Gordon-Conwell Blog

The Seven Year M.Div.: Two Reflections on the Seminary Experience

February 08, 2012

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; Part 8 can be found here; Part 9 can be found here.

Non intratur in veritatem, nisi per caritatem.
-Augustine of Hippo, Contra Faustum 41, 32, 18

In May 2010 I finally finished a seven-year journey towards a master’s degree. If you have been reading along, you know that the path was much different than I had expected. I learned a lot, but not everything. I read a lot, but not everything. And it drew me closer to God, but did not answer all of my questions.

[I want to confess something at this point. I re-wrote this post three different times. Why? Because it seems like it should be a significant piece since it is the terminus of the series. And such posts usually involve a reflection by the author about their experience. And such reflections, like a Twitter account, usually assume that people care to hear your thoughts. Then I realized that I already have a Twitter account, so here you go.]

If two imagined friends, one considering seminary and one already halfway through his/her degree, sat me down one day and asked for my perspective on the process after finishing, I would sum everything up in two thoughts.

First, do it.

If you have a desire to study God and his people – for that is pretty much what we do in seminary – indulge it. The process may become disconcerting or arduous at times, but it is worth it. If I had not gone, my curiosity would have continued to eat away at me. I suspect that there are others out there who are in similar situations. So, go. And when you’re in the middle of the process, if you can, stay and finish. The evangelical movement in the world needs many things today, and one of the most vital necessities is theological training. We are great at loving God with our hearts, but if our minds are not also engaged we are creating a false dichotomy within ourselves. So, if you can, go.

Second, however, realize that the seminary experience will be hard on your faith in at least two ways. First, your mind and heart are tied together. What affects one also affects the other. In the course of your studies you will be forced to ask questions that others have the luxury of avoiding. And, most of the answers to those questions will involve slight, if not major, shifts in your belief and practice. This can unsettling, but good guides who have been there before are helpful to lean on whenever you grow weary on such paths as textual criticism, Trinitarian doctrine, and diagramming the Greek text of Ephesians. Yet, the pressure on your faith is not only due to these profound shifts. It is also due to the fact that seminary is not the Church. To study and to submit to God are two entirely different things. One involves observation and analysis, and the other involves participation, service, and worship. Like quarreling siblings you will want to separate those two from each other, but do not do it. You need to fully engage both, to love God with your heart and mind, and to let the siblings influence one another.

There is a lot more to be said, but I think this is a good place to stop. Want to go to seminary? You should. Are you in seminary? Remember to fully engage your heart and mind, although the road may seem daunting. And, finally, don’t give up. By God’s grace I was able to hang on for seven years - through two presidents, the birth of two of our children, my wife’s return to school, my wife’s completion of her second degree, a job change, and a move across the country. You can do it, too. Just remember to engage your heart and your mind along the way.

Non intratur in veritatem, nisi per caritatem.
“One cannot enter into truth, unless through love.”
-Augustine of Hippo, Contra Faustum 41, 32, 18

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 , current students , equipping leaders for the church and society , future students , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical , training

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Congrats on your degree. I once was in the seminary too. But I dropped out after two years of theology, found other passions. I am always happy to hear that someone else made it through. Congrats. P.s. in some way I feel like I got that degree too. Anyways, from Galveston. Thanks.
Steve 7:02AM 07/27/12
Thank you for sharing your story. I am in the middle of the Orientation Packet for the Online MAR Degree.
Tammy C 6:43PM 03/03/12
Truly inspiring, it's always great to see people finding themselves in this wonderful world of ours. Wish you all the best! Jason
Distance learning courses 4:38PM 02/26/12
Kathy: Glad to hear that your experience has been so rewarding. Hang in there - even though it may take awhile to finish, it is worth it.
Brian 4:37PM 02/24/12
Brian, Thank you for sharing about your journey. I am in my second year at Charlotte GCTS and loving every minute of it. I am like a sponge soaking in the readings and teachings. It seems the more I learn, the more I realize I did not know. It is refreshing and rewarding. It is encouraging to know that it tooki you a few years - it may take me a few years. I feel blessed - I am sure God will show me the final path well before 40 years passes! Congratulations to you!
Kathy Pryor 5:15PM 02/22/12

The Final Year: Trouble Focusing and the Need for a Jedi Master

January 20, 2012

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; Part 8 can be found here.

Remember senioritis? It hits everyone at some point during your final year of high school. For some people, it even starts in your junior year. But then you go to college and you are mature. You live on your own, you do your own laundry, you go to bed when you like and you eat what you like. Yet, when your senior year of college arrives, there it is again – dwelling in your being like a severe case of cabin fever for six straight months. You can’t think, you can’t focus, and that final exam just doesn’t seem as important as it did the year before. At times like these you need a Jedi master to sit down with you and say: “Discipline, young padawan. Be mindful of the present.”

The final year of my Master of Divinity, I was in my early thirties and had been in the work force for nearly a decade. So, I was completely blind-sided when senioritis hit me during the Fall semester of my final year in seminary. Yep, I suppose you’re never too mature for this plague upon students. Every time I sat down to read, a flock of thought-mosquitos would begin to buzz around in my brain (yes, I just made that word up… ‘thought-mosquitos’). Where would our family be next year? What would we be doing? Where would we live? On top of that, to help save money since I was no longer working, I studied during the days while also watching our youngest child. So, the few times that I was able to swat all of the mosquitos away, I would just begin to focus when a small cry would rise up and a bottle would need to be made. It was crazy. Yet somehow I made it through. And you can, too. How?

I needed a Jedi, as well. Someone tall, yet calm, with a beard. And an Irish accent (Yes, I love Liam Neeson). I needed him to sit down with me and remind me to be mindful of the present. But, unfortunately for us all, Jedis and midichlorians don’t really exist in our world. So, I had to look elsewhere. And I found my counsel in Scripture:

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Yes, I know that this is not spoken to each of us as individual Christians. This is something that God said to the surviving elders of the Israelite exiles. But it tells us of the type of God that we have. One that has a plan for us. One that has an eternal plan to prosper us and not to harm us. So I took that step – that hardest of steps for people like me – and I decided to stop worrying about my future. I set aside time to think about it, but then I entrusted it to God, knowing that he has a plan, and I was able to study. Indeed, it can be said that the Scriptures were my Jedi. And it can also be said that trusting God with my future was my mosquito spray.

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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My Journey to Seminary: An Unexpected Gift

January 13, 2012

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.

After realizing that I was being called to a vocation of scholarship (which I wrote about in my last post in this series), a lot of changes came quickly for my family. Having gone to class part-time while working for six straight years, I was finished with two-thirds of my M.Div. My wife had a wonderful job as a nurse, and we decided to cut back (significantly) on our expenses so that I could attend school full-time and finish my M.Div. within the next year. After ten years in youth work, I notified the organization that I worked for (Young Life) that I would not be returning the following year, and they began a very healthy and patient process to find someone incredible to replace me (he is). It was an exciting time, but it was also a bit scary as we stepped away from our previous life and towards school – not knowing exactly where all of the finances that were necessary would come from.

Not everything about the transition to that final year was smooth or exciting. Learning to study again at a full-time pace was difficult – it took nearly a year for me to fully shake off the rust and get into a good groove. Our three children had spent most of their conscious moments in our town, but with a 2 ½ hour commute to Charlotte it seemed like a foregone conclusion that we had to move (from a house to an apartment…not as fun when your family is now five instead of two). We had wonderful friends in the area as well, and leaving them was heartbreaking.

I could probably continue this post and give a gaggle of details that mean a lot to me but not as much to you. But, since I remember the days that my wife first took me to her hometown and I was caught in massive groups of people that I didn’t know without any possible way to remember all of their names or the stories surrounding them, I won’t. Instead, I want to encourage you with one story…

Although many things were hard and difficult, God gave our family an amazing year that final year of my M.Div. I had considered it a foregone conclusion that our family was moving to Charlotte, as difficult as that was. My wife, however, felt that God was going to open up a way for our family to stay in the area. We lived in a beautiful resort town, and the cost of living there combined with travel expenses made staying financially impossible. So my wife prayed while I chuckled and worked on logistical issues. And then, right when we were preparing a trip to look at apartments in Charlotte, God came through with a miracle (O, me of little faith). While volunteering at our Young Life fundraising golf tournament, my wife began telling our story to a donor who had come to the tournament to share her story about becoming a Christian through Young Life when she was in high school. She asked how much we could afford (it was miniscule), and then said that she had an idea. A few days later she called my wife and invited her to come take a look at a rental home that they had, one that they would rent to us within our tiny budget. The house was huge. And gorgeous. And in a great neighborhood. In fact, we had never lived in such a wonderful home. That was the beginning of a wonderful year for our family – one that allowed us to stay within our community in a beautiful home while I was in the midst of a vocational change.

I am not telling you my story so that you think “God will give me things if I go to seminary!” Those of us here know that is not the case. In fact, I have never had less financial margin in my life, and I am going into this final semester at GCTS hoping that I will be able to pull together all of the loose financial ends. I am writing to encourage you that, if God is calling you to seminary, you should go. If you’re already here, figure out a way to stay (if the calling is from God). It looks bleak, and it won’t turn out the way you envision, but he knows your future, and he knows exactly what you need, when you need it. For our family, it was a house for a year. For you, it is probably something quite different.

Oh, and don’t chuckle at your spouse when they are praying for something.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.“ Proverbs 3:5-6

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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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

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

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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The Seven-Year M.Div.: First Impressions

November 21, 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.

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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Why I Chose Gordon-Conwell

November 15, 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 and Part 2 can be found here.

God works in mysterious ways. In the case of how I ended up at Gordon-Conwell, he worked for my good in a way that I could not see in spite of my focus in a different direction. So how did I end up at Gordon-Conwell? To quote Prince Herbert from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “Well, I’ll tell you.” (cue music)

After taking my first seven courses through Fuller, my job in Colorado transferred me to a small golf community in North Carolina. It was a long move for our family, but one that we were excited to make. In the midst of having three children, sometimes it is difficult to keep all of the details of life at the forefront of one’s mind. Thus, it was a short while after arriving in North Carolina that I realized that the nearest Fuller campus was in Colorado Springs – a mere 1700 miles away. My pay level was prohibitive to flights back and forth, so I began searching for a new school.

Now, at this point in the story I have to explain that those of us from Colorado are a bit different. We like to wear sandals and shorts. A lot. We also don’t dress up much. However, people in North Carolina do.

Thus, as I started searching for seminaries within 150 miles of my home I became a bit disconcerted that everyone – everyone! – on the website of each school that I looked at was wearing a suit. I didn’t have anything against suits, it was just that, as someone who worked with high school kids at the time, I preferred casual clothing in the groups with which I spent my time.

And then I found it shining in the night – more beautiful than William Shatner’s spoken version of “Rocket Man”: the Gordon-Conwell Charlotte Campus website. There were lots of smiling faces and no three-piece suits. I was intrigued. So, I called down, scheduled a campus visit and the rest, as they say, is history.

I wish that I could write that I chose Gordon-Conwell because of its wonderful and inquisitive student body (which it has), its academically challenging atmosphere (it is), and its excellent faculty members (they are), but I did not. I chose Gordon-Conwell because of the fashion choices of those on their website.

Addendum: The irony in this story is that the Lord used such a frivolous way to make a decision in order to show me my love for the academic world. Within a few years I would discover my love for studying and begin to pursue a career in academia, all of which required that I be at such an academically rigorous school. However, that story is for a later post. Next time I will talk a bit about my time with the wonderful people at GCTS-Charlotte.

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 , Charlotte campus , equipping leaders for the church and society , future students , student blogger

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My Seminary Experience Part 2: How I Began Studying at a Seminary

November 11, 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, the beginning of the series can be found here.

So there I was. I had a wife and a baby and I had just quit the only job that I had ever known. What now? Although I had attended college at a major Division I university (TCU), I was from a very small town in the mountains and wasn’t sure how to get where I wanted to go. In some ways I was not even sure where to go. Beyond that, there were not many people with the right knowledge and experience to help me. My tradition did not encourage graduate-level education and no one in my family had ever attended either a graduate school of religion or a seminary. So, I spent a few months working on a construction job for a friend of mine and tried to clear my head…and my soul.

And then God decided that it was time.

An acquaintance from Young Life offered me a job. It was a full-time position, but if I would put in the work, they would pay for my first seven seminary courses. Because of the status of our growing family I was looking for way to go to school while still working to support our family. Since I already had training in youth work, and at the time that is what I felt called to spend my life doing, this was an ideal situation for me. After praying about it, my wife and I agreed that this was the opportunity for which our family had been looking. So we sold our home, packed up what little we had, and moved across Wolf Creek Pass to Alamosa, CO, where our second daughter would soon be born.

And that’s how I ended up studying at Fuller Theological Seminary’s Colorado Springs Campus (yes, I know, I’m now at Gordon-Conwell. That stage is coming soon).

Ten years ago, through a muddy mess – particularly in my soul – I took my first course through Young Life’s agreement with Fuller Theological Seminary: The Life of Jesus, with Prof. Dale Bruner. Those hours sitting in class with Prof. Bruner were like turtle cheesecake for my soul. Seriously. It’s a great thing when God meets a desire in our souls in a way that is more abundant than we had previously hoped. Every day as Dr. Bruner would skillfully walk us through each chapter of the Book of John it felt as if the Mississippi River was being released onto the Sahara Desert of my soul.
Over the next two years I was able to take some incredible courses – Theology and Film, Adolescent Psychology, Mentored Ministry, and more. The time spent studying and thinking in those courses confirmed that I was exactly where I should be – engaging God in a way that included my mind.

There was a certain ineffable joy in the entire experience.

This was the first step in a long series of events that have brought me to where I am now. But it was not the only step. In my next post, I will explain how I ended up at Gordon-Conwell’s Charlotte, NC campus, and eventually at the campus here in Hamilton, MA.

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 , future students , student blogger

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My Seminary Experience, Part 1: Struggling with the Idea of Going Back to School

November 04, 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.

Ten years ago, I was a youth pastor at a small youth center in my hometown – Pagosa Springs, CO. Life was great. I had a degree from a good university. My wife and I had just brought home our first baby girl to a house that we had built down the street from my parents. We lived in one of the most beautiful locations in the United States, and I had what I thought was my dream job.

Things were great, except for the fact that things were not really that great. Living near my family was wonderful, but my job situation had slowly deteriorated as I had continued to chafe at some of the doctrines and practices within our ministry. To put it succinctly, there were many moments where form was valued over function. While struggling with this, I also concurrently suppressed questions that I had about my own faith.

I was lost in fundamentalist limbo, and I needed help.

I began groping for relief from this suspended state. When I mentioned to my closest mentor that I had a desire to return to school and learn for the sake of both my own soul and those to whom I was ministering, I was consistently met with a response betraying a chary feeling towards education: I could go to school but…you know…1 Corinthians says that knowledge “puffs up”. The nonverbal exhortation I received was clear, and it never fluctuated: “Well, you can go to seminary and be a Christian, but you won’t be a very good one.”

Again, fundamentalist limbo.

It was nearly a decade ago that I finally reached my breaking point. I began to spiral into a deep depression as I perceived that I had to choose between my inner conflict and my faith. My desire to learn felt like a worm that was eating me from the inside out. Prayer was too silent. Reading the Bible felt flat. I had reached a state where I had not properly nourished my mind and my lopsided fulfillment of the Great Commission was having noxious effects on my soul. I had focused on loving the Lord with all of my heart, soul, and strength. Yet, the neglect of my mind caused an atrophy that was spreading like a cancer over my entire being.

In the fall of October 2002, I knew that something had to be done for the sake of my soul, my family, and my ministry. I did not know where things would go from there. I did not know if Jesus was on the other side. I just knew that I could not continue in my current state. So one night I turned in my letter of resignation and decided that I would find a job that would allow me to study as well.

And then I moved on.

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 , current students , equipping leaders for the church and society , future students , student blogger

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Larry: Allow me lavish copious amounts of praise, perhaps leading to a panegyric, upon you for noticing my GRE word. However, now I may have to be chary of you stalking my posts... Heidi: Small world, eh? Who would have ever thought that two Pagosans would end up living within five miles of each other in Massachusetts? I'm going to see if I have a picture from back in the day with you and/or your sisters to put in the next post for the sake of nostalgia.
Brian Gronewoller 9:59PM 11/06/11
Having begun my faith in that same Pagosa Springs youth center, I can definitely relate to this. Although I ended up a few miles down the road at Gordon College about 10 years ago. Looking forward to the next post.
Heidi 3:09PM 11/04/11
Thank you for using the word "chary." And for sharing your story.
Larry 10:55AM 11/04/11

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