Sunday, September 20, 2015

Seminary Life: First Taste

Well, here I am a seminary student!!!! This one of the dreams of my life that has actually come true and I’m extremely grateful to the Lord for leading and providing, and for my wonderful family for supporting and encouraging me in this. Thank you!

 I’ve survived orientation, my first full week of classes (classes actually started Thursday 9/10) and my first assignments! It’s a good thing I like to read, but I still have to take breaks and do something else for awhile. How many books have I read so far? I’d have to stop and think… a few and parts of 2 or 3 others. Also written 3 papers and most of another… At the moment I think I’m a bit ahead on my assignments, so that’s a good feeling!

I live a little over a mile away from campus and can ride my bike there if the weather’s nice (and not too hot!). I’ve found the cheap place to buy produce and am getting familiar with the area. We have chapel Tuesday and Wednesday and prayer groups on Thursday – which is going to be a really nice way to have some fellowship and build some relationships. Also on Monday and Friday I go to a mid-day prayer time at a church in Philly… if you saw my facebook post about it last week I said I met Miss Clara (from the movie War Room) – but not really, she just reminds me of her! It’s a nice break in my day of reading and study and a sweet time of prayer.

I am super blessed to enjoy reading and writing, but already there’s been moments when it’s been challenging. At times I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed! If you would like to pray for me that would be a huge blessing to me! Please specifically pray for:
-Humility – At times my “flesh” would like to think I can handle all this, but I need the Lord’s help and I need to be dependent on Him.
-That I will prioritize personal time in the Word and in prayer.
-Time management & Focus - that I’ll learn to use my time in the most efficient way possible and be able to concentrate well on what I’m reading/studying.
-That I will trust the Lord and not be anxious about all that I have to do, or about my future. This has been an ongoing process for me in the last 2 years.
-Over-all self-discipline – not just with time, but in other areas as well. (example: that I will eat healthy and exercise. You want more specifics? That I’ll stay away from the Baskin Robins/DD that’s just down the street!)
-Friendships. I’ve made some friends thus far, but would love to see those develop more over the semester and have some close ones.

In case you’d like to know about my Classes here they are:

Biblical Theology I: This is basically theology of the Old Testament. 6 response papers, a research paper, mid-term and final…. Here we go!

Survey of Church History: Pretty much self-explanatory. This will be my easiest class as I’ve already had some previous classes in this area.

Survey of Reformed Theology: Similar to previous class, but is focusing on the development (or re-development) of Reformed Theology post-Reformation. Should be an easier class as well as I am familiar with much of this. Some of the reading/assignments even just this week has been more difficult just because of the Covenantal theology emphasis which I disagree with.  

Old Testament for Ministry: This class is a follow-up class to Biblical Theology I (supposed to be taken 2nd year, but I’m taking it now). This is looking like it will be a more difficult class with a lot of reading and 6 papers! I was/am looking forward to this class as I think it will be very interesting, but there’s a lot of work to do!

Counseling & Physiology: This class is all about how man is dualistic and consists of both body and soul/spirit. We are not just one or the other. Furthermore, these two things intersect and impact each other more than we realize. This will be an interesting class for sure!

Apologetics: This will be a more intense class. It’s involving a lot of critical thinking and some more heavy reading. The good news? No papers for this class! Again, getting a good dose of Covenantal theology…

Also for credit I will also be attending CCEF’s national conference in Virginia Beach in October, and will have some short response papers to write after attending sessions.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Doctrine Doesn’t Divide…

"We should strive to hold our beliefs with a charity and kindness that won’t embarrass us in heaven.”                                                                                                                     -Joshua Harris

There are various “camps” within Christianity today. People often ask “why so many denominations?” or “why can’t all Christians just get along?” To our shame we do not get along as well as we should. But where some would blame it on “doctrine”, I would say that most of the time it is not doctrine that divides us, it’s arrogance.

To start off I want to clarify that it’s not that doctrine never divides, because it sometimes does. In fact, when it comes down to essentials of the Christian faith it should! There is such a thing as truth and that is found in the Word of God. There are things that "Orthodox" and those should be non-negotiable. There may also come a time when a Christian doesn’t agree with their church or a ministry on some non-essential but important points of doctrine or other things and the best course is to move elsewhere. That happens. However the division I am talking about here is relational division. I have seen brothers go through relational division because of doctrine to the point where they no longer speak or have contact, but I have also seen two people disagree over doctrine and yet have no “division” in their relationship. Certainly it takes both parties to do this; if one party is humble but the other is critical and arrogant, relational intimacy is going to be very difficult, if not impossible. There are times when you may have to cut yourself off from that person (even if they might not have intended to bring division) (Titus 3:10).

Also in writing this I am rather keenly aware of the pride within my own heart, although still probably not as much as I should be. I have been far too defensive, often judged or looked down on others and avoided people because I disagreed with them. But I have experienced grace too. God has been patient with me. But also I have experienced love and friendship from others towards me even when I know they don’t agree with me. It is for these people that I have come to have the utmost respect, despite any doctrinal disagreements and I am forever grateful. 

Does doctrine matter? Of course it does! Knowledge is essential for growth. In fact, John Piper writes “We are not safe from pride if we neglect serious thinking and turn away from knowledge. ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’ (Hos 4:6).” Doctrine matters. But as Sam Storms writes, “Theological truth is not the problem. Arrogance is.” When it comes down to the more minor, non-essential points of theology it is not actually the doctrine that divides. In other words, it’s not just about precise theology, it’s about our attitude. As 1 Cor. 13:2 says, we can have “all knowledge” but if we do not have love, it’s nothing. We ought to love truth, but it ought to lead us into a deeper humility. Joshua Harris writes in his book Humble Orthodoxy, “The solution to arrogant orthodoxy is not less orthodoxy; it’s more. If we truly know and embrace orthodoxy, it should humble us… it doesn’t leave us boasting, it leaves us amazed. It doesn’t lead to a preoccupation with being right but to amazement that we have been rescued.” Does your doctrine humble you? Does it lead you to have a gracious attitude towards others? If not, you may need to re-examine your heart, and if you think you're not prideful, you very well may be in danger of it. (1 Cor. 10:12)

In our doctrine we all want to be on God’s side. But sometimes in claiming this we imply that the other person is not. This really is arrogant because we are only human; we don’t know everything. The truth is, we could be wrong!  We can start off with good intentions of being on “God’s side”, but then we end up fighting for our own because “certainly I’m right on this point” so I have a "right" to be defensive and critical. Jesus said, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt 12:36-37). In all things we are called to be humble, and to love our brother/sister. Our words are to bring grace and encouragement to those who hear, they should not be used for tearing down. In the end, how much of our theology is really about God, and how much of it is really about us being right?

No one likes to think they are divisive, but I think most of us are more so that we’d like to admit. Can you be a divisive person at times? Here are some questions that may help:

·         Do you seek to have a high respect for over-all character of the person you disagree with?
·         You seek to love them as a brother/sister?
·         Do you speak negatively about them to others?
·         Do you avoid them?
·         Conversely, do you seek to maintain the friendship?
·         Do you get defensive?
·         Do you criticize them in a way that degrades (tears down) their reputation and character?

These questions are hard… they make me cringe, because I am guilty. But I also hope that I am learning. On that last question, criticism has become somewhat of a norm in Christianity today. Being critical of fine doctrinal points is something to be admired, we do want our doctrine to be “pure” after all. But do we realize how arrogant that is? Do you suppose that you have just a little more understanding (“smarts” we could say) or a little more of the Holy Spirit and you “know better” than someone else? I am so grieved at times at the critical spirit of so many Christians. They give some positives, but there’s always a “but” or a “however”. It’s like a disclaimer, “this was pretty good, but I don’t want to be known for totally agreeing with this… after all it doesn’t completely line up with exactly what I believe”. Why can’t we learn to be more gracious towards others, to praise the good we see and leave it at that? Must we always bring correction along with our praise? Is it really necessary and helpful?

One prayer I have for myself and for the church today is that we might learn to disagree with others more graciously, to let love cover a multitude of sins (or “misguided doctrine”), and learn to truly love others despite our disagreements that we might be the unified body Jesus prayed we would be (John 17).