Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Seminary Update

One artist's rendition of the perennially popular
four horsemen of the apocalypse - or at least their horses.
I'm wrapping up my latest seminary class, the fourth in a series of Bible survey courses.

Still have to go back and take number three, a gallop through just four books, the Gospels. From the syllabus it looks like these are taught through a method that mashes them together in a chronology. I don't quite approve... Luke's purpose and narrative are not Mark's - shouldn't they be read as literature and theology more than as history? On the other hand, as each class has brought surprises and deepened my appreciation for the scriptures and how to understand them, so I have enough faith to sign up for Bible 5132 and look at the Gospels, too, through new eyes.

Meanwhile, I'm finishing "Acts to Revelation: God's People Proclaiming Redemption Globally."

Perhaps the most helpful discipline has been an assignment, for each book we cover, to read it through in one big gulp, then again more slowly looking for insights in every chapter. What's your takeaway? What leaps off the page, challenges you, what do you want to hold on to, to chew on and digest and make part of yourself? Reaching the end of the course I realize I've made a list of 171 such things - a rich collection of mini-sermons from the Holy Spirit to myself. Also included in the class assignments are my observations on each book's purpose, atmosphere, and contribution to a theology of global mission. (Here's the assignment.)

Sure ending with a bang. Revelation is a shocking book, full of contrasts and symbols. Prophetic-apocalyptic writing is like the genre of magical realism, like dreaming with your eyes open. It's hard to know where it crosses the line between description and metaphor, but some of the language could not be other than figurative. For example, when John describes locusts that look like horses but have human faces, womanly hair, and are wearing crowns, I realize we aren't supposed to keep our eyes open for horsy locusts - he's talking about something else. But what? 

After we study each book on our own, it's time for online lectures, chiefly narrated PowerPoint presentations. They are quite helpful. Lot of background. Less dogmatic than I expected. My professors and text-book authors seem glad to let each book sing in its own key without attempting to simplify them overly or and force them to support a certain doctrinal structure. They present a variety of views and let us know which one they find most convincing but often require us to pick teams. At some point I am sure I'll run into professors who do, but not yet.

I like some healthy ambiguity, though there's such a thing as too much. Recently heard someone tell the story of his attempts to be ordained in the denomination of his youth - one that has drifted a bit from its early moorings as a movement promoting holiness. They asked him, "What did Jesus mean when he said he was the way and the truth and the life?" My friend tried to couch his answer in terms that the examiners would accept ("to speak 'Liberal,'" he told me) but was unable to do so. "I like to think of God as 'Delicious,'" said one of them. "We may not be talking about the same God at all. But your idea of God is Delicious, and my recipe is as well."

As I understand the Bible, though, it teaches that God is a person and he reveals himself to us. Though we may see and understand different aspects of who he is, it is not up to us to write the recipe, to decide what we want him to be like.   

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