December 02, 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; Part 4 can be found here.
If you are going to receive an M.Div. at Gordon-Conwell, you have to take at least two semesters each of both Greek and Hebrew. This sounds daunting, but it shouldn't. The professors are fantastic and, if you are willing to put in the work, they will do everything that they can to meet you halfway.
But you must put in the work. That’s the key to languages. Unlike any other type of course that you may ever take in your life, there is no shortcut – it’s just time and effort. Like Alanis Morissette once asserted at the peak of her wisdom: “The only way out is through” (Cue a whiney and angry singing voice that we all somehow feel understands us. Go ahead, sing your favorite pre-“I’m-trying-to-be-cute-now” Alanis song. It will make your Monday morning better. And while we’re at it – shouldn’t Alanis sue Avril Lavigne for stealing her career path? Really, Avril? From dating a Sk8er Boi to the cover of Cosmo? Really?).
So, if you ever decide to go to seminary, Alanis and I should have now properly prepared you for the fact that your language courses are going to take a long time. But you know what? It’s worth it. It’s worth every last minute. Why? Three reasons.
First, if you don’t know any other foreign languages it is a great help to learn that ideas and objects are not fettered to one mode of expression. I think that C.S. Lewis said this well when he stated in Surprised by Joy: “The very formula, ‘Naus [Greek] means a ship,’ is wrong. Naus and ship both mean a thing, they do not mean one another. Behind naus, as behind navis or naca, we want to have a picture of a dark, slender mass with sail or oars, climbing the ridges, with no officious English word intruding.” It is an exceptional help to your study and your life to understand that concepts can be expressed in different ways (perhaps this variety of expression is one reason that we were given four Gospels).
Second, learning a language will teach you that your brain is smarter than you think (Unless you are the type of person who would have fit in well at Lewis’ fictitious Experiment House. Then, your brain is probably not quite as smart as you think). In Augustine’s Confessions, the great Patristic thinker writes with amazement at how, as a child, he learned something as complex as the Latin language by simply observing those around him and slowly putting everything together. Studying Greek and Hebrew will teach you that you’re brain is capable of the very same.
Third, and finally, learning Greek and Hebrew is worth it because there is truly nothing like reading the Scriptures in their original language. A few weeks ago I was at a men’s retreat with a bunch of great guys from our church. Dr. Gordon Isaac was leading the retreat, and we were sent off into small groups to discuss The Lord’s Prayer. In the midst of a good discussion we quickly realized that we did not know what the phrase “hallowed be your name” meant. I thought it was a passive adjective – Jesus simply stating that God’s name is holy. Others thought it was a passive verb. So, we pulled out the Greek and found out that it was an imperative passive verb, ἁγιασθήτω (Yes, I was wrong. I suppose it happens to everyone at least once).
What did I learn? Jesus is not stating here that God’s name is holy. Rather, he is stating that his name is to be praised (there’s a creature/Creator relationship required in his statement).
There are many great experiences that I have had at seminary, but one of the most challenging and rewarding has been the privilege of learning Greek and Hebrew. I hope that, if you haven’t already, you are also able to do the same in the near future. It is a wonderful blessing in our walk with God.
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.
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