March 12, 2013
Dear prospective (and current) student,
If I remember correctly, we have an Open House of sorts for prospective students this week. Hi. I’m Tim. What up?! I’d imagine you are sitting there thinking to yourself, “I have pulled up Gordon-Conwell’s blog hoping to find a glimpse of student life. I wonder what deeply profound insights this Tim guy has to offer.” Answer? None. Absolutely none. Let’s just get that out of the way first. I got nothin’ and I’m sorry you’re stuck with me. That said, I have a story for you, one that I think you might find helpful. It’s one of those “don’t do what I did” kinds of stories (and let’s be real, those are some of the best kinds of stories).
The Setting: I saw an email from registration at 3pm on Thursday letting me know that the course schedule was released for the next four semesters. I have OT Interpretation from 2 to 5pm on Thursdays and I found it VERY difficult to remain focused for the next 2 hours because my spreadsheet of possible class schedules was screaming my name. I refuse to comment on how much of my screen was notes for class and how much was the new course schedules. You can’t prove I wasn’t taking notes. Don’t try. ☺ To prove that I wasn’t a complete slacker that class, I offer the following insight from class: “Plunder the Egyptians!” Out of context, this is quite a weird phrase. In context, though, it was and is a profound antidote to one of most subtle ways my pride has hurt my education at Gordon-Conwell.
The Story: You see, I believe a lie about the educational process. I never vocalized the belief ,but it surfaces in my attitudes and convictions. To put it bluntly, my theory is: If you disagree with me, you are obviously an idiot.
Here’s the thing. I’m pretty smart and awfully sure I’m right about 95% of the time. It’s easy for me to assume that “if you would just see it my way, you’d get it” because, after all, I’m right. Don’t you agree? Oh you don’t? Ouch. How sad for you.
I doubt many of you would fail to see the pride oozing from those statements. Sadly, those statements are true of me and they surface in the subtle ways I react to anything I disagree with. When I first came to campus, I saw students passionately discussion pedo- and credo-baptism, women in ministry, Arminian vs. Calvin and I thought to myself “silly seminarians, fights are for heathens” as if I had outgrown my need for discourse. Later, I began to read of divergent views on creation, different hermeneutical lenses, and even picked up some of the conversations from BTI classes and scoffed at the comments offered by professors, authors, and students on these issues. How could they miss the beauty of the Gospel (or Reformed theology, or historical-critical interpretation, etc.)? It’s so clear to me! How could they fail to see it how I saw it? Later still, I remember reading a blog on this very site that offered an opinion on church planting different from mine and I thought to myself, “They just don’t get it! What is wrong with them? I am going to write a rebuttal post immediately and demand they post it.” Just this week I was tempted to throw out an author’s entire thesis because I was mad that he took his application a little too far.
And now we come to the problem with my theory: the vast majority of people who disagree around here are actually much smarter than me, having something to offer, but my pride keeps me from learning from them. Pride is competitive. Pride must win, often violently. My pride feels threatened by anyone who disagrees with me and seeks to destroy their credibility to maintain control. My pride demands I attack opposition rather than meticulously dissect it for jewels. This goes way outside of theological education, of course, but for this post I’m keeping it to that discussion.
Should you come to Gordon-Conwell, dear prospective student, you will find yourself in a similar situation as me and must choose how to react. A very smart person is going to disagree with you. Period. When that moment comes, it’s too easy to write off the argument as silly and fail to ask what can be learned from them. It’s a cop-out to fail to completey engage all sides of their reasoning because one piece fails to prove holistically convincing. Dr. Petter’s advice to plunder the Egyptians is advice to take what you can from those who oppose you (restricted only to the context of academic discourse) and leverage it for your continued growth. She meant to engage in those who disagree with us, learn from them, and use what we learn to propel the Gospel. While her comment was originally aimed at engaging secular approaches to biblical studies, I think this posture of humility is important even among denominational differences. You may be more reformed than John Piper but you can learn from an Arminian professor. You may blatantly disagree with a Harvard professor of miracles and supernatural phenomenon, but there is wisdom in learning what we can from such a professor and resolving to disagree with the rest. You may think it’s unnecessary to have a conversation about these differences, but you are missing out on an opportunity to grow in your understanding of the Gospel and Christian life. I am awful at this and it is because of pride. I am lazy. I cop-out. And, I need to quit.
So, dearest prospective student contemplating Gordon-Conwell, know this: you are very smart and you have great reasons for thinking about things in the manner that you do, but there are very smart people worth learning from who disagree with you. Don’t be like me and write them off because they happen to not fall into your denomination. This is one of the greatest treasures of Gordon-Conwell. You are surrounded by different cultures, different denominations, and different life stories on campus. It goes without saying that the campus is set in a community was vastly different views on life. Have a conversation. You will not be asked to change your beliefs (In fact, you’ll be encouraged to keep them.) But you will absolutely be challenged to fully engage, learn from, and (when necessary) respectfully rebut those who disagree with you. It’s incredible. Get ready.
Tim Norton is a born-and-raised, small-town Southerner with the sweet tea addiction to prove it. He comes to Gordon-Conwell as a Kern Pastor-Scholar and plans to pursue pastoral ministry in the U.S. after graduation. Tim is a big personality with a strange affinity for the color orange. Currently, he attends GENESIS Church, an Acts 29 church plant in Woburn, MA.
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