Friday, May 20, 2011

Unexpected Benefits

When I signed up for "Bible 5112: God's Plan of Creation and Redemption," I knew some of what was coming. I knew I'd be reading and studying almost 600 pages of the Old Testament along with another 800 pages of reading and 20 hours of lecture.

I knew I'd do lots of writing. The syllabus listed an eight-to-ten-page paper, three three-page papers, and nine pithy forum posts, with thoughtful responses to other students' postings. The three exams would also include three essays apiece chosen from a list of six possibilities per exam.

I liked the way the assignments were written. Most of them were things I might be able to use again in some way. As I sometimes hear people say, "That will preach!" Some examples:
  • How does God’s grace interface with the dysfunctionalism we see in the Patriarchal family?
  • Discuss the problem of war in the Old Testament, in particular God’s command to exterminate the Canaanite population.
  • Consider the lives of Israel’s united monarchy – Saul, David, and Solomon. Summarize each king’s reign in five adjectives; add a tag line that fleshes out each adjective.
  • What life lessons we do learn from Esther? List at least three and elaborate as you have room.
  • After reading Job, interact with the statement, “Job was partly right and partly wrong.”
  • Describe your understanding of God’s plan to reach the nations (a biblical theology of missions) in the Pentateuch. Include in your answer at least three key examples from Scripture.
  • Explore God's plan for the nations in Genesis, or in Psalms.
  • Write an exegetical paper on "seeing God in his mighty acts: Gentiles who saw and believed." 
What I didn't realize is how much the class would force me to write tight sentences and paragraphs. Each word had to pull its own weight. That seemed the only way to answer these broad questions thoroughly while supporting  my statements and not exceeding the word-count for each assignment. That surprised me. In doing so much writing and editing for publication I'd left academic wordiness behind long ago. I was afraid I'd have to take it up again to get through grad school. At least for this class, the opposite was true. I had to write long and then edit down. My writing grew sharper.

I've also grown in the discipline of hermeneutics.
To write each of the three shorter papers for this class each student was asked to pick five passages, exegete them, draw out a universal, timeless truth, and apply it to specific life situations today. Much like writing a sermon. Now, I hesitate to preach. I cringe to hear sermons that try to make a universal point out of a historical event, especially if other passages suggest something that is just the opposite. I wasn't sure I could do it. I did not want to dishonor the text by making it say what it didn't. But on the other hand I didn't want to be so timid as to neglect discovering and learning from biblical principles that remain as true today as they were when they were written. That's a big reason we have the Bible! It was nice that I could pick my own texts. But these assignments pushed me. Initially I was marked down for being too vague. Now, having written 15 of these 200-word paragraphs, I think I have the hang of it.

My fall class is "Bible 5113: God's Message of Redemption and Judgment." It continues the Old Testament survey using some of the same textbooks and similar assignments, this time looking at the books of the Prophets. I'm looking forward to it.

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