true (whatever that means) student of Scripture I find myself utilizing my recently acquired ‘special knowledge’ and finding great insight from it. However, as a Christian and a churchman I have to maintain that the basics of the message are accessible to the average person in the pew given the illumination of the Spirit and the proper amount of study. All that is to stay, I think I still need to confirm the basic idea of the perspicuity of Scripture (to say nothing of post-modern, or reader-oriented hermeneutics) but I’m still working out how.

Another semester down! It has been a while since I’ve been able to write anything of note here (not that I ever really write anything of note) because I have been busy finishing finals and final projects. But now I am done. My Aramaic final went really well and my Hebrew Narrative final went as well as can be expected. I look forward to blogging about some of my projects in the future. But for now I’m gonna go take a nap!

How is it possible that no matter how hard I try, no matter how much I work early on in the semester, I still find myself in a spring just to finish everything by the end of the semester? What is it about the last few weeks of a semester that demand the hardest and most work, regardless of how much work you put in the rest of the semester. I’m sure more than one student can sympathize with me. I’ve heard tell of these students that do so much work early on in the semester that the last few weeks are just casually ‘brushing up’ for the final. But as far as I can tell these are but mythical creatures. Real students have to suffer the last few weeks of a semester. Real students know that the last few weeks of a semester mean blood, sweat and tears. It means a lot of coffee, a little sleep and a lot of stress. Bring it on semester, I’m a battle hardened veteran. Let’s rock!

Another thing I have found to be true about life as a Seminarian is that people begin to ask you to pray. This happens in weird places. In family get-togethers suddenly people ask you to pray as much as more appropriate ‘heads of the family.’ Or, when getting together with peers, suddenly at that awkward moment when you are deciding whether or not we are going to pray in public, suddenly friends who have not looked to you for any sort of leadership for as long as you’ve known them suddenly look to you to be the one to pray.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this. I’m happy to pray for people and to be the one to pray but it makes me wonder what people are thinking. I hope no one assumes that I have any closer relationship with God because of Seminary. Sadly, your spiritual life can suffer because of Seminary just like anything else. I guess, like a pastor, people see public prayer as one of the common roles of a Seminarian. It’s strange to me, I don’t know what to do about it (probably just pray), but I do know it happens. Just another thing that happens when people find out you’re in Seminary.

WS LogoOne of the things that happens to you when you are in seminary is that people start to ask you questions about Scripture and Theology. This can be fun, but I think it also needs to be balanced. There is a myth that when you are in seminary somehow you have the answers. I have found this to be very untrue. At best, when you are in seminary you have some of the questions. A Seminarian is someone who is developing his/her theology. It is in flux.

The other myth is that somehow, when you are in seminary, your thoughts are more authoritative. This terrifies me. Recently, both of my parents have, on separate occasions, asked me questions about Scripture or Theology. Here is the thing: yes I can read Greek and Hebrew, and yes I am up to speed on at least some of the currents of conversation in theological studes, but I AM ONLY 26 YEARS OLD. My conclusion about Seminary is that, the greatest seminary training should not be viewed as better than decades of Christian living and study.

Example. My mom has read her Bible every day (with very few exceptions) for most of her life. Only since college have I even attempted this (with varying degrees of success). There is no way that I can claim to know the Bible as well as my mom, a non-seminary trained, dedicated Christian. I just haven’t had enough years. I’m happy to answer questions, and to talk Bible and theology with people, it’s what I love. But I want to make sure that I have a healthy respect for the views of people who have dedicated their lives to Christ for decades longer than I have been alive. I think there is a reason that leaders in the church are called ‘elders.’ There is a level of Christian maturity, knowledge and relationship that can only come over time. You do not magically get this by going through a few years of classes.

All this is to say, when you are a seminarian, prepare to have people ask you questions. But also prepare to give other non-seminarians their due respect. In many cases they have ‘walked the walk’ significantly longer than you.