Gordon-Conwell Blog

Alumni Guest Post: A Glimpse into the Power of Presence

December 28, 2011

Joannah Cook

As pastoral caregivers, we are familiar with the importance of ministering to others through our presence, especially at key moments or rites of passage. Births, baptisms, graduations, weddings, visits to the sick and funerals represent events where the pastor’s presence is required or requested. At such events, the pastor is usually expected to pray, preach a sermon and pronounce a blessing. We have a clear role and function wherein we serve God’s people through spoken words, which lend meaning to such events. But what can be said about the meaning of presence when our words cannot be understood?

In my work as a chaplain, I stand at the bedside of infants whose parents are not present and I sit across the table from Alzheimer’s patients who could not verbally communicate with me. In these circumstances, I act as a witness to the patient’s story and God gives me the opportunity to behold His work in the present moment. Through bearing witness, we as pastoral caregivers affirm the truth that all humans are created by God with dignity and beauty and are worthy of respect and compassion. Further, being attuned to this truth reminds us of our own needs and flaws which draws us deeper into God’s compassionate, parental arms.

Similarly, in the chaos of a trauma room, my words can be heard, yet not absorbed by those who are shocked by trauma. And, in the midst of the darkest and most painful moments, there are no words, only a silence filled with a mystery known only to God. A pastoral caregiver comes alongside another at times like these and in so doing “enters with [him] into the experience of weakness and powerlessness, become[s] part of uncertainty, and give[s] up control and self-determination.” (Nouwen, Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life, p. 14) Our presence will communicate more than our limited vocabulary can express because it is through our presence, mediated by the Holy Spirit, that others can begin to realize that they are not alone in the world. They can begin to understand that they are worthy and loved not for what they can produce but for who they are as human beings.

When I visit Ms. Johnson*, an Alzheimer’s patient, who is verbal yet rarely able to speak in complete sentences, I sit next to her and listen. I listen for the pauses where she seems to look for affirmation. I nod my head in agreement and smile. And, though she may not understand, I tell her how beautiful she looks. “You think so?”, she asks in what seems to be a moment of lucidity. I smile at her and exclaim, “Yes!” She smiles back and continues to talk in scattered phrases and I continue to nod my head in agreement, knowing that God has spoken the truth about us: We are not alone. We are worthy. We are loved.

*This name is changed to protect the identity of the patient.

Joannah Cook (M.Div., 1998) lives in Atlanta, GA and after completing her Clinical Pastoral Education at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in the summer of 2011, began her current position as chaplain and bereavement care coordinator for Journey Hospice. Joannah is seeking ordination in the Presbyterian Church, USA and desires to continue in her vocation as chaplain after ordination.

Tags: Alumni Guest Post , equipping leaders for the church and society

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This blog is nice and amazing. I really like your post! It's also nice to see someone who does a lot of research and has a great knack for writing, which is pretty rare from bloggers these days. Thanks!
Get GED Online 3:34AM 10/16/12

What I Wish I Could Have Avoided During my Time in Fundamentalism

December 22, 2011

Brian

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; Part 5 can be found here. Part 6 can be found here. Part 7 can be found here.

Recently, I wrote a post about why I am thankful for the time that I spent in Protestant fundamentalism. Too often, only the negatives about the time one spends in this movement are noted in face-to-face, online, and internal dialogues. I think that this is unhealthy for those of us who have traveled this path as it continues the fundamentalist thought pattern which tends to see everything as either altogether good or altogether bad. Rather, it is helpful for us to remember that “only God is good” (Mark 10:18). Everyone and everything else is something other than altogether good.

Yet, the reason for the preponderance of such negative dialogue about fundamentalism is the reality of the pains experienced by those who have walked through and emerged from it. Therefore, in light of my thankfulness for my time within the movement, I would also like to present why, at times, I wish that I did not spend those years in that “place.”

I wish that I could have avoided:

  1. The juxtaposition of a verbal proclamation of God’s grace alongside a nonverbal proclamation of the necessity for humans to earn God’s favor. To this day, I have to be perpetually mindful that my faith is in the former and not the latter.
  2. The suppression of natural, God-given gifts that did not fit within a fixed number of predetermined roles.
  3. The continual cautions against the pride that comes from knowledge which was spoken with a similar pride in a lack of “worldly knowledge”; both paths can evince the same pride (this is a subset of #3).
  4. The (usually) unspoken understanding that one must work in full-time ministry in order to be the highest form of a Christian (another subset of #3, and in no way unique to our time).
  5. A few years of personal bitterness, difficulty in prayer, and serious consideration of leaving Christianity; this dark time directly followed my break with fundamentalism, and was probably the most difficult stretch of my internal life.
  6. The years that it took me to overcome the anti-intellectual tendencies that were passed to me while within the movement.
  7. All of the different times that I hurt others acting out of social rather than biblical codes.
  8. The anxiety and disillusion I experienced when I realized that my theological construct was only 150 years old.

Before closing, I would like to stress two things. First, as mentioned in my previous post, there are many things for which I am thankful that came along during these years of my life. Second, I am directly responsible for many of the things that I wish I could have avoided. This is probably the most difficult part to face – my culpability in this pain. Although it is not my fault alone, I am as responsible as anyone else for these years.

In light of an appeal to keep things civil, since I know that this is such an emotionally charged topic, what are your thoughts?

[Disclaimer: This represents my personal experience with contemporary Protestant fundamentalism as defined by historian George M. Marsden and, as with my other list, is not intended as a comprehensive vision of the movement.]

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 , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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Mical: I think that the common thread would be apparent had I written these as more of a narrative reflection. The format of these two posts are collected thoughts that are not necessarily related. I'm not quite sure that I understand all of your questions, but I will do my best to answer. My journey has been from fundamentalism to a more traditional evangelicalism. George Marsden's book, 'Fundamentalism and American Culture', contains some helpful history and definitions to make it easier to parse that out. Two things that have been part of that change are: 1) A move from a Biblical interpretation method that is solely literal to one that is more sensitive to genre and MSS issues, but maintains a high view of the Scriptures; and 2) a move away from the anti-intellectualism that sprung up in the fundamentalism of the 19th c. There are other aspects of this move, but these are probably the two most pertinent to your questions. The common thread has probably been the study of history and historical theology coupled with my strong faith. As to the first, I learned that many wonderful Christians have believed things that were considered to be outside of Christian teaching in many fundamentalist circles (such as early Church writers who did not affirm a literal six day creation). Yet these were wonderful, faithful Christians. That gave me confidence that I could step forward in my studies without losing my faith (A concern that many post-fundamentalist friends have shared that hey also had. It is probably the result of purely either/or thinking, lacking any nuance). As to the second, there were times that I wanted to leave the faith, but I knew that God had done something real in my life and I could not deny my faith with any sort of integrity. I simply believe that Jesus was the Son of God, he has saved me, etc. So, my assurance was both external and internal. I hope that this answered some of your questions. Please let me know if there is anything else that I can clarify.
Brian Gronewoller 6:18PM 01/19/12
I cannot find a common thread in your journey from the midst of fundamentalism to where ever you are now. Has the width and breadth of the possibilities made you more, or less, specific? Are your inclinations to expand these possibilities humanistically? If "all scripture" is to be scripturally processed, what have you fundamentally excised or left behind that allows for your surety and if not peace of mind, at least comfort in present company???
Mical Jones 9:59PM 01/17/12

Why I'm Thankful for My Time in Fundamentalism

December 20, 2011

Brian

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; Part 5 can be found here. Part 6 can be found here.

Like Danny DeVito, this post is going to be really short. I would like to write about something in this post that presents a myriad of difficulties when trying to engage– today I am going to write about my time as a fundamentalist, especially what I value from that time.

As many of you may know, the strain of fundamentalism within Protestantism is a rather young, but extremely dangerous theological construct that has ruined or nearly ruined the lives of many people that I know and continue to meet. I am also a person whose life has been adversely affected. Because of the negative results in the lives of so many like me, there is a preponderance of dialogue within theological circles that continually raises awareness of problems with fundamentalism, often in a satirical manner. Having gone through the pain emerging from fundamentalism, I understand that much of this dialogue is warranted.

However, here I would like change the angle of the current dialogue about fundamentalism; to follow the spirit of Paul’s conviction that whether one preaches the gospel out of greed or out of sincerity, “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (ESV). Paul appears to point out that there is value in the gospel being proclaimed, no matter what intention lies behind it. Ergo, I would like to put forth the reasons for which I am thankful for my time in fundamentalism when the gospel was preached to me (a list of my reasons for which I am thankful to be away from fundamentalism will be forthcoming in the near future).

I am thankful for:

  1. The strong emphasis on my personal faith. I was taught well that faith is not only about what we believe, but also about what I believe.
  2. The strong foundation that I was given in the Scriptures.
  3. Wonderful times of prayer, worship, and engaging discussions about how my faith affects my life.
  4. How active the unordained laity was in my fundamentalist community.
  5. A strong emphasis upon commitment in marriage and choosing one’s spouse carefully.
  6. The multiple times that I was taught to put my faith into action through serving the elderly, taking food to the hungry, and sharing about my faith with those around me.
  7. Being steered away from many life choices that would have had long-lasting negative repercussions.
  8. The many people who gave of their lives and time to invest in me.

This list is certainly not comprehensive, but it is a start. My hope is that this will help others think about aspects of their time in fundamentalism for which they are thankful. If you have any to share, I would love to hear them.

[NOTE: For those who would like to better understand where fundamentalism came from, historian George Marsden, recently retired from the faculty at Notre Dame, has written a fantastic work called Fundamentalism and American Culture. Marsden does a masterful job tracing the history of fundamentalism, and also helps to distinguish between fundamentalism and evangelicalism – a line that was severely blurred in the latter part of the 20th c. as fundamentalist leaders adopted the term evangelicalism for their own movement. I cannot recommend this work highly enough.]

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 , equipping leaders for the church and society , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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On God and Tacos: Hearing God's Voice in Seminary

December 16, 2011

Brian

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; Part 5 can be found here; Part 6 can be found here.

How do you know if that voice inside your head is God or the taco that you ate last night? I have to be honest – I have no idea. Maybe you are better at discerning this than me. Perhaps God has a distinguished British accent when he speaks to you. Or maybe he sounds like James Earl Jones or Meryl Streep. Or perhaps he opens by saying, “Willamina, this is God. The next two minutes of your life are going to be craaaaaaaazy!” But this isn’t me. Usually I walk around about as confused as can be as to the actual moment-to-moment plan that God has for my life. I have a friend named Valerie who hears God clearly and often. I’m jealous.

Normally, not having a high facility in discerning God’s voice wouldn’t be a big deal, but as a Christian I want to know him and honor him. And sometimes the Bible doesn’t give me a definitive answer about how I should do that (Think about some specific situations: Should I marry this beautiful blonde? How do I deal with my son’s anger issues? How do I find time to really connect with God in the midst of this 24/7 culture?). Prayer is wonderful and necessary, but sometimes it is difficult to hear what God is saying back to us. However, in spite of this difficulty, I do believe that he does speak to us. Not in a way that we can ever verify or prove, but real nonetheless.

So, with two years left in my M.Div. program, I was struggling to hear God’s voice once again amidst all of the tacos that I had eaten. I enjoyed ministry – really, really enjoyed my ministry with high school and middle school students through Young Life – but something seemed to be missing. I knew what it was. It had been with me for my entire life. But I dismissed it as a selfish fancy.

However, with the encouragement of my dear wife, I slowly began to realize that what I had interpreted as a selfish fancy might have actually been God’s voice encouraging me to change directions. What was this self-indulgent activity? (Confession time – this may be hard for me *deep breath*): My entire life I have had to fight the urge to run off and read. (“Hello, my name is Brian and I am a nerd.”) When I was young, I would sneak a flashlight into my room and read into the early morning hours. I always thought that I would grow out of this, but in my years in ministry I found myself sitting in the best reading room in the house, the bathroom, into the wee hours of the morning slowly working through a chronological list of classical literature. This is normal, right?

All along I had the thought in my head that I should go and get a Ph.D., and serve God by researching, writing, and teaching for a living. But then I would always put that idea away and decide that it was a taco speaking. I was a captain on my football team in high school, and guys like me don’t just run off to read. Or maybe they do.

After 20 years of this continual hounding from the Lord, I realized that I wasn’t hearing a taco. With my wife’s encouragement, and a very encouraging meeting in Charlotte with Dr. Rosell, our family began a new journey in our lives – one where I am beginning to find that I am right at home. Daily I feel like a kid at a Star Wars convention. When God speaks, it is wonderful. Now, if I could just figure out how to properly discern his voice more often…

You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.

- Psalm 139:1-5
 

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: Academic , Author: Brian , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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great blog. I appreciate the way you honor god and have faith in it. keep it up.
peter 4:05AM 12/17/11

How Sabbath Changed My Seminary Experience

December 14, 2011

Megan Hackman

Sabbath changed my seminary experience. Our first year as full-time students and part-time workers completely drained both my husband and me of every bit of energy we had. So when we were first introduced to Sabbath, it was like introducing a desert wanderer to a natural spring. We dove right in.

Initially, Sabbath was about rest. Physical rest. Like all I could do was sleep from the moment we got home from church until the sun went down. That’s not metaphorical. I literally needed a three to four hour nap every Sunday. But it didn’t take me long to realize that Sabbath was about much more.

This summer, I had the opportunity to teach on Sabbath using Mark Buchanan’s book The Rest of God (I highly recommend it). Getting a group of women who are all moms, teachers, social workers, security guards, and caregivers to buy into an Old Testament law to rest for a day I assumed would take some explanation. So the first night, this was the illustration I used (I apologize for the lack of audio. Please queue your imagination).

I start playing a song. Think, perhaps, of the “Hallelujah Chorus.” Something with a complicated melody line and plenty of instruments. Maybe go ahead and turn up the volume on your Pandora station. What line of the music are you paying attention to? Do you hear the trumpet? Harmony? Melody? Drums? Keyboard?

Then I played a stripped down version of the song, leaving only the bass guitar. It was a simple strummed melody. Can you hear it? Bumm…bum bum… bummmmmm. After several measures, I slowly added in one line at a time. The acoustic guitar. The keyboard. There’s the drums. Ah, the voices. Alto. Soprano. The full choir swells into the chorus of the piece.

Now what do you hear?

If I ask you to, can you hear the bass line?

This, I suggest, is the clarity of voice that Sabbath provides. It’s the opportunity to listen directly to what God has for you in your life. It’s the opportunity to “tune into the bass line.” The rest of the week will certainly bring on a full symphony of interruptions and priority lines. But when you’ve spent time just listening to the bass line in isolation, you easily queue into the rhythm and the direction of the piece as a whole. You also can easily be called back to that simple bass line even in the midst of a full orchestra of sounds. In fact, the soprano’s line now sounds more full when heard in harmony with the bass line.

So, too, when you practice weekly Sabbath. You can more distinctly hear how God is calling you even when the doctor lands a tough diagnosis, the kids need to be bussed to an impromptu make-up game, your parents suddenly need assistance, work and school are battling for your attention, and oh yeah, the laundry needs to be done. You can still tune into the places where God is calling you. You can hear the themes he is calling your attention to. For me, I have found that hearing once a week from God about where he’s asking for my surrender or is calling for my transformation suddenly turns every paper, reading assignment, house chore, and coffee date into an encounter with the living God.

What practices have you used to focus to and listen for God’s voice in your life?

Megan Hackman and her husband, Larry, are M.Div. students at Gordon-Conwell's Hamilton campus.

Tags: Author: Megan Hackman , student blogger , student life , thoughtfully evangelical

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I too found The Rest of God to be a fantastic and helpful book on Sabbath. The point that stuck out to me most, and which is a simple guide to observing Sabbath, is to cease what is necessary and to embrace that which gives life.
Woody Breen 9:18PM 01/03/12
It takes quiet to hear that still, small voice or whisper of God. With the cacophony of sounds that bombard us each day, that voice can disappear, quite like the bass line in the symphony. To honor the Sabbath each week gives us time to tune back in....get back on the right path. It should be a number one priority in everyone's life, but it is one we seem to be able to put off until "later" all too easily. Thanks for the reminder to put God first and the rest will fall into place.
Barb Podawiltz 11:04PM 12/14/11

The Seven-Year M.Div.: The E-Word

December 09, 2011

Brian

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; Part 5 can be found here.

In life, anyone can sprint. Anyone can give it everything that they have for short periods of time. Anyone is able to make a good first impression. However, the longer that we are around, the more we realize that, in order to finish well in areas of life such as our jobs, our marriages, and our friendships, we must learn to develop something that we are born without: Endurance.

At this point I would like to make one thing clear: I hate enduring. I mean, really, really hate it. Growing up my favorite sport was football. I still love it (Go Broncos!). But football did not help me to develop a great amount of endurance. Rather, it trained me to sprint for eight seconds, then take a forty second break while huddling together with my teammates and hearing what the next play was going to be. Endurance running was not fun or in any way desirable. It was a punishment. Did you drop a pass that you should have caught? Take a lap. Did you miss a tackle? Take a lap. Did you mouth off to the substitute today in class? Take eight laps. For those of you who did not play football Denzel Washington’s portrayal of Coach Herman Boone in ‘Remember the Titans’ is an accurate portrayal of this (“How many feet are in a mile, Petey!?!?!?”).

Enduring is not fun. In fact, for the most part those of us who are not masochists only strive to endure when there is something worth waiting for. My freshman year of college I began dating a girl who was a cross-country runner. One day, as I arrived at her parents’ home, she was leaving to train. Her: “Do you want to come with me?” Me: “No thanks, I’ve already worked out today.” That’s when her Dad decided to have fun with me. “What’s wrong, can’t keep up with my daughter.” This changed the game completely. I liked that girl, but not enough to run seven-miles in order to spend time with her. But her father had directly challenged my pride. Now that was something I would run for, and I did (Stupid? Yes. Augustine has a good explanation for such action if you are looking for one). Note here that our willingness to endure seems tied to how much we value that which we are working towards.

So, Brian, why did you write all of this? Is this just a disjointed exploration of your life?

 

No.

 

(Haha! Take that again, Rob Bell. Random spacing to appear deep FTW!)

I write this to encourage you with three pieces of knowledge that I have gained from experience. First, going to seminary is hard. It takes every bit of endurance that you have – emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually, and intellectually. And you have to go through this for an extended period of time. You will want to quit, you will think you’re not good enough, your wife and/or kids will become tired, and your friends will convince you that there are better things to do with your life.

But after you realize that, I want to encourage you with a second piece of knowledge that I have gained from my extended time at seminary. It is worth it. Sweet mercy, is it ever worth it. You see, if God is our great reward, our prize, then there is no higher honor that we have than to study his revelation to us. What a privilege.

And third, because of the great prize, we can endure. Without the great prize, it would be a complete waste of time.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

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 , spiritually vital , student blogger

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Carole Anne: Thanks for the feedback. I'm so glad that this has been encouraging for you. What program are you in down in Charlotte? I miss that place - there are a lot of good people there.
Brian 5:17PM 12/10/11
This entire series has been such a joy to read, and quite inspirational as I'm entering my first semester at GCTS Charlotte. Thank you so much for sharing your story! I am anxious to read more of your writing.
Carole Anne Hallyburton 7:27PM 12/09/11

Learning from Our Church Fathers: Part 2

December 07, 2011

Dr. Donald Fairbairn

This is Part 2 in a series about why evangelicals should care about the early church. If you are just now joining us, you can read Part 1 here.

Why should evangelicals care about the early church, about the first several centuries after the end of the New Testament? Of the many answers one could give to this question, perhaps the most important answer is that we should care about the early church precisely because we are committed to the authority of Scripture alone. Since we have that commitment, we want to know as precisely and comprehensively as we can what Scripture actually means. And this brings us to a fundamental claim that I often make: What we think the Bible means is influenced by what we think the church has said the Bible means.

Consider this claim for a moment. As faithfully and carefully as we may read the Bible, we never come to Scripture as a blank slate. There is a long history of biblical interpretation that influences what we are looking for as we read Scripture—whether we know that history or not, whether we realize its influence on us or not. In particular, the great issues of the Protestant Reformation (16th and 17th centuries) and the subsequent issues of Pietism and revivalism 18th-20th centuries) have set up the categories with which you and I approach the Bible.

For example, one of the legacies of the Reformation (a legacy that the Reformation itself owes to High Medieval Roman Catholicism) is the tendency to think about the meaning of biblical passages in terms of clear-cut, either/or alternatives. “It has to be either x or y, so let’s go to the Bible to decide which it is.” Salvation has to be by faith (the right answer) or by works (the wrong answer). Sanctification is either distinct from justification (the right answer) or the same as justification (the wrong answer). The atonement has to be either limited or unlimited. (On this one we disagree about which is the right answer.) A true believer either can or cannot lose his/her salvation. (Here again we disagree about which is the right answer.) On these points and countless others, we usually accept the questions the way they are presented to us, and we inquire of the Scriptures to see which of the options is right.

When we read the great thinkers of the early church, however, we find that they often had a different way of posing the issues than we do. Rather than arguing over whether salvation was by faith or by works, they demonstrated their complete reliance on Christ by talking about him, rather than about their own faith or their own works. They regarded both justification andsanctification as things that God gives us at the beginning of salvation, and they defined both as the righteousness that we receive when we are united to Christ, who is the righteous one. And their whole conception of the atonement was one in which the question of limited vs. unlimited could not even arise.

My point here is not that we should necessarily follow the way the early church described Christianity. Rather, it is that by reading the church fathers, we gain another vantage point from which to look at Scripture. By seeing the Bible through their eyes, we can also see the way our own history has shaped the way we inquire of Scripture, the kinds of questions we ask of the Bible. What we think the Bible means is shaped by what the church has said the Bible means. Thus, understanding the history that has led our branch of the church to ask the questions we ask, and also gaining potential insights from Christians who had a different set of questions, can help us move closer to understanding the Bible fully, comprehensively, and accurately.

Dr. Donald Fairbairn is the Robert E. Cooley Professor of Early Christianity. His responsibilities include further developing the Robert C. Cooley Center for the Study of Early Christianity at the Charlotte campus, which explores the historical foundations of the Christian faith.

 

 

 

Tags: Author: Donald Fairbairn , biblically-grounded , current students , equipping leaders for the church and society , faculty blogger

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Dr. Donald, your post helps me to maintain my observation about the church history in relation to the Authority of the bible. The way the Church fathers described Christianity has a valuable contribution to the present biblical interpretation. I gain knowledge to see the church fathers through the question of “how they have been responding the matter of the Authority of the Bible?’’
Seleshi Andarge 1:28PM 01/07/13

A Day in the Life of a Master of Divinity Student

December 05, 2011

What does a typical day look like for a seminary student? Follow a day in the life of M.Div. student, Daniel Triller, as he lives life at Gordon-Conwell.

Tags: equipping leaders for the church and society , life on campus , student life

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Great video! I like the Greek twist there at the end.
Jonathan Romig 11:05AM 12/21/11
nice blog. It is amazing video. I am just inspired from this blog.....
john 4:10AM 12/17/11
This is great! I don't think I ever woke up at 7:30am when I was in college though.
Financial Literacy 8:46PM 12/15/11
Fantastic! Thanks for making and sharing it with us.
Kris 7:47PM 12/12/11
LOVED this! People need the Gospel, AMEN. And THAT is what makes studying Greek worth it!!
Joelinda 6:56PM 12/10/11
Hi James, This song is by Matt Scott, one of our alums. You can hear more of his music on his site at www.musicmattscott.com or hear the album this is taken from at musicmattscott.bandcamp.com. Thanks for asking!
Brittany Yeager 8:22AM 12/09/11
Can someone please tell me who this song is by? Blessings, JD
James 11:10PM 12/08/11
Nice work guys. And thanks for the perspective.
Randall 4:58PM 12/05/11
It's good to see what my husband's day looks like when he leaves Bell Hall each morning!
Esther Elmer 10:03AM 12/05/11

Greek and Hebrew at a Theological Seminary

December 02, 2011

Brian

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.

Tags: Author: Brian , future students , training

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