Today I attended my first seminars of this semester. I am attending two seminars, both of which meet on Tuesday mornings.
The first seminar is Linguistics with Dave Black. I’ve been looking forward to this seminar for almost a year. Last Spring, I started reading for this seminar, even while I was still taking other seminars. As you can tell, I am very interested in this seminar.
The other seminar is called Theological Foundations, which is taught by David Nelson. This is a seminar that I am required to take for my major (Biblical Theology). To be honest, I have not been looking forward to this seminar with the same enthusiasm as I have been looking forward to Linguistics. I don’t know why. I took two M.Div. theology courses with Dr. Nelson, and I enjoyed, learned from, and was challenged by both of them. Once again, as our seminar met and as we discussed several introductory issues, Dr. Nelson demonstrated that this would be a terrific seminar and that my hesitancy was misdirected.
We talked about labels, such as conservative, liberal, modern, postmodern, and how those labels can be both beneficial and detrimental in theological studies. We talked about how some people dismiss or discount the works of certain theologians because they wear the wrong label – “wrong” as we define wrong. We discussed how this kind of dismissal can be caused by pride, laziness, or apathy. This was a very refreshing discussion.
Similarly, we had to read a handful of short essays and chapters from various theologians (Bonhoeffer, Thielicke, Luther, and Oden). In each of these writings, the authors encouraged the reader to take Scripture seriously, but not himself or herself. The authors encouraged the readers to consider theology within the context of a community of believers. The authors encouraged the reader to walk in the tension between the “seriousness” of theological study and the “unseriousness” of the human predicament (humanity studying divinity).
In other words, each of these short writings called for students of theology and students of Scripture to practice humility. For example, Luther (in a famous passage in the preface to the Wittenberg edition of his German translation of the Bible) admonished his reader toward three “rules” that he found throughout Psalm 119: oratio (prayer), meditatio (meditation, reading), and tentatio (anxiety, trial, struggle). Through these methods, Luther says, the theologian will learn to think highly of God, but not think highly of himself or herself. Then, Luther ends with this famous passage:
If, however, you feel and are inclined to think you have made it, flattering yourself with your own little books, teaching, or writing, because you have done it beautifully and preached excellently; if you are highly pleased when someone praises you in the presence of others; if you perhaps look for praise, and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it – if you are of that stripe, dear friend, then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey ears. Then do not spare any expense! Decorate them with golden bells, so that people will be able to hear you wherever you go, point their fingers at you, and say, “See, See! There goes that clever beast, who can write such exquisite books and preach so remarkably well.”
I know that this is not my desire. I’m certain it is not your desire either. As we read and study and write, let’s do so for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ, not for the purpose of drawing a following or entertaining people or becoming academically well-known or even making a living. Instead, may we live and move and have our being only in Jesus Christ.