Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Learner's Church Plant

Learner said today that, if he ever planted a church (which he has little desire to do), he would name it Mos Eisley (denomination) Church.

When asked why "Mos Eisley," he quoted Obi-Wan Kenobi of Star Wars: “Never will you find a more wretched hive of scum and villany.”


Thursday, March 29, 2007

God's Common Grace

From Calvin and Common Grace by John Owen:
"How is it that men who still lie under the wrath and curse of God and are heirs of hell enjoy so many good gifts at he hand of God? How is it that men who are not savingly renewed by the Spirit of God nevertheless exhibit so many qualities, gifts, and accomplishments that promote the preservation, temporal happiness, cultural progress, social and economic improvement of themselves and of others?...How is it that this sin-cursed world enjoys so much favor and kindness at the hand of its holy and ever-blessed Creator?"
Learner's thoughts exactly, he says. "Common grace is so unfair."

Friday, March 09, 2007

Progress: Destination or Journey?

Earlier this week, Learner received an email from the seminary pertaining to the upcoming building project in the center of the small campus. It read:
"A construction trailer will arrive on campus this week, and then, in about 16 months, we hope to have a new 43,000-square-foot academic and administration building. The building will provide more classrooms with greater flexibility, unite our faculty and administrators under one roof, create a dedicated homiletics classroom, as well as a single center for students to interact with Financial Aid, the Business Office, the Registrar, Academic Planning, and Student Services.

Before we can enjoy the new building, however, we will all encounter some changes and potential inconveniences. Here are some of the changes to watch for:

- The official start date for construction is April 16, 2007.
- The main construction trailer will be staged on site either this Friday, March 9, or early next week. It will be located in the grassy area just north of the Archaeology building.
- Temporary fencing will be placed around the construction site for the safety of our children (and curious adults!). As of now, we expect that the fencing will go up after the first of April, but that could change.
- The current bus stop will also be moved for the safety of the children.
- There will be significant changes in traffic flow and parking. Much more information about this will follow.

Staff will see and hear about the traffic flow and parking changes at the All-Staff Meeting on March 26. Campus residents and commuting students will receive information about new traffic patterns, parking changes, the bus stop move, and much more when they return from Spring Break."
As is typical for him in most things, Learner is all for progress - as a destination rather than a journey. The good news is the same as the bad news: if all goes according to schedule (his as well as the seminary's), he should graduate roughly around the same time as the building is complete. Thus, he'll get to experience all the hassles of the building project (listed above), and none of the benefits. And, if you remember, he doesn't particularly do well with campus chaos.

All this, of course, is only if he gets through another 16 months...which means getting through Hebrew (and other classes involving biblical languages). Still, it's only 16 months, and today is the first he's really thought about that.

"Hard to believe," he says. Indeed it is.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Learner & Anger: Growing Up or Growing Older?

Like many, Learner does not like to think of himself as an angry person, but he recognizes that he is – or at least can be – given the right situation, threat, or (dare he say it?) desire. He wouldn’t say he grew up in an angry family, but he did see anger used occasionally as a tool and a means for either getting one’s way or not letting others have theirs. Is there a difference between the two? Regardless, anger was an instrument of control – of preference, of environment – and he has been too good a student of its many uses.

In thinking through this, Learner says, certain questions come to mind pertaining to his anger tendencies: Does his becoming so angry so quickly over so many trivial things in life contribute to the fact that he is hardly angry enough over injustices in the world that merit true righteous anger? Why does one of his daughters spilling milk at dinner (again) cause his blood to boil more than the reality of someone else’s daughter not having any milk to drink because of political embargoes? Why does someone – always the same guy! – talking loudly (and always at length) in the library make him more angry than the fact that someone else cannot speak because of governmental censorship laws in another country?

If, as one of Learner's recent authors writes, “anger reminds us that we do not live in utopia,” the question begs asking: What kind of utopia must he want to live in if the reasons for his anger are so pathetically inconsequential? What does this tell him about his ideals and the extent to which he pursues them? His tendency, he says, is to act out – to make a scene, a point, or a big deal about an annoyance – making him the issue rather than the issue itself.

Sadly, he can’t say he's grown as much in this area of sanctification as he would like, and Mrs. Learner and the kids are the ones who suffer most because of his “melancholic funks”. Unfortunately, this is some of what he was taught in his youth, and some of what he learned growing up.

"Or at least," he says, "when I was growing 'older'".

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Shaken AND Stirred

Learner took his first exam of the semester this morning, a 185-point monster over the book of Acts. The Smiling Assassin has struck, and Learner's wondering how to stop the bleeding.

The sad part, he says, is he actually studied - 50 pages of notes, 250 pages of previously highlighted readings, a memorized outline of the 28 chapters of Acts - he studied it all.

The mistake he made was not doing the Greek translations, which, even though the Assassin said were going to be minimal on the exam, were not. (That, or he and the Assassin have two different ideas of what "minimal" means, which could very well be a possibility, as he is German.) Either way, says Learner, "Whups."

He's hoping for a big curve - a circle curve even, where the worst you do, the better you do - but that's a little optimistic, especially for him. We'll see. In the meantime, he's gearing up for starting in on Galatians tomorrow and hoping for the best.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ordained to What?

Learner is studying in the student center, semi-eavesdropping on a conversation between two visiting pastors and a graduating student about his upcoming graduation and ordination in May. The conversation goes something like this:
Student: What do I REALLY need to know for ordination exams?

Visiting pastor #1: Know where you stand on the New Perspective on Paul, Federal Vision, and paedobaptism.

Student: Anything else?

Visiting pastor #2: Don't choose to sit in the middle chair.
Maybe it's because he doesn't know (or passionately care all that much right now) where he stands on any of the above, but Learner assumes there's a consideration of the student's knowledge of Jesus as well.

But that's probably just over a coffeebreak or something.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Counseling Class Humor

From Learner's Intro to Counseling class this evening:
"Neurotics build castles in the air.
Psychotics live in them.
Psychiatrists collect the rent."
Nothing funnier than depression humor, says Learner.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hammy, Sting, and the Smiling Assassin

Rather than explain my past month-and-a-half absence from chronicling the life and times of Learner, I'm pleased to report that he has begun a new semester, one he is enjoying for a variety of reasons, not the least of them being that he has class with three new professors he has not had before. The reading is heavy (at least in terms of volume), and the writing will be likewise, but hearing new voices and experiencing new teaching styles in communicating the content is a needed refreshment, he says.

Each of his new professors has a distinct style and personality, and Learner (who is far too aware of such things), has (lovingly) identified their more famous counterparts: Hammy, Sting, and the "Blond Bond" (also known on campus as "the Smiling Assassin").

Hammy teaches Reformation & Modern Church History, is young, and, by his own admission (and like his hyperactive namesake from the movie, Over the Hedge), could benefit from taking a handful of quaalude sedatives before teaching in his hyperactive way. Still, he's smart, loves baseball (always a plus in Learner's book), and is obviously passionate about his subject.

Sting teaches Learner's Intro to Counseling Class, is quite refined, and speaks with a British accent. Learner says he keeps waiting for the VH-1 Behind the Music crew to show up and chronicle Sting's newest creative endeavor - teaching biblical counseling at a U.S. seminary - but that hasn't happened yet. In the meantime, Learner says, he keeps looking for a stanza or two from "Message in a Bottle" in the course notes, but he hasn't found it.

The Blond Bond/Smiling Assassin teaches Acts & Paul, is a native German who speaks fluent English, and, says Learner, is an incredible lecturer who carries himself as more of an international academic (which he is). Impressed with both his handle on English as well as Greek, Learner is sure he must speak at least 10 other languages fluently as well as part of his covert training from the CIA, MI-6, and whatever the German equivalent of special ops is.

As he always does, Learner takes great pleasure in spending the first day(s) of class painstakingly entering every single assignment into his organizational system, dividing reading assignments across the weeks of the semester, taking note of when papers are due, and ensuring that any quizzes or exams are on his calendar. This easily takes a good couple of hours to do, but once entered, Learner lives and breathes by this system, which seems to have served him well so far.

There's nothing quite like a new semester, he says, referencing the shelf of new required reading and syllabi and notes he's already taken in the week of classes he's already had. Thankfully, his schedule seems to be a little more conducive to bigger blocks of study time, and he has so far made good use of those chunks, investing them in the library reading and marking in his new study carrell upstairs.

While he tries to study in a new place each semester so he doesn't get in a rut, Learner says he does have affections for certain locations and, when the paper writing begins, he'll probably mosey back downstairs to his favorite Reference table, as even when the library is full, rarely does anyone sit there because of the "Reference" sign hanging above it. It's a little thing - thinking that sign marks his own, personal "reserved" spot (sort of like having a "regular table" in his favorite restaurant) - and each time Learner walks by and no one happens to be sitting there, he smiles to himself, happy.

Suffice it to say, Learner's new professors aren't the only interesting ducks in the seminary pond...

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

When Did Women Become an "Issue"?

From a one-page reflection Learner turned in for his Epistles class:
Whether you are a traditionalist or an evangelical feminist, describe how you believe women should use their gifts in the church effectively in the church today.

My experience with women in ministry has been primarily within a parachurch organization rather than a church. As a result, I am not uncomfortable with the idea of women leading men (at least within parachurch ministries), though I would say I am traditional in my perspective of men being theological leaders within the church.

That said (and perhaps blending my parachurch experiences with my church theology), I think there is much more room for women to use their gifts in the church today than they perhaps have opportunity to do so. I appreciate our church’s efforts to incorporate women into the worship service (formal welcome at the beginning; reading the Scriptures; leading musical numbers; co-teaching with men on topics that are more relational than purely theological). In addition, our church is reinstating the role of “deaconess” in 2007, a move which I think is great for meeting crisis needs women in the church might have through a woman trained and commissioned to deal with them.

The key to allowing strong women gifted in the area of leadership is to ensure that strong men are positioned to provide leadership for them. The women in the New Testament were strong women, but there was no question that Paul, Peter, and the other apostles were equipped, confident, and over them in a leadership function and role. I think this fits both biblically as well as experientially, and I hope that my generation can do more to strike a happy medium in which men are fulfilling their roles within the church so women can as well.
It's a little short and under-developed, but you get the gist.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Language Day from Hell

Learner has spent a majority of the day (and is continuing this evening) in the arena of the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew. Beginning at 5:30 a.m. this morning and running until (he guesses) approximately 10 p.m. tonight with nary a break in between, he has been reading both right to left and left to right en masse.

If you know anything about Learner and languages, you know today has not been a fun one. One week to go before semester's end.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Real Theological Heroes

Learner thought this anonymous submission to the seminary's bi-weekly newsletter was pseudo-clever. It's a play off the Bud Light's "Real Men of Genius/Real American Hero" radio commercials. (I've edited the lyrics slightly to protect our locational anonymity):
The seminary presents real theological heroes
Today we salute you First Year Seminary Student.

You answered the call, now you're reading The Call.
Soon you'll learn things you never thought could be learned:
parsing Greek, reading books, and oh, drinking lots of coffee.

Where there's a personality test, you'll take it.
A genitive, you'll parse it.
An FCF, you'll find it.

So crack open that Metzger lexicon, oh master of the Divine languages. It may be Greek to you now, but someday you'll get it.

First Year Seminary student.....

The Seminary, Somewhere in the Midwest
Granted, he says, it loses a bit (okay, a lot) in the Web replication, but if you've heard the commercials, you can imagine it.

Monday, December 04, 2006

At Last

From the seminary's student portal (and much to Learner's delight):
"Cell phone users need to avoid disturbing others who are studying in the Library. Please be considerate by turning down or off the phone’s 'ring' and going to a place away from others, such as a stairwell, to carry on your conversation. If you are disturbed by cell phones and, for whatever reason, do not want to accost those disturbing you, please alert a library staff member."
"It's about time," says Learner.

Friday, December 01, 2006


Good news: Learner has decided to continue with the M.Div., raising support for another six months (and no longer), and finding full-time employment come summer (and probably dropping to part-time student status). The reduced school hours will most likely mean having to move off-campus, but as the winter months are now here and the three-bedroom apartment feels ever smaller on a daily basis, that may not be all that bad a thing in the end. He just hates moving.

On a different note, Learner is fundraising not only for himself, but also for the seminary. A month ago he received this email:
As stewards of the gifts from those who give money to the seminary for student scholarships, we in the Financial Aid Office often hear your thanks and appreciation for the financial assistance you receive. While we delight to hear it, we would like those who donate the money to receive thanks as well. Therefore, we are asking that you write a thank you letter, telling something about yourself and your future plans, which will be given to one of the seminary’s donors.
And then, for added motivation:
You may have noticed that a "thank you hold" has been placed on your student account. When we receive your letter, the hold will be removed. Please turn it in to the Financial Aid Office to insure that you will be able to receive your scholarship for the January and Spring terms. Also, you will not be able to do online registration in January if the hold is still on your account.
So, a week late, here's what Learner finally sat down and wrote:
Dear Friend of the Seminary,

On behalf of Mrs. Learner and our four children, I’d like to say thanks for your support of and contribution to the seminary.

As a family of six living here on campus, we have a few more costs than an average single or newly-married student. Here to pursue the Master of Divinity degree, we knew the financial aspect of seminary would be a difficult one, and the reality of our hunch was complicated by the fact that we had to sell our house for approximately $40,000 less than we had planned, which we had hoped to apply toward the cost of school.

While we’ve been able to raise support to cover our monthly living expenses, we would not be able to pay for school without a school loan (which we have taken out) and the 50% tuition scholarship made available by the seminary. Because of your support of the seminary, our loan amount will be considerably less than it might have been otherwise, which is a huge gift. True, we’re going to graduate with some debt, but it won’t be nearly as much as it would have been otherwise without your gift. Thank you.

We are here to “study to show ourselves approved” in hope of one day formally entering the pastorate or teaching in the high school or college classroom. We’ve been here a year-and-a-half and thoroughly enjoyed our time, as we are learning much about God, the Scriptures, the good world he created, and ourselves. It’s been all we hoped for and more.

So, thank you for your part in helping us as we pursue God’s call on our lives. We’re grateful for your contribution in the past, and trust God will enable and lead you to continue your support of the seminary in the future. Whether you feel it has or not, we know it’s made a big difference for our family.

Again, thank you.


Learner (for all)
A nice letter. Granted, the "It's been all we hoped for and more" may be a little over-the-top, but Learner says donors love that stuff.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

To the Nth Degree?

The Thanksgiving Break is upon us, and none too soon. It seems just a few posts ago I was writing about Learner's Fall Break at the end of October. I guess that's what happens when one only posts one other time in the month of November. Time flies when you're not blogging.

As they all seem to be, this particular break is an important one as Learner has several decisions to make:

1) Do they as a family continue trying to raise support (which has dropped significantly in the past three months) in order to remain in seminary full-time? If not, does Learner get a full-time job and continue classes at a much slower pace? And because only full-time students are allowed to live on campus, where do they then live?

2) Does Learner continue to pursue the M.Div degree (3 1/2-4 years) or does he settle for the M.A.T.S. (Arts and Theological Studies), finishing up (most likely) by the end of next summer? The difference in degrees is huge (or at least seems so) in terms of post-seminary opportunties, but so is the cost involved in time, money, and Hebrew.

3) Regarding Hebrew, does Learner make a last-ditch effort to try to salvage the rest of the semester and miraculously pull it out in the end (and it would take a miracle), taking a chance on pulling a decent grade on the final and with much grace from his professor? Or, does he let it go and try again either in the spring or the summer?

Obviously, all of these questions are intricately related: if the M.Div is no longer an option, Hebrew doesn't need to be either (which is part - but not all - of Learner's current lack of motivation to study it). And, if the M.A.T.S. ends up being the way out, being full-time (and thus trying to raise support) doesn't seem quite as necessary either.

Big decisions. In the midst of all this, of course, is the element of calling. What is it that God wants? Learner's best attempt at answering that question falls along these lines:
1) SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT OF PEOPLE - Share people’s struggles about the Christian faith and help them reflect on beliefs, concerns, doubts regarding Christian understanding of spiritual dimensions of life.

2) TEACHING RESPONSIBILITY - Accept an active teaching role, interpreting and teaching the Scriptures, theological concepts, history of church/current events.

3) ADMINISTRATIVE LEADERSHIP - Accept administrative responsibilities in climate of delegated tasks and shared leadership; others encouraged to use skills.

4) PROCLAMATION OF THE WORD - The word of God is communicated with urgency and conviction, bringing it to bear on the changing needs of individuals, the community, and the world.

5) DISCIPLESHIP TRAINING - Emphasis on training people in basics of spiritual growth to be disciplemakers.

6) ENCOURAGING MINISTRY OF THE LAITY - Creative ideas/directions developed; many with appropriate skills stimulated to become involved in service.
That said, Thanksgiving comes at a good time for Learner and company. They'll get some time on the farm, be with family, and hopefully Learner and the Lord can go for a long walk (or even a couple of them) as he tries to discern what God is saying.

If you pray, do so. And, if you have any thoughts you'd like Learner to consider, email them to me and I'll see that he gets them.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Latest in Learner's category of "what post-seminary will one day be like": reading books without highlighter in hand.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Boat Trip on the River Denial?

Just got an email from Learner. Apparently, their trip so far is all they had hoped it would be (quiet, relaxing, enjoyable), but not all is peaches and cream. He writes:
"Not great news from our church - apparently we're $1,200 in deficit over the past three months in terms of our support raising. In addition, we're barely a third of the way for November's paycheck. This is not good.

For the first time in a while, Mrs. Learner and I lamented our financial situation, and for the first time in a very long while, I detected some fear within myself as to how any of this will work out, both in the long- and short-terms. We talked of how we could get out from under the fundraising burden, but there seems little way to do this without quitting school, and doing that cuts off the degree that would seemingly open the doors to what I think/hope I'm actually able to do.

It all suddenly seems to futile, and I wonder if we'll be able to finish this school year, let alone the M. Div. track I'm on. For the first time, I heard myself say that that was okay, too, which raises all kinds of questions as to how much to fight for this and how much to just let it go, get a paying job of some kind, and finish out life at least being able to pay bills.

As I was relating some of this to a friend here (good visit, by the way), he said that I should try to start something. His suggestion made me wonder what happened to my once-entrepreneurial spirit? Maybe realism set in or I just got lazy, but I haven't seen that side of me for some time. And even if I had the itch, I'm not sure where to scratch - what can I do that would be both fulfilling and something someone would pay me to do? It seems that most of my life, I've never been able to line those two things up very well, if at all.

What does God have for us? How much of this is his problem and how much of it is mine? What am I missing here and how am I to proceed? Is it true that "where God guides, he provides" or not? Is the question one of provision or of guidance? Are we out of his will (whatever that means?), or just not doing it correctly? What is he asking us to do? How are we to respond?"
From the sound of things, he's more confused than depressed (though it's never a long trip between the two). I think he knows they'll come out of this and look back on it with good stories one day, but it's always more difficult to make sense of things in the midst of trial than on the backside of it. And where they are is in the midst of it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

In Dire Need of Fall Break

In roughly 24 hours, Learner will be on fall break - namely no classes on Thursday and Friday, with Saturday and Sunday off as well. And, he says, it won't be too soon.

While it's not like the professors withhold assignments or promise no quizzes the following week, two days with no classes (even if he only has one each on those two days, both at 8 a.m.) is a good thing. The grind of attending class, trying to pay attention, and actually learn something can take more of a toll than he sometimes realizes. Learner says it will be nice to have four straight days out of a classroom.

The break gives Learner and his family a chance to get away, which they are planning to do with a five-hour trip to a new city they've not visited before. Their plan is to stay at a beautiful house that belongs to friends who (unfortunately) are going to be out of town for the weekend. Learner is planning to read during the drivetime, in hopes of being able to really relax when they arrive at their destination. Like Mrs. Learner (who is almost giddy with excitement about getting away), he is very much looking forward to the time...and counting the hours until they depart.

Learner asked if I wanted to accompany the family, but I declined. Sometimes I wonder if Mrs. Learner is a bit weary of me, as I always seem to be wherever Learner is. In an effort to be sensitive to that, I thanked him for the invitation, told him to have a good time, and assured him that I'd just be with him in spirit.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Midterm Time

In case you haven't figured out by my lack of posts of late reporting on Learner's seminary experiences, it's midterm time. When I last asked him for an update, he assured me there's plenty of good material coming, but it would have to wait due to a few select projects and exams, as well as a stack of papers from others to grade. His semester isn't particularly overwhelming this fall (3 classes, 10 hours), but he has a few other irons in the fire that seem to have complicated things a bit (more on those later).

In the meantime, I can happily report that in Learner's rematch with Hebrew, he got the better of his opponent, scoring an 88 on the midterm. Twenty-eight points improvement from the summer did his heart good, and he's enjoying the language (and working at it as well) much more than he did in the summer. He knows it's going to get harder and more complex as he goes, but at least he's got an anchor point of a respectable score to work from now.

Monday, October 09, 2006


Today at 12:30, Learner faces his nemesis from the summer: the Hebrew mid-term. He tried to transliterate what payback was, but while sharper than its ever been, his vocab is still limited.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A (Long) Lament for the Church

Taken from Learner's journal entry, written as part of the seminary's annual day of prayer this morning:
"God, here I am with another complaint, yet one that is near to your heart (and becoming more so to mine). I don't desire to whine, but that's all I seem to do after I make such a qualification. Hear me, God, and understand my heart.

I'm weary, Jesus, of your ugly bride - of her inadequacies, of her incompetencies, of her indecency. I'm weary of how your grace covers a multitude of her sins when, frankly, a little more of your wrath (or at least your discipline) might seem to bring about faster change. I'm weary of how your bride is little more than a whore in a wedding dress, and how that seems to bother me more than it does you.

I'm tired of your chosen companion to whom you have committed yourself - she is self-absorbed, completely clueless, and driving me crazy with her wedding plans. If you would just set a date and get married already, then maybe you would be able to (finally) get her under control.

She is rude, Jesus - and arrogant, too, so much so that everything she does is tainted with pride and a lack of honest reflection and communication with you. How can you allow this to go on? Does it not bother you that excellence and beauty are of little concern to her? Are you not aware of how poorly she does everything and is either unaware or unconcerend with her performance? Are you even aware or concerned with her performance? Sometimes I wonder.

Does it not bother you, the words she puts in your mouth? The assumptions she makes? The lack of concern she seems to exhibit for what you have always said you cared about? Does it not bother you that she is flirtatious and easily distracted by other suitors? That she is a gossip? That she is both a prostitute and a prude, depending on who's watching?

And to think, you are still engaged to her after all this time! Why? How can you love her - care for her - think of her with any kind of hope for change in your heart? How can who she is be worthy of who you are? And why am I so offended and almost sorry for the fact that you are so in love with her? She doesn't at all seem your type or on your level.

And yet you are in love with her - you say you are, you show you are, you're sure you are. You're not ashamed of her (or at least you don't seem to be), and you've yet to reconsider your commitment to her (at least not that I know of). You've lain down your life for her and put your reputation (which, in most circles, is quite good when it's apart from her) on the line by not just associating with her, but by being her beau.

And you're patient with her, both now and presumably in the future. And while I don't even begin to understand that, I admire you for it. I want to try to understand, and I want to try to love her the way you love her (though I may not always know why). I know you love her, and that must mean she's worth loving - or maybe she's not, but you do anyway.

Forgive me for my critique; for my own unloveableness; for my own unwillingness to love. Help me love that which you do - in the way you do - to the degree you do.

And send me an invite to the wedding. As much as it's hard to believe, I want to be there when you two finally get hitched."

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Happiness Is...

Learner and I went to a bachelor party for a guy he mentored last school year (he gets married today). The party was at Learner's associate pastor's apartment and, after everyone had arrived, then moved to the roof of the 17-story building for drinks and stogies.

While Learner's not one for cigars, he did say that happiness is having an associate pastor who makes the world's greatest gin and tonic.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Writing and the Seminary Experience

Learner is desperately trying to work through a set of papers he is to grade for the seminary's Spiritual and Ministry Formation summer class. While the occasional paper stands out, in general, the writing overall is somewhat lacking.

When I ask him to clarify, his list is as follows:
- poor spelling and missing words
- typos and inconsistent spacing
- lack of structure and logical flow of thought
- little to no documentation of sources quoted
- little to no practical or personal application
In the midst of reading the papers, Learner said there is one positive aspect he can think of: "It's a safe bet nobody's plagiarizing," he said.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Changes Sequel

Learner got semi-rebuked this morning by the chapel coordinator (I'll call her "Fortissima") for his chapel attendance observations, which I shared in my previous post.

"Could it be," she asked, "that attendance is up because of purposeful changes we've made in chapel - adding student testimonies, including more students and their musical gifts - rather than just because of increased student numbers and that it's early in the semester?"

Learner was surprised by Fortissima's reproach, mostly because he was dumbfounded someone had actually read his thoughts here and had confronted him with them in real life.

Looks like I'm going to have to work even harder to get anything out of him now, especially now that he knows we actually have readers.

And looks like he's for sure going to chapel later this morning.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


The weather seems to be changing and Learner and the family are very much enjoying the temperature difference of late. Though the trees have yet to drastically change their color, it won't be long now, and Learner has been in a particularly good mood recently anticipating this transition.

Other changes he's noticed:
- Hebrew (the second time around) isn't so bad. Granted, he hasn't gotten to the place yet where he began to really fall off the wagon the first time, but his sense of calm with the rehashed material at a slightly slower pace has made him feel more at peace.

- In general, his reading is more but less, as a majority of his books are more popular/practical than academic/theological this semester. While he still is required to read a few books he won't try to start before he goes to bed, he has many more that move down to the next level and begin to draw more modern applications.

- Class sizes seem larger this year than last, both in classes he's had as well as in the ones he has, and he's not particularly happy about that fact. Several times he's had flashbacks to courses in college in which he could become quite anonymous, do the readings and homework, pass the exams, and never really have a conversaton with the professor. This, he says, is not what grad school/seminary is supposed to be.

- More people are attending chapel this year than last, but that may be because 1) there are more people enrolled (as mentioned above); and 2) it's still September, a month or so before the big projects are due.
He wonders: if the attendance changes back, is that really a change?

I tell him to get back to Hebrew and stop analyzing everything.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Learner the Emotional Adolescent

Learner just took the Emotional/Spiritual Health Inventory from Peter Scazzero's book, The Emotionally Healthy Church, which he is reading for his Marriage and Family Counseling class. According to the test (as found on pages 60-66 in the book), Learner says he's an official "emotional adolescent" (as opposed to an emotional infant, child, or adult), the definition of which is:

"Like a physical adolescent, I know the right ways I should behave in order to 'fit in' mature, adult society. I can feel threatened and alarmed inside when I am offered constructive criticism, quickly becoming defensive. I subconsciously keep records on the love I give out, so I can ask for something in return at a later time. When I am in conflict, I might admit some fault in the matter, but I will insist on demonstrating the guilt of the other party, proving why they are more to blame. Because of my commitment to self-survival, I have trouble really listening to another person's pain, disappointments, or needs without becoming preoccupied with myself."

I assured him that, while there may be a few true themes, the results weren't quite as overarchingly accurate as he perhaps thought. He conceded my point, saying that in a few categories (looking beneath the surface, breaking the power of the past, living in brokenness and vulnerability), he actually scored on the low end of adulthood.

"Not bad for a 35-year-old," he said.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


This past Saturday, Learner took the "wretched" Bible Content exam for the fourth and final time (else he has to take the class).

Needed score: 105. Earned score: 113.


Class starts on Thursday. More as I have it.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

End-of-Summer Picnic

Once again, Learner found himself behind the grill at Friday's end-of-summer edition of the seminary picnic. Eye protection was a must because of the smoke, but I'd say he kind of overdid it here.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Aaron by George Herbert

Learner shared with me this beautiful poem by George Herbert, about a pastor's wrestling with his inadequacies and the call to the pastorate. The professor read it aloud - the only way to read poetry, Learner says - and apparently it was quite touching to the class.

Holinesse on the head,
Light and perfections on the breast,
Harmonious bells below, raising the dead
To leade them unto life and rest.
Thus are true Aarons drest.

Profanenesse in my head,
Defects and darknesse in my breast,
A noise of passions ringing me for dead
Unto a place there is no rest.
Poore priest thus am I drest.

Onely another head
I have, another heart and breast,
Another musick, making live not dead,
Without whom I could have no rest:
In him I am well drest.

Christ is my onely head,
My alone onely heart and breast,
My onely musick, striking me ev'n dead;
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in him new drest.

So holy in my head,
Perfect and light in my deare breast,
My doctrine tun'd by Christ, (who is not dead,
But lives in me while I do rest)
Come people; Aaron's drest.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Isaiah 50

Good words this morning with regard to two different paths of living (and their outcomes), from one of Learner's favorites, Isaiah 50:

10 Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.

11 Behold, all you who kindle a fire,
who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Walk by the light of your fire,
and by the torches that you have kindled!
This you have from my hand:
you shall lie down in torment.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Classical Calling

Learner just turned in the last of his Pastoral Theology book reflection papers. He says that Andrew Purves’ Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition was a needed read for the sake of his historical understanding of the call, role, and office of pastor.

Studying the lives of early church fathers like Gregory of Nazianzus, John Chrysostom, and Gregory the Great, as well as Reformer Martin Bucer and Puritan Richard Baxter, Purves paints in broad strokes the colors that most highlight the pastoral role’s more classical tradition. Most interesting to him was the theme of the importance of honest self-evaluation and accompanying action, as illustrated in this quote from Purves, quoting Gregory the Great:

“Gregory argues that to reject a call to ministry when one is well qualified and graced for the work is false humility. Thus the general axiom: ‘One who has not been cleansed, must not dare to undertake sacred ministries; and one who has been cleansed by supernal graces, must not proudly resist under the guise of humility’ (I.7,33). Typical of Gregorian antinomies, a false humility may hide a corresponding pride!” (66)

According to Learner, the irony of Purves’ book and those pastors he studies within it is that almost each one, at some point, purposely and aggressively (and sometimes even physically) fled God’s pastoral call on their lives. It became humorous (and humbling to him) to read of these men and their strong belief in one’s need to be clearly called by God to the pastorate as evidenced by their hesitancy to embrace such a call because of their own perceived inadequacy.

Learner's questions: how did they relinquish their fears and submit themselves to God and such a great call? And how did they justify this change in perspective to themselves, their friends, and those who they were to serve in this call? After all, it wasn’t that the terms of the call changed; rather, they did in considering it. What must this process have been like for each man?

For most of his life, Learner has written off the pastoral role as not being for him. This disregard has been due to his own less-than positive opinions of certain pastors from his past, as well as from certain others’ less-than affirming voices – not of him personally, but of the pastorate/church in general. As a result, he has not until now – a full year into his seminary experience – begun to seriously ask God if a pastoral call is his desire for him, as he came to seminary with a view to teach in academia, not to pastor.

Learner wonders about inquiring as to this call is what God would have him do? After all, with regard to a call to the pastorate, shouldn’t he simply just know, making the decision of “Will I or won’t I accept it?” the key question rather than “Am I or aren’t I called in the first place?” From his reading of Purves, both questions – only in reverse order – seemed in play in the lives of those studied: “Am I or aren’t I?” first; “Will I or won’t I?” second.

The scary part is that in asking the first question first (which he's beginning to do, and should have done before), the second question becomes scarier to consider…and answer. But then again, maybe that’s the point with regard to the seriousness of the pastoral call.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Summer Regrets, Accomplishments

After struggling with/suffering through Hebrew this summer (and only then to a point of auditing rather than passing), Learner is again refreshed by the breath of fresh air that is non-grammatical in nature, namely the Pastoral Theology intensive he started this morning. Learner so loves classes like this - one where verb forms and conjugations barely enter the fray - and he's looking forward to soaking up the next nine days of three-hour intensives of pure, unadulterated ideas, concepts, and applications.

While he didn't do so well in Hebrew, he did do well in plowing through the five books of required reading for the Pastoral Theology class, even getting three of the four reflection papers written ahead of time. This has allowed him time to really think through the content of the books and live with the material a bit going into the class, a fact he's glad for. Thought not suceeding in Hebrew is a big regret, faithfully getting the reading done for Pastoral Theology was an accomplishment of the summer.

Other regrets/accomplishments? Both words may be a little strong for the following lists, but the things that he says come to mind are:

- Not exercising more and losing some weight (he makes it to the YMCA about once a week, but that doesn't do much)
- Not getting to know more people from church (he got to know a few better, but not a lot a little more)
- Not listening to new music more critically (it's been a long, long time since he's been able to do that)
- Not seeing Les Miserables when it came through town on its closing tour (though he did see Phantom)
- Not reading more fiction (for obvious reasons - see above)
- Not reading the Bible more consistently and devotionally (he's not sure why, but this is just not happening)

- Making it an official year in the apartment as a family (without driving each other completely crazy)
- Trusting God for both a new job and car for the fall (and seeing God graciously provide both)
- Getting to know a few profs better (and being asked by two of them to serve as a teaching assistant)
- Teaching child #2 to ride a bike
- Continuing to deal actively with others as to his sin
- Beginning to understand and (sometimes) seeming to grow in grace and the gospel (with which he once felt bored)

He's still very glad and very content to be here and grateful to God for all that he's teaching him and all that's he's learning.

I'm glad as well - a year or so ago, I wasn't sure we'd still be here.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

No Additional Postage Necessary

For most of the weekend, Learner says he has been thinking about whether or not he's praying enough (or as enough as he wants in order to feel that he has) for Mrs. Learner and their children.

Walking into church this morning, he picked up a bulletin with the normally-enclosed prayer postcard randomly addressed to a member of the fellowship. Opening the bulletin, Learner looked at the name and address on the card. It was his and Mrs. Learner's.

Message received, he says. No additional postage necessary.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Ambiguity and the Pastoral Call

Learner just finished another book on the topic of pastoring: William H. Willimon’s Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, a book he says he sees himself re-reading almost annually if indeed he found himself following a call into the pastorate. This may be one of the more important, applicable books he reads in seminary.

Willimon, former professor and dean of students at Duke, speaks from both education and experience about a variety of topics related to the call to pastor – images/expectations of a twenty-first century pastor; the pastor as priest, interpreter of Scripture, preacher, counselor, teacher, evangelist, prophet, and leader; and (perhaps the most helpful section for Learner), the character and constancy of a pastor for effectiveness over the long haul. Willimon writes:

“Because of the ill-defined nature of the pastoral ministry, the work demands a high level of internal control…in conscientious persons this encourages a heightened sense of responsibility and can lead to an oppressive situation if the person is not only conscientious but also perfectionistic as well as unrealistic.” (317)

Willimon goes on to write, quoting a colleague who was a pastoral counselor for 15 years:

“The essential personality requisite for happiness in the pastoral ministry was a ‘high tolerance for ambiguity.’” (324)

Conscientious (but not perfectionistic) ambiguity? Why, Learner wonders, would he want to subject himself to such insane demands? And why would God possibly call someone like him – an INTJ who loves closure almost as much as life itself – into the pastorate?

Actually, he's come a long way in his dealings with things ambiguous. Getting married and learning to live with someone who is not as consumed by these feelings helps; so does having children. In the past year, prescribed drugs have taken the edge off the perfectionism some, as has prayer and getting more to a point of recognizing that God really is the only one of us in control. It hasn’t been the smoothest or most pleasant of transitions, but it has been a transition – a change – and that’s important…and good.

While he supposes it’s always a temptation, he doesn't see himself struggling with being faithful to the work of the call – both his history and sense of responsibility work against laziness in that case. He says he does feel, however, that the tendency toward overworking and perfectionism might be his greater temptation, as well as the urge “to have an answer” and “figure out” God and what he may be doing in ambiguous situations in his life and in the lives of others.

By God’s grace, the key, Learner says, to dealing with any of this seems three-fold: 1) Recognize (repeatedly) his own limits in what he can and can’t do; 2) Learn and experience more in prayer how to trust God for what he can and can’t solve; and 3) Surround himself with others who will help him do numbers one and two faithfully and joyfully, a call almost as intimidating as the pastoral one.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

On Being "Old School"

Learner's making progress working through the reading list for his upcoming Pastoral Theology class in August. He just finished Derek Prime and Alistair Begg’s On Being a Pastor, a somewhat dated (1989) but generally helpful book on the firsthand practicalities of the role, office, and attitude of pastor. While the writing is a bit stiff (not to mention predictable in its repetitive chapter presentations of principle, supporting points, dual perspectives, and summary), Learner appreciated their hearts to share honestly about their pastoral journeys.

The chapters he found most interesting were those on the topics he finds myself most interested in: life and character; study; pastoral care; the responsibility to lead, etc. However, in the midst of these topics (in the preaching chapter – another he enjoyed), Derek Prime’s thought on training for ministry was particularly striking to him:

“One reason I would discourage a young man from training for the ministry straight from school or university is that he probably does not have that experience of life that will be so important in relating his ministry of God’s Word to men and women’s real life situations.” (128)

Learner says he resonates with Prime’s recommendation, both intellectually as well as experientially. Coming to seminary twelve years after college and after some wonderful hands-on ministry experience in a diverse set of people situations, he feels much more prepared and able to contextualize the deep teaching and theology he's now getting. While not true in every case, he does sense an advantage in being one of the “older” guys here, as the seasoning of having been in the trenches with people is very preparatory, much more so than can be taught in a classroom.

At the same time, a few disadvantages of his semi-late seminary start come to mind: lacking a well-developed ecclesiology; missing out on some earlier formal education to help categorize aspects of his theology (his friend/mentor, Paul, says that 90% of education is simply naming things, with which Learner says he agrees); and probably missing the window of pursuing doctoral work after seminary (which seems to be less and less a desire/option with each month, at least from a chronological, stage-of-life perspective).

Still, he says he's grateful for the time invested before seminary, during which he spent less time wrestling with the answers of life and instead took some time to recognizing life's questions. You can read about them in books, he says, but until you walk through the process of helping someone come up with and begin to wrestle with them, you’re just a theoretician and consultant, not a pastor (a role Learner is becoming more and more interested in long-term).

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday Round-Up

Just a short post as to pseudo-monumental events of the past week:

Learner continues to improve his score on the third version of the seminary's mandatory Bible content exam, this time missing the pass mark by only two points (103 out of 150 - the required pass mark is 105). He has one last chance next month to pass the exam before having to sign up for the year-long course, so he's hopeful (though he feels like he missed his best chance so far, as this version of the exam seemed the easiest of the three).

After Hebrew on Monday night, Learner participated in his friend Rob's sometimes-monthly poker tournament. Such an appearance is not all that significant, save for the fact that Learner actually drank an entire bottle of beer (his first in its entirety, ever). This, despite playing lousy poker for 4-5 hands, seemed to redeem the evening (albeit, in a junior high kind of way, Learner said), and he has encouraged Rob to keep the empty bottle on a shelf with a plaque underneath to commemorate the accomplishment.

It's the little things that motivate him these days, he says.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Dear Giving Friends

It's a new day.

To illustrate, here's an email Learner just sent out to those friends and family who have financially supported him and Mrs. Learner through their first year of seminary. (Whether or not it was really necessary to email his supporters he says he'll never know, but he did say it eased his conscience a bit in sending it, so he's glad he did.)

Anyway, the letter:

Dear Giving Friends,

Gather 'round for the story of a boy still learning about his own limitations. It's hardly tragic (actually, it's more comedic if you think about it, though it didn't seem so a few days ago). Regardless, it goes something like this:

Once upon a time, there was a boy named Learner. After a successful academic first year at semninary, Learner enrolled in Hebrew class for the summer. Having conquered (okay, "survived") Greek, how hard could Hebrew be, really?

Well, he just found out. After going strong through the first three weeks, Learner somehow failed the first exam (as well as the three subsequent quizzes afterward). As a result of this unfortunate turn of events, the boy's fairy tale of breezing through Hebrew this summer is, well, still a fairy tale (though, as in the best fairy tales), not all is lost. There is hope.

Thankfully, the seminary was most gracious in allowing Learner to audit the class the rest of the summer and reenroll in the fall - all at no extra charge. Gone is the weeping and gnashing of teeth of last week (thought not the vocab cards, as the plan is to stay up with the rest of the class on those through the summer). Who says there are no more happy endings?

Okay, story time's over. And now a word to our sponsors...

While it's disappointing (and embarrassing), Mrs. Learner and I felt it important to let you, our donors, know of this little development/hitch-in-our-git-a-long this summer. Despite honest effort, a good professor, and a fair understanding of what was going on in class, I've had a rough time regurgitating on paper what I've been learning. As a result, I've had to switch my class status to "audit," continuing to attend class and study this summer and retake it for credit in the fall.

If you know me well at all, you know this has been a little hard for me to swallow, largely because of an overblown sense of self-sufficiency and a history that, by God's grace, has tended to be more filled with success than failure. But I'm learning that I have limits, and Hebrew has helped in making the case. The irony, of course, is that two weeks before having to pull out of the class, I taught a two-week Sunday School series called "Learning About Limits." While the series went well and was helpful to many, it seems I still have a few more things to learn personally about coming to grips with my own limitations. And that's humbling.

One good thing that's come out of this is that I think I've figured out one of my spiritual gifts is definitely not tongues. I had my suspicions with Greek, but I'd say Hebrew has confirmed this for me. And that's good to know - a positive thing.

Rest assured, there's still plenty God is doing that we're giving ourselves to here. In fact, my Pastoral Theology class (a 12-day intensive) starts three weeks from today, for which I have to finish reading five books (writing reflection papers on each), and begin writing a ten-page paper on "whatever aspect of your understanding, personality or character you consider might be most problematic for a diligent and faithful ministry."

Hmmm. It would seem my experience with Hebrew might make for a good opening illustration of what I think I'll be writing on, namely, the idealism of my own self-sufficiency and dependence instead of on the gospel and person of Jesus.

In John 3:30, John the Baptist says, "He must become greater, I must become less." If you pray, pray that this truth would continue to become more and more a reality in my life. I'm guessing that this - and not whether I can parse a Hebrew verb - is really what this lesson and experience with Hebrew this summer is about.

Sorry to take up your time with this long email, but we felt it important to write and send because of your commitment to and involvement with us and our ministry here. We now return you to your regularly scheduled life.


Learner (for Mrs. Learner)

Hebrew tonight (sans quiz). Learner's actually looking forward to it.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Evening Story Time

It's been a very strange week for Learner; "interesting" and "confusing" are probably even more apt adjectives. I'm not at liberty to go into too much detail, but the one thing I can share is that Learner is probably going to have to switch to auditing Hebrew the rest of the summer and take it again in the fall. After flunking the first exam and three additional quizzes, his grades are simply too low and his understanding/regurgitation of what he's learning too minimal to be able to legitimately continue.

Thankfully, he doesn't seem all that angry or frustrated by any of this, but he does say he is perplexed. As he told me this evening: "More than ever, all I want to do is ministry, and yet all that is keeping me from doing that are ministry's hoops." (Getting this M.Div. degree, you'll recall, is the reason he's here, and yet it is also why he can't do anything else - at least within the context of Christian education and church ministry, the areas to which he feels called).

He wonders what would have happened had he gotten his degree ten years earlier, but I reminded him of all the tremendous practical experience he accumulated during those years. I feel for him as his situation seems such a Catch-22 right now - he wants nothing more than to do the work of the Lord as a vocation, and yet the one thing that keeps getting in his way of pastoring, teaching, writing, etc. is all his preparation and training to be able to do so.

Learner says it's not so hard to see why so many these days skip this formal stage of preparation and either start their own church (and often in doing so, their own "denominations"), but he still belives such training is needed in his own life and ministry. He's trying hard to swallow his pride and follow God on this new and different path toward the goal, trusting that all will eventually fit together. He says he believes it will ("Really," he says), but it's hard to know how exactly or easily this will happen at this point and place in time.

As I was leaving, I mentioned to Learner that ten years from now this would all make for a fun story. Though I was expecting some kind of snide remark, somewhat un-Learner-like, he agreed, clarifying that he hoped it would be more of God's story than his own...and that, indeed, he hoped it would be a good one in the end.

Seemed a good bit of "shalom" (that's Hebrew for "peace") to me, but if you pray, do keep him in mind this weekend. He's discouraged.

Of Frisbee Golf and Grace

For the fifth time in five days, Learner has just seen the same five male students playing Frisbee Golf across the small seminary campus. Learner says he can't help wondering 1) what they're taking a break from; 2) if they're taking a break from anything; and 3) if they're not taking a break from anything, how can they justify to themselves playing Frisbee Golf FIVE DAYS IN A ROW! (Learner's emphasis added)

Perhaps Learner's struggles are just leftover residue from the works-based streak he has been trying to rid himself of for the past twenty years. He says, however, that Frisbee Golf is not what he had in mind as being God's means of grace to him and his condition.

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Professor's Office

Beginning this summer, Learner is teaching/research assistant for a very popular professor here on campus. Basic responsibilities include grading one-page reflection papers in which people interact with assigned books read, as well as longer 10-15 page papers that are actually apologetic letters students are assigned to write to a non-believer they know.

But on top of these duties (and other more academic ones to come), most of Learner's work for the professor this summer has been a major office organization overhaul Learner has dubbed "The Genesis 1:2a Project" ("The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep...").

Five full trash bags and twenty hours later, Learner has yet to really make much of a dent in the deep. Sitting facing the desk, here's what you would see:

Table to the right: three file holders with a collection of files in them. The furthest one to the right holds files on literary figures, the middle one holds small random folders, and the one to the left holds other various folders. These will all get assimilated into the filing cabinets, but Learner had to do something with them until then.

Continuing to the left of the three file holders, there are two stacks and a box. These are what the professor needs to go through and decide what he wants to keep and what Learner can pitch. Whatever he doesn't throw away, Learner must find a place for it. The remaining things on the far end of the table are just waiting to find a file home.

Across the desk, you would notice that both it and the two tables on the rug are clear of files. This was Learner's progress yesterday. On the righthand corner of your desk is a package on top and underneath are some bags of books the professor wanted bibliographed. On the left hand corner of the desk, there are four different pages that were most current and Learner wondered if the prof needed them.

As you continue to look to your left, you would notice that Learner cleaned out the shelf above. There are only two files there now (there were dozens before): the first is a Faculty folder the professor used to take to such meetings; the red folder is a file on higher education training and development. Learner thought the two tied together, so he put them there for now.

In the closet behind you, you would notice some stacks, but they are quite condensed from what they were. These are the professor's edited class files, put here to get them out of the way before Learner places them (either as is or even further segregated) into the archival filing cabinets across the room. They're grouped by class/like topic right now (and some stacks are bigger than others - apologetics files, for instance), and Learner is planning to group them as such in the cabinets or break them down further to lighten their loads.

Learner's plan was to have the professor go through what he did/didn't want of the two stacks and the box, and then hit the archive filing cabinets (three in all, including three rows of full shelves above). He was planning to get the cabinets consolidated and then rearrange the books (7 bookcases' worth) according to what the prof wanted. This all seemed

However, the good-natured professor sprung a surprise on Learner this afternoon, showing him the attached bathroom on the side of his office where, to the professor's visibly embarrassed chagrin, a box of papers sits behind the door and a bathtub/shower literally filled with boxes of files as well. This, Learner says, will easily add another 15 hours to the project, not even counting the work aforementioned (which will easily be twenty hours or more).

Learner's application: If becoming a professor, learn to love organizing as much as teaching. Or, just get an idealistic, sucker-of-an-assistant who is more than willing to do it for you.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Oy Vey

Learner has his first Hebrew exam (dubbed "a major quiz" by his prof) this Thursday. This "major quiz" will take 45 minutes to an hour.

Currently he's trying to memorize the vocab card for "Oh, crap."

Friday, June 23, 2006

One Year Ago This Week

One year ago this week, I, Tychicus, began chronicling the life and times of Learner for all to read. It's been quite an experiment, one that I have relished despite Learner's perpetual rolling of his eyes at my enthusiasm for his seminary plight. Deep down, I think he likes having his thoughts (random and otherwise) out there for others to read, but he would probably never do something like this himself.

At least if he has, I don't know about it.

In thinking through this past year, the temptation is to look back and reflect, but Learner has asked that I not do that as, he says, "Nostalgia is a form of mental illness." As Mrs. Learner has accused him of being so reminisciently sick at various times since movng back to the Midwest, Learner suggested we consider the future and leave the past (at least for now) behind.

However, in considering topics for such posts, neither one of us had much of an idea as to what we should include. So, I turn to you, dear reader (if indeed you are there and dear), and ask you for your opinion. Is there any particular question or direction you would offer as to how to proceed from here? Any thought as to where to go? Anything you are just dying to know?

As it's been a year, I've finally turned the comments on and would encourage you to make your voice heard, even if it's the silliest or most serious of postings. And, if there are no postings to be shared, perhaps I'll take that as a sign that my work here is done.

Our fate is in your fingers, dear reader. Speak and we shall listen...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Malcontent with Bible Content

Learner got his Bible Content exam back tonight: a 99. That's three points better than his score last year, but still six points shy of what he needs to test out of the class (a 105). His next chance is in July; if he fails that one, there's one in August, but if he doesn't pass that one, it's "hello" to an extra (and involved) three-hour class all this fall.

While it was a different version from the initial test taken (and harder, Learner thought), he's having a hard time equating the last year of his life spent studying with only a three-point improvement. Granted, a majority of the questions missed were (presumably) random and trivial (if things in the Bible can be called "trivial") bits of information, but still...only three points?

Of course, as alluded to in the previous post, the question becomes whether or not to study in some kind of earnestness the 80-page Bible overview document Learner procured last year from the Renaissance Man. As the test in July will be yet another version, it's not like Learner can accurately guess at the content and what he perhaps missed to get right next time. And yet how realistic is it to put in the necessary time to study and remember a majority of dates and places sprinkled throughout the entire Bible?

Perhaps a solution would be to not worry about the test and just take the class. After all, he reasons, the point of seminary is to learn the Bible and not just test out of a class concerning its content.

Hmm. Maybe he's learning something here after all...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Spring Grades and Such

Still no word on the results of the Bible Content exam, but Learner wasn't too worried about that last night as he was taking his first of three Hebrew quizzes - in the first fifteen minutes of class!

Thankfully (though slowly), he did well and remembered 95% of what he had crammed into his head as it relates to Hebrew consonants, vowels, and syllabification. He thinks he may have more of an initial crush on Hebrew than he did Greek last summer, but pulling his vocab cards out this morning, he says it's hardly love.

In other academic news, Learner got his spring grades back:

Apologetics & Outreach: A
Covenant Theology: A
God & Humanity: A-
Elementary Homiletics: B+
Gospels: B

All seemed according to what he thought he'd earned, but he was disappointed (though not at all surprised) by his homiletics score. Unfortunately, while he prepared and gave good messages, he didn't jump through enough "hoops of structure" pushed in the course, and probably got what he deserved (though not what he agreed with).

Like that's never happened before, he says...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Bible Content Exam in 30 Minutes

Learner is preparing to take (for a second time) the seminary's official Bible Content Exam, a comprehensive test aimed at evaluating a student's knowledge of the Bible. All incoming students are required to take the exam, and each has two chances to pass it instead of having to take the class for an entire semester.

As Learner missed passing the thing by nine lousy points last year, he gets to take it again and will do so in about half an hour, along with all the new incoming students this summer. Apart from all his study of the past year, he's not really put much else into it, so he may end up getting what he deserves. Hopefully, he says, a year's worth of seminary education will make nine points worth of difference.

If not, he says he's going to feel really stupid.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Hebrew Tonight

Summer semester finally begins this evening, as Learner is set to begin Hebrew. Thanks to a cram course with Albert last night and a little review this morning, he knows (or at least can recognize) the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet (writing them is a different story). He's got his grammar book and the professor's exercise packet from the bookstore (as well as his flashcards) and is desperately trying to train his mind to read right to left.

Now all he needs is a yamika.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


Overheard at yesterday's seminary summer kick-off picnic:
Rob (standing over grill, cooking brats): "That's one hot fire."

Learner (standing near Rob, helping cook brats): "Yeah, I've always thought burning to death would be one of the most painful ways to go."

Rob: "Actually, they say that after the first minute, all your nerve endings are singed, so you don't feel anything."

Learner: "Who's 'they?'"

Rob: "I don't know."

Learner: "That first minute would be pretty long and painful."

Rob: "Yep."
Somehow neither of these two seem ready for martyrdom.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Mover for Hire (Minus the "Hire" Part)

'Tis the season for people moving - in and out. Learner and I just returned from helping yet another family move into their student apartment here on campus (after helping three different apartment neighbors move out last week). Fortunately, things ran smoothly and the whole process of unloading only took an hour and involved no stairs (always a good thing).

Learner remarked to me while we were "schlepping" (his word for "suffering while carrying something large") a couch how interesting the whole moving phenomenon is. Referencing his own move-in last summer, Learner said that if he somehow had power over society to exercise some kind of worldwide cultural change, he would make it so that if/when people move, they leave all their basic stuff (big furniture, etc.) and just make do with the stuff left by someone else where they are moving to.

This, Learner said, would solve a lot of moving hassles (not to mention put the moving industry - rental trucks, storage units, etc., which Learner thinks is nothing but a price-gouge and should be criminally prosecuted - out of business). Of course, there would be other complications that would arise from this new model of migration, as people moving would not just be looking for a particular house or apartment, but also considering what is left in it. I laughed at him and his thinking, but in a way he makes sense (granted, perhaps in a parallel universe, which is where he usually is most of the time anyway).

Other observations Learner made this morning: people are insecure about having other people view and handle their things, especially if they have just met those helping them move; people moving always think (and say repeatedly) that they have way too much stuff, but no one has any real plans to do anything about it after it's stuffed into their new living space; the five or six seminary students who show up with a smile on their faces are really not THAT excited to spend an hour or three schlepping boxes (these looks are the same ones reserved for when they meet with a professor for their end-of-semester oral exam); jokes and other attempts at humor during the moving process tend to be barely a step above your average 10-year-old's and should be left to the professionals (i.e. late-night comedians and politicians).

Learner's top ten rules for helping seminary students move are:
1) Always let the husband handle the boxes marked "fragile".

2) Never comment on how you think the move is going, particularly in relation to a previous moving experience (the people who are moving will feel insecure if they feel they're being compared to another move).

3) Don't shy away from the big stuff - somebody's got to get it and it might as well be you.

4) Don't shy away from the little stuff - same reason.

5) Do your best to honor whatever markings are on the boxes as to where they go (just throwing stuff in the first room you come to eventually blocks the path and doesn't serve the new residents well when they go to unload).

6) Let the seminary student who is moving in believe he really has an outrageous number of books (even though he doesn't).

7) Drink plenty of fluids.

8) Don't get bent out of shape that you have to spend time doing this (ask yourself HWJM?: "How Would Jesus Move?").

9) While the principle is right, disregard the rationale behind #8 - it's stupid.

10) Never forget that, at least at seminary, you once had to move in and you will have to one day move out - be the kind of mover you want to help you when the time comes: quick, quiet, and quip-resistant.
More moves to come this summer. As always, I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

File This

Learner and the family are back in town after a week-long trip to see Mrs. Learner's family. Learner says it most definitely was a "trip" and not a "vacation," as a vacation is a trip that does not involve relatives, and this one did. The family arrived back in town yesterday, and have plans to make the most of the next week before summer Hebrew begins in June (more on that to come, I'm sure).

Last night and most of today, Learner merged all his class notes, handouts, syllabi, and papers with his existing (and extensive) paper filing system, revamping it along the way. His goal in all this is to begin creating an easy-to-use, accessible new system that incorporates all his past studies, messages, research, etc., with the plenteous material harvested over the course of this past year.

After spending a good eight hours on the project, Learner says he's liking the results - as of this afternoon, he had culled through all documents (past and present), identified what might be useful and actually used in the future, and pitched a good amount of pages that were, well, lacking in the depth department (some of his stuff goes back as much as 15 years ago when he was still learning how to study the Bible, and a few of his ideas then were, he said, a bit humorous). Thankfully, he's a good systematizer and has the spiritual gift of throwing things away, so that helps.

Having heard about his efforts, I thought I'd drop by to see his files and detail some of his categories for my purposes here. What follows (in no particular order) is a condensed version of said list:
Basic Study Helps
General Theology
Systematic Theology
Covenant Theology
OT/NT Relationship
New Age
Union with Christ
Sufficiency of Scripture
Open Theism
Individual files for various Bible study topics
Individual files for various books of the Bible
All in all, a good amount of studied material that, with additions each semester and a little general maintenance each year, will hopefully serve Learner (as well as those he serves) in better learning, understanding, and helping others with the things of God.

Monday, May 15, 2006

On the Oral Exam

Learner and I are sitting in the student center, as he has just finished his last exam (Gospels - somewhat tough, but fair, and certainly not as difficult as the mid-term). It's as hard to believe for him as it is for me - as of this morning, he has completed (successfully, no less) his first year of seminary. It's a nice moment.

While the Gospels exam this morning was the more traditional written kind, one of the more novel experiences Learner has had in his first year of seminary is preparing for and "taking" oral exams, which the remainder two finals this past week were.

The routine goes something like this: two weeks before exam time, the professor(s) hand out a sheet of paper of approximately 15 questions, the topic of each could easily be made into a book or commentary series. With so much material to cover, students typically organize (reluctantly, at least for Learner) themselves into study groups, in which the questions are researched, answered (in theory), and then shared with the rest of the group.

For each test, Learner has been fortunate to have been included in study groups that have numbered 15 different students; thus, the labor of arriving at answers is significantly diffused. However, if the members of the group slack off (or worse, enjoy listening to themselves write, which is both annoying and immature), the model breaks down fairly quickly, people get frustrated, and a lot more work is required before one can begin cramming answers and anagrams into one's head.

Once the complete study guide is assembled (usually numbering anywhere from 25-50 pages, depending on the thoroughness of the group), Learner's process is to then read through it all and highlight what might seem pertinent (which, depending on if someone did a "data dump" cut and paste, can be a lot of work). He then makes his own handwritten outlines and notes to try to consolidate even more that which he has determined is important, and in so doing (as well as by way of random readings and re-readings preferably more than the night before) tries to remember some of what he wrote down.

His process seems to work well as the results seem to evidence: 94 on his Apologetics & Outreach exam; 93 on his Covenant Theology exam (the other nice thing about oral exams is you find out your grade on the spot). With major papers still out in both classes, his final grade is unknown, but with any kind of comparable score to his tests, he should walk away with A's in both, which would be great (and different from his Gospels grade, which most certainly will be in the B range). His other two classes - Elementary Homiletics and God & Humanity - are both borderline A/B, depending how the percentages (which he never understands) work out, so all in all, he's pleased.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Of Much Study and Weariness

The official end-of-the-semester Word, as recorded in Ecclesiastes:

"The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh. The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man."

Three exams to go. Learner has little motivation, but he's trying.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

What the Cell?

Of all the things that bother Learner (and there are many), perhaps the most annoying is when people unabashedly talk on their cell phones in the library. Somehow, these folks have mistaken a place to study for their own personal call center.

Learner says he really, really hates that.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Weight of Seminary

Learner enjoys exercising about as much as he enjoys getting a paper cut…then having lemon juice poured on it…then soaking it in turpentine. From his perspective, “good” and “workout” have no business being in the same sentence, let alone the same language.

And yet, when he stepped on the scales a week ago and registered the highest weight (granted, by only ten pounds) he's ever been at in his life, he says he realized that he's finally going to have to come to grips with the fact that his 35-year-old body is just not capable anymore of absorbing his 15-year-old eating habits. In addition, he recognized that it’s probably time to get serious about some kind of intentional physical exercise that involved more effort than doing remote control curls on the couch.

As grateful as he is to be alive, he says he must be honest that the fact that he's going to have to start working at being alive and caring for what once simply took care of itself frustrates him. It’s work to try to eat better (let alone right); it’s work to wake up earlier in the morning (let alone exercise for forty-five minutes each day); it’s work to have to think about taking care of his body (as well as the five other bodies - his family - he's responsible to take care of on a daily basis).

But it’s work that, because he's alive, he says he's called to do. As anybody trying to take better care of his or her body knows, there are no quick and final fixes to good health, nor does going it alone tend to work, at least for the long haul. He's had to ask Mrs. Learner to help him watch what he eats, as well as ask God to help him to do the things – eat less, exercise – that he doesn’t always want to do.

Good thing tomorrow is an official day of fasting here at the seminary. For physical reasons, Learner could use a week...

Friday, April 28, 2006

On Student Counciling

Big day today as Learner turned in his Greek translations for Gospels class and is about to turn in his 10-page paper on New Testament Use of the Old Testament for Covenant Theology. This weekend will find him hunkered down to crank out a sermon on Philippians 2:12-18 for Monday, editing his God & Humanity team essay for Thursday, and possibly beginning his 10-page paper for Apologetics & Outreach (due in ten days or so). From there, it's three finals and the spring semester is complete.

In other news, Learner was nominated and elected by his class to be the male student council representative (or the "Middler Rep" as he's now being called). This morning was his first official meeting, bringing past and future councils together for a baton handing off and the outcome was, well, slightly underwhelming. Part of it might have been that Learner had higher expectations (when was the last time that happened?); part of it might have been that he overslept and woke up a whole 10 minutes before the meeting was to start.

Most probably, the reason for his blahness was simply that he hates being looked at as a rookie in any context. He confessed to having flashbacks of last summer, to meeting a bunch of people he didn't know (or who knew him), and to feeling like just another body in the room ("cow in the chute" was his exact remark), and he's surprised he still gets bothered by this feeling it, that is both having it as well as realizing he's having it.

While he's excited to have actually been voted in, and is eager to try to make a difference (the difference perhaps being to somehow justify to the campus body that student council actually does something for seminary students - he's heard others wondering that a lot), he says he is somewhat concerned that this is going to end just being a big time suck with little return on his investment.

One week of classes left...and then finals...and then a break...and then (gulp) Hebrew...

Monday, April 17, 2006

Monday, Monday

Enjoyable Easter yesterday as the family went to church, took naps, watched baseball, and had some friends over for a tasty dinner that Mrs. Learner worked all weekend to prepare. The evening wrapped up with some reading and a movie, not to mention a fair amount of clean up. Good time had by all.

Learner just emailed to say that he was the first one in the library this morning when it opened. With no classes today because of Easter and several important projects (Covenant Theology paper, second sermon for Homiletics, Apologetics letter, Greek translation work, etc.) all due in the next three weeks, today is the first day of the rest of his semester, he says.

He also remarked that he wonders what would happen to a majority of published Reformed Christian scholarship if the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan (and its many academic publishers) were wiped off the face of the earth? Seems like every book and commentary he consulted on Saturday had some kind of connection to Grand Rapids. Guess the Dutch have a few things to say about Reformed theology.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Saturday Update

Learner said the movie last night was good. He didn't cry like he thought he would, but he did say he was moved despite his lack of tears. And, he's looking forward to Easter morning service tomorrow.

For those of you who were following Learner's pseudo-saga from this past week, here's an update:
Hebrew - he got in the class with the "great" professor and is quite relieved

Rest of schedule - all worked out remarkably well for Learner to be able to teach the classes at the local school (now all he needs is to be offered the actual job)

Other school - they called; thanks, but no thanks (something to do with not having a degree in the particular class Learner applied for...details, details)

Gospels exam - the bad news: Learner got a 72; the good news: because of the curve, that ended up being a B

Bonus update: God & Humanity paper - 94, a pleasant surprise

Mrs. Learner - they seem to be back on track, but it was a long road to hoe; finances still an issue (like that's a newsflash)
More as I have it. In the meantime, Easter tomorrow!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

From a recent bookstore promotional email:

"Easter is a gateway to spring's splendor - a time to pack away your sweaters, open the house to afternoon breezes, and dream about the possibilities of the season ahead."

From Matthew 26:27:

"Then he (Pilate) released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified."

Thinking of the two statements above, Learner says he finds it interesting how differently we think of Easter these days. Of course, the two sentences are not mutually exclusive (indeed, he and Mrs. Learner have packed away their sweaters and enjoy an afternoon breeze as much as the next person), but he's uncomfortable with how comfortable he and the rest of our culture (and often the Church) can be in thinking about Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection.

Tonight, he and Mrs. Leearner are planning to watch The Passion of the Christ for the first time. Apparently, they've owned the movie since it came out in 2004, but Learner has not had the courage to ever watch it. Being a little squeamish in general (any kind of television surgery - real or representative - freaks him out), he never felt up to witnessing the brutality of crucifixion in detail. But he says it's more than not wanting to watch graphic physical torture that has kept him from viewing the movie these past several years. And, it's not (only) because at the time of the movie's release, everyone and their dog went to see the movie and he didn't for the principle of it.

No, more than squeamishness or self-righteousness, Learner says the thought that "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16) has always been his stumbling block. He's part of this world that God loves. And that makes him part of why Jesus was crucified.

So tonight, he'll watch. And it will be extremely difficult, he says, but not just because an actor depicting Jesus will appear to be physically tortured. Rather, the difficulty according to Learner will be in realizing anew that Christ's crucifixion (one of the most documented historical facts in all of antiquity) was for the sin of the world, which (thankfully, mercifully) includes all of his.

The celebration of life at Easter time goes beyond the fact the calendar says it's Spring. Friday's here...but Sunday's a'comin'...

Happy Easter.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Holy Pre-Registration, Batman

Holy Week is not getting off to the best of starts, largely because it's a semi-official occasion/recognized calendar event, and these always add pressure that makes Learner feel like he should be doing something different in his life as a result. Unfortunately, Learner doesn't really feel like he's doing anything different (fasting, praying, etc.) than he wouldn't do any other week, so he's frustrated with himself. This compulsion, he says, is why he hates holidays - the sense of expectation he places on himself just eats his lunch.

On another front, today is when Learner is due to pre-register for his next year of classes. Several anxieties are playing havoc with his head, primarily who he's going to get for Hebrew (the word on campus is that one prof is great; the other, well, not so great). As Learner is poor at languages, who the teacher is could make an enormous difference in his success/failure, and he's envisioning going in today at 5 p.m. for his scheduled appointment and being told that the guy before him got the last slot with the good prof.

Other scheduling complications include trying to set a schedule that incorporates the hours from a possible local teaching opportunity that he hasn't even applied for (The Renaissance Man is the link on this one). In addition, the other school to which Learner has applied to teach next year won't return his email or voicemail, so he's unclear as to even what the schedule might be there, let alone whether or not he'll even get an interview at all.

To top it off, Learner is due to get his Gospels exam back sometime today, and this is not helping his patience today. Whether he did well or not, he just wants to know; it's the waiting that kills him.

Finally, he and Mrs. Learner had a discussion/disagreement last night about the topic that always sets him off - money - and he's in a bit of a funk over that. When Mrs. Learner asked him why he was so upset, Learner tried to explain his mentality that, if things are so tough for them, how much worse it must be for so many millions/billions of others who are so worse off. This, he said, is why money bothers him so much - he feels so helpless to do anything of significance in his own situation, let alone for those who need it more than he does (i.e. those who won't eat this week), that he just wants to give up.

I told him that wouldn't be a good idea as he would then leave me with no new material to blog.

"Great, Tychicus" he said. "Another opportunity to let someone down."


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Potty-Training Application

This morning, Mrs. Learner took the two younger ones to the seminary's one-day-a-week on-site childcare while she ran errands with the older two.

On his way home from class, Learner met them all coming home. His youngest (who is two and almost potty-trained) had on her back a sticker handwritten by Mrs. Learner that said, "Ask me to go potty, please."

Learner said he smiled at both the message and the child's unawareness of the request for help in something she was still learning how to do. He then wondered briefly how his own sticker(s) might read. I offered these suggestions:
"Ask me to not be so obsessive-compulsive when it comes to assigned readings, please."

"Ask me to be less insecure about what people think of me at most hours of the day, please."

"Ask me to learn to take a compliment and not always turn it into a joke, please."

"Ask me to be more gracious and not judge others, please."

"Ask me to love my wife and family more, please."

"Ask me to stop believing it's all about me, please."

"Ask me to pray, please."
Learner didn't think my suggestions were all that funny.

Applicable, yes; funny, no.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Spring Break

Learner has one class left before spring break officially begins and he's fairly excited about the fact that, come 2 p.m. today, he gets to take a nine-day hiatus before he has to be in class again. Of course, spring break will not be like those trips in college (which he never made anyway) in which students completely lose their minds in some warmer climate, never cracking open a book; rather, Learner estimates that he needs to put in three solid hours/day of reading just to catch up. Somewhere in mid-February, he got behind and now seems a most opportune time to get back in the race.

And yet, he's not planning on being a bookworm all break - he and the family are going to the farm for the first half of the break, and Learner anticipates some long walks with his kids, a few movies with Mrs. Learner, and no traffic for miles around. Mrs. Learner has also communicated her anticipation of farm living for the next several days, as she is growing more and more enamored by most things rural (even though she can't properly pronounce that word).

Upon return to campus during the middle of next week, Learner has several personal appointments with a professor or two, some friends or three, and a movie night with one of his pastors to watch The Exorcist, which is the pastor's favorite flick. All this on top of that aforementioned three hours of study per day, and that will probably wrap up spring break, at least for this year.

Good news: Learner got a B+ on his open theism paper, a fine mark from this particular professor (who is a good writer himself, and very critical of bad writing). Also, Learner's favorite prof asked him if he would serve as his teaching assistant this summer/next year, so Learner was rather thrilled about this invitation and opportunity.

All in all (and realizing there are still miles to go before the semester's over), Learner feels pretty good about heading into the break. He continues to enjoy the seminary experience and - surprise, surprise - is even beginning to wonder if the pastorate might be how God is leading him more and more. Thankfully, several years will pass before any of that needs to be confirmed, but Learner does wonder if that might be the best use of him as a whole person.

Then again, he says, there's always blogging...

Monday, March 13, 2006

Learner's Take on Open Theism

It's a bit long for this medium, but here's Learner's paper on open theism, as presented in the book, The Openness of God:

“God gives us a role in shaping what the future will be.
He is flexible and does not insist on doing things his way.
God will adjust his own plans because he is sensitive
to what humans think and do.”
- The Openness of God

“What is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?”
- Psalm 8

Imagine you are an ant. As ants are small, so are you. Busy and hard-working, but small.

Now imagine that I am god of the ants – the Yahweh of yard bugs, so to speak. And suppose that you, as an ant, know that I am your god, that I made you, and that I have also made a way for us to communicate. But here’s the rub: I began with some goals in mind for the world, ones that your ancestors rebelled against and chose apart from. As a result, I can’t achieve my goals without you, and you can’t achieve yours without me.

But, I have an idea. Perhaps we can work this out together, you, from your perspective, helping me, from mine, run the world. You tell me what you want to do and, in good faith, I promise not to categorically override your desires. I’ll even promise to limit what I know about the future or might have once wanted to sovereignly bring about. Never mind the differences between us (you, an ant; me, your god). This will simply display how much you mean to me as I respect your decisions, as well as how almighty of a god I am in being able to adjust and still make it all work.

So, where do we start? What do you want? Tell me what you think.

I’m open.

Is this an accurate perspective of the relationship that exists between God and humanity? Are we capable of such partnership with God? Is God really open to us in this way? In The Openness of God, the answer to all three questions is an unqualified “yes”. But does this description of line up with the historic understanding of the Scriptures?

I would say not. Instead, the authors have developed a biblical worldview that begins with an anthropology of those created, and then builds a theology of their Creator. The result is a system that looks at life through the wrong end of a telescope: God seems smaller, man seems bigger, and any differences between the two don’t seem to matter.

The Appeal of Open Theism
What is the appeal of open theism as a theological system? In a word, I think it is an imagined “equality” – humanity’s with God’s – that implies a sharing of opportunity, respect, influence, and benefit, all of which are values atop our culture’s list of ideals.

Theologically speaking, our presuming to be equal partners with God resonates with our American egalitarian tendencies, seemingly elevating our role and importance in the universe and putting us on more of a level playing field with the God who created it. This, we reason, is good for both parties, as it conceivably helps our spiritual self-esteem while painting God as more approachable and personal than perhaps otherwise thought.

Another attaction of open theism that the authors put forth is that, on a practical level, this open view of God is the working perspective a majority of evangelicals (consciously or unconsciously) hold, as evidenced by how they pray to and petition God:

“(The open) view resonates deeply with the traditional Christian devotional life. Biblical personalism is widespread among believers, for it allows for a real relationship with God. When we address God in prayer we commonly believe that we are entering into a genuine dialogue and that the future is not settled…If we remember that it presents in a systematic way what most Christians already practice in their devotional lives, then it will not seem strange at all…" (8)

In other words, the authors are saying that because Christians tend to pray with the hope that the future is not settled, indeed, it must not be; thus, the outcome of the world and our lives within it come as much from humanity’s desires for it as from God’s.

They go on to say that, as partners, humanity must have had equal knowledge and influence concerning this outcome, not only in the unfolding of the historical biblical narrative, but also in the creation of it, for (somehow), “God knows everything but is still learning what the world is becoming.” (125)

Oh, the Humanity
Indeed, the open view of God might comfort humanity, resolving the perceived tension between God’s sovereignty (though without foreknowledge) and man’s free will. Anthropologically speaking, this view appeals to humanity’s need to feel wanted, not to mention our American values of charting our own course and being able to make up for previous mistakes (i.e. the Fall) by working our way back to some position of influence.

Biblically and traditionally speaking, though, open theism holds a higher view of man and a lower view of God than I believe it can or should, at least when compared to the past 5,000 years of Christian orthodoxy and teaching on our human nature. For if…

“…orthodoxy is that understanding of God, Jesus Christ, and human nature such that the gospel story of redemption in Christ is preserved in a manner faithful to its ancient telling…” (from class notes)

…then we may be indeed be in partnership with God – and it may have been at his initiation and invitation – but we are not equal with him, for we stand in debt to his perfection and holiness because of our sin and need for redemption. While God freely provided such redemption in the saving work of Christ, this redemption does not restore us to a level equal with God, but rather only to that of our initial (and perfect) humanity in Adam, who, even as a partner with God, was still quite subject to him in the Garden.

The God of the Scriptures

Though Psalm 8 does record God making man “a little lower than the heavenly beings,” our idea should be that this gap is at least as significant as the one between you as an ant and me as your god, if not much, much greater. Contrary to open theism, the Scriptures clearly teach that God is sovereign and independent (Daniel 4:35); that God is immutable and eternal (Psalm 102:26-27); that God is omniscient and all-knowing (Hebrews 4:13); that God is indeed all this and more, regardless of whether or not we as his created humanity agree that he can be, should be, or is.

Though the open view of God may in some ways seem more appealing to or descriptive of fallen humanity and our perspective of what our place in the universe might be, the independent, eternal, and all-knowing God of the Scriptures is still the one to whom we must appeal. For while the traditional Christian perspective of both God and man does not deny the reality of humanity’s free will co-existing alongside or within God’s sovereignty somehow, it does not confuse the former with the latter, either.