Gordon-Conwell Blog

The Seven-Year M.Div.: First Impressions

November 21, 2011


Author’s Note: Journeys are strange. You hardly ever end up where you thought you would, and you definitely never get there in the manner that you conceived. That has been as true for me as it was for Jonah the morning he woke up to take a leisurely cruise to Tarshish. Over the next few weeks I will be writing a series of blog posts exploring how I came to and through seminary. It’s a strange tale with no straight lines. But it’s my story, and it is the path that the Lord has led our family down. It’s not idyllic. I hope that encourages you. Also, in case you just joined the conversation, Part 1 can be found here; Part 2 can be found here; Part 3 can be found here.

My first year in the M.Div. program at Gordon-Conwell’s Charlotte campus was a bit of a shock to my recovering fundamentalist sensibilities. I was working 50-60 hours per week for Young Life in Pinehurst, NC, and took a week of vacation in order to drive 2.5 hours every day for an entire week in July to take my first course: “Introduction to the Old Testament” with Dr. Tim Laniak. Sounds simple enough, right? Here is the way the week was going to go in my mind: a nice man with a goatee was going to sit down and introduce me to….well…the Old Testament. I was excited for this. However, I should have read the syllabus [Note to all prospective students – always read the syllabus. I should have picked up this trick in college, but was too busy chasing my cute wife. Something’s name and what it actually is can often be quite different. For example, I went to college at TCU, and we are the Horned Frogs. Frogs with horns, right? Wrong – they have little horns, but aren’t frogs at all. If the NHFAA, the National Horned Frog Association of America, had a syllabus for you to read, and you would have read it, you would know that. And you would know that their natural defense mechanism is to spit blood out of their eyes. Well, you get the idea. Read the syllabus. OK, back to the story].

The first day of class, my professor explained that our course should have been titled “Old Testament Criticism”. Dr. Laniak, who is an excellent professor, earned his ThD at Harvard Divinity School and was about to introduce us to the field of biblical scholarship and what it had to say concerning the Old Testament. The course was fascinating: over the week we learned about issues concerning authorship, archaeology, linguistics (there is an actual language called Akkadian, The Rock didn’t just make it up for the movie “The Scorpion King”), inspiration, historicity, and more. And we didn’t just read evangelical protestant authors – we read authors writing from all different types of backgrounds. The environment was scholarly and faithful, challenging and safe. Throughout his lectures, Dr. Laniak handled everything with the quiet confidence of a man who has studied at the highest level and also maintains a very active Christian faith of his own.

Such an engagement of the heart, soul, mind, and strength was a new experience for me. In fundamentalism, I had learned that conflicting information is a threat and that the two responses to such information are either fear or anger. Dr. Laniak taught me that there is no reason to fear scholarship, nor do I need to worship it, but it is unacceptable to ignore it. Thus began my theological education. Lesson one: evangelicals can engage in scholarship at the highest level and still maintain a vibrant faith. Seminary is not a cemetery.

Brian has an M.Div. (2010) from Gordon-Conwell’s Charlotte campus, a Th.M. (2011) in Historical Theology from the South Hamilton campus, and is currently strengthening his language skills while in the MACH program. He hopes to matriculate into a doctoral program in August 2012 that will allow him to continue in his study of the thought of Augustine of Hippo. He has a wonderful wife, three great children, and spent ten years in ministry to teenagers, primarily with Young Life International.

Tags: Author: Brian , biblically-grounded , future students , spiritually vital , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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