Nearly three years ago I applied for and was accepted into a 78-credit hour Masters of Divinity in Theology program. I later attempted to reduce my workload and transferred into the more reasonable 50-credit hour Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies degree. I am now out of quarters, as they say, and have decided to cut my losses. I will leave with the 24-credit hour Graduate Certificate in Biblical and Theological Studies to show for my efforts. I have 56 credit hours total, but stubbornly and, I believe, biblically, I refused to complete the required thesis and thus forego the actual graduate degree.
24 of the other 32 hours I passed were in ancient languages. When it comes to scholarship, I prefer word study to anything else. How precisely do words work? Answering that is endlessly fascinating to me.
I confess that I would have loved to see future bio’s read, “Pete earned his Master’s of Divinity…” or hear, “…Pete comes to us having earned his Master’s…” But I had to do things my way. The truth is that I think the theological and biblical higher education degrees are the paper equivalent of bullshit. There. I said it.
First of all, any title that can generically cover studies in several religions are misleading from the beginning. Divinity? Who’s soul has divinity saved? You know the answer is, “No one’s,” and you don’t have a degree in Divinity. Amazing!
Secondly, the Bible is full of very intelligible words. Words like mountain, rock, rain, serpent, turn, and blood. Unity is another one. By my thinking, if we are not in unity as Christians, it often means we’re simply off topic. Let’s admit it. For Christians, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only topic. See for yourself if you doubt me. In any case, talk about it. Reconciling evolution with creation is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you enjoy engaging in that type of mental gymnastic and know others who do too, by all means talk about it. If you lose friends over it, don’t talk about it; skip it like you would a difficult crossword puzzle. Keep the unity.
Thirdly, if I ran a seminary today, to accurately communicate to the fallen world what I was doing, I would confer to graduates only one degree: a Masters of Power. And I definitely would not recommend anyone enroll at my school. Can you imagine someone claiming to have earned a degree in power? And how could power be taught by books? What a joke he’d be. My first question to the new man-of-letters would be, “Which power, exactly? The wind? Heat? Speed? Darkness? Light? Forgiveness? Love? Make an actual claim, man!”
As it is, “Masters of Divinity” or “MA in Theology” plays only on a bygone era’s final unbroken string and merely reassures church-goers that they don’t need to read their Bible for themselves. Divinity and Theology are so general that their teaching solely requires that the institution’s curriculum be limited to trending positive ideas. But the Masters of Power degree, my way, would necessarily demand further specification. And instead of reassuring church-goers that they’re not being duped by some hack with a Bible, it would be an excellent metric by which to measure the preacher. Is he preaching that there’s power in some book? Power in some culture? Power in guilt and remorse? Or is he preaching that there is power in the Blood of Jesus? Power in the Word of God? Power in repentance? Power in holiness? Surely we all possess the mental faculties to discern the difference between these things.
Here me clearly: Jesus Christ is Lord of all. He holds all power. The adversary, the great serpent of old is defeated. This is good news. If someone let’s you know they disagree with this, thank them for their honesty and then pray that the Holy Spirit uses you to reveal Christ to them. When answering questions (they will have them) stick to Scripture and the spirit of Scripture. Think of yourself as the translator. You know their vocabulary and you know the Word of God. Be the friend they need. Feed them. In doing so, you’ll help them see the good news that they are already free.
My semester has ended. Over the course of it I wrote three papers. If you’d like to read any of them, just let me know and I’ll send ’em your way.
I called the first,
Exegetical Paper on Proverbs 1:1-16.
It was for a class on Biblical Hebrew, but is written in English. Though, I will warn you that many of the English words I had to use are essentially a foreign language. It includes sentences like, “Specifically, the many infinitives with which the book opens cause many to attempt to clarify just what exactly they mean and who exactly the audience is.” And this gem, “To begin, we read the names David, Solomon, and Israel.”
Now that I think of it, it’s probably best if you skip this one in favor of just reading that proverbial passage here.
Next, I wrote this doozy,
2 Samuel 6:12-23:
Side-by-Side Comparison of the 2006 Rahlfs-Hanhart Septuaginta Text with the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia Text, English Translations of the Same, and A Brief Treatment of the Discrepancies along with Several Resultant—and Short—Exegetical Considerations.
It’s probably my best work of the semester–including over 13 pages of handwritten Hebrew and Greek, and includes sentences like, “Given some of the BHS text’s morphemes’ ability to contain what later became several RH morphemes, a reckoning of additions to the BHS in the RH amounts to twenty-one morphemes (of the three hundred eighteen total) which cannot be accounted for by the preformatives, sufformatives, and direct object markers of the BHS text.”
As you can see for yourself, only about three people on the planet have the training required to read it–and two of them don’t care. So, again, the eternally better option is to just read the passage itself, which can be found here.
Thirdly, I wrote one which I called,
An Examination of an Early Passage of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians in the Tradition of the Same Greeks from Whom the Apostle Paul Separated Himself
This one is by far the most important paper I wrote. It includes sentences like, “Against Paul’s elsewhere more clear rebuttals of the first two, being A. Torah as wisdom and 2. Docetism or Gnosticism, Corrington submits that what Paul is concerned with addressing here is the distinct notion that thirdly, wisdom itself was power.” And, “So, instead of that, Paul redirects his cessation sentiment and continues with indirect admonishing, and explains why they should not be with anyone except Christ.”
Again, you are much better off if you just click here to read the passage itself. Enjoy!
Last week I found myself in a fairly odd conversation with a nonChristian friend. For good reason, he has been hired to advise preachers how to keep Christians in church. Naturally, this is something we seminarians talk about in class all the time. I say naturally to both illustrate that the seminary is fully aware of the reality that many, many “Christians” are leaving their churches, and also to own up to the interrelated facts that most seminary students are hoping for a professional career in ministry after graduation and that they see that the future isn’t exactly promising.
Church attendance is clearly down in America; that’s just a fact. My problem with this is that my conversations with nonChristians have led me to believe that I think they are rejecting Christianity for invalid reasons. These reasons stem from simple ignorance about the purpose of church attendance all the way to people claiming that they are so educated, so informed, so wise that they can see all the holes in church and Christianity.
As a white American, as a firm believer that Christianity is the only religion that is true, and as a seminary student, I am most concerned with your soul. If you’re reading this blog, chances are that you’re white and not exactly impoverished. Chances are you’re not a Christian. Chances are you used to attend church. And chances are you stopped believing for weak reasons. Spending eternity in hell because you didn’t bother to investigate why The Da Vinci Code is fiction, or because you can’t see how evolution and Genesis aren’t at odds is unconscionable to me.
Bluntly, I am most concerned with heaven and hell. The Bible makes it clear that hell is a reality. Some people are going to end up there. My goal is to ensure that no one is surprised upon their arrival. So what follows is my best attempt to give you as many valid reasons to spend eternity in hell as I have developed over the last two semesters in a Masters of Divinity curriculum. I can only think of two so far. I’m sure I’ll share more as I discover them.
First: You are not a sinner. Hear me clearly. I am not saying that a valid reason to reject Christianity is that you do not believe in the Christian doctrine of “sin.” That would merely be circular reasoning. However, I am saying that once you understand the Christian doctrine of “sin,” if you believe you are not a sinner, then you have no reason to convert. So don’t.
Second: You serve a god that is more powerful than the triune God. Again, hear me clearly. When surveying some Roman Catholic theology, I came across the idea that it seems to be impossible to believe that Jesus of Nazareth concretely rose from the dead after his crucifixion and then not convert to Christianity. Put another way, I recently wrote to a friend, “I am not expecting you to convert, I am asking you to admit that the historical record demonstrates that Christianity began because Jesus of Nazareth actually rose from the dead.” (I wrote this because I do agree with my Catholic brother and do want my friend to convert).
All this to express that if I was asked to figure out a way to prove the Catholic theologian’s assessment that 100%-of-people-who-believe-the-resurrection-occurred-are-Christians is wrong, the only idea that I can come up with is the following. If a person believes that Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead, but that the triune God which this event reveals is actually not the most powerful God, then don’t serve the triune God. Again, if you serve a god that is more powerful than the triune God, there is no reason to convert. So don’t.
I left Christianity because of misinformation and misunderstanding. I also left because white suburbanites drive me crazy. These days I’m better informed and white suburbanites still drive me crazy.
If you left because of white suburbanites, it’s time to reconsider. If you left because no one could or would answer your questions, it’s time to reconsider. If you left because you doubt God still exists, it’s time to reconsider. If you left because you doubt the triune God is powerful enough to forgive you, it’s time to reconsider.
Maybe all of this is simply the result of spending a lot of time on Psalms 26 and 27 recently. So be it. But in Psalm 26 we discover God has unfailing love and that God is faithful. The triune God does not break his promise or his character. And Psalm 27 tells us, “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.”
A few weeks ago I wrote about how I was struggling tremendously with the notion of salaried pastors. I was struggling because I am essentially in training to become a pastor and yet I couldn’t imagine how at the end of my schooling I’d somehow be willing to not need a job anymore because some congregation paid me to be their pastor while they worked their crummy jobs everyday. In an effort to gain insight and make a point, I asked why did you (the public) pay me to be an Air Force officer and pilot. Only a few folks answered and there wasn’t tremendous agreement. But I know why you paid me even if you don’t. You paid me to be virtuous. Sure, military officers are “yes men” and flawed no different than anyone else, but we’d be missing something vital if we didn’t recognize that they still possess tremendous power and regularly refrain from abusing it. Military officers control the bombs. Do we want incompetent liars in control of the bombs? No. (Iowa might). So I say that the reason American citizens pay their military well (sorry folks, but the military is well-paid despite the colloquial wisdom) is because it creates the ability to recruit and maintain a virtuous fighting force.
Back to pastors. And not just any pastors but me and my future as (possibly) one. What would it mean if I took pay to be a pastor and therefore didn’t need a regular job? Here’s how I can comfortably rationalize it. (The following should come as no surprise). Christians believe in purpose. They believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord…insert the rest of the Apostle’s Creed. And yet they live in a world which behaves as if there is no purpose. Therefore, it is very easy to forget that there is purpose. How could they be reminded that there is purpose? By a leader who is designated to keep an eye on the prize, so to speak. (Remember that the reason we know, rationally, that purpose is objectively true is that it is beneficial to live accordingly, which then becomes self-fulfilling as a result.)
I started this blog with the tag line “the only way to get there is together”. I think that that is still true and theologically sound. When I came up with the additional “life on a different plane” tagline I did not intend to capture anything to do with God. Now I do.
When I served, I was a pilot of a crew helicopter. There were six of us on the crew. Four of the six served in auxiliary roles which enabled the two pilots to focus on keeping the greasy side up, as we used to say. Besides simply flying safely, the two pilots were also the ones ultimately charged with completing the mission.
So that’s what I’m proposing now. That’s what I’m comfortable with today. Maybe I’ll be a pastor someday, maybe not. If I am one, the reason I would be comfortable being paid by the congregation for what I would consider “doing nothing” is because I would interpret the monetary part of it to be that my role is again that of a captain which necessarily requires a certain level of discipline. The congregation is no different than the four non-pilot aircrew. They are doing jobs that I view as crummy, but until we collectively come up with something better those jobs are apparently necessary. Necessary? Necessary for what? Necessary to keep the plane (the Church) right-side up, safe, and able to complete its mission, its purpose.
For now, crummy job or not, keep on keeping on. I will too. And together we’ll get there.
When studying Theology, Christian theology in particular, the professors teach that there are a couple of prerequisite thoughts. First, God exists. Second, God has chosen to reveal himself to his creation. Third, humans (his creation) can apprehend this (his) revelation.
The professor mentioned that he uses “apprehend” because “comprehend” could be interpreted to mean fully understand the revelation, and that’s just not the case. We are incapable of fully understanding God, he says. He then mentioned he isn’t in love with “apprehend” and is open to suggestions.
My suggestion? “Conceive”. A necessary component of theology, then, is that humans are able to “conceive” of God’s self-revelation to them.
I like this word because it acknowledges that humans are the ones who create the concept of God. Some may fear admitting that humans “create” God, but I stick with St. Anselm whose irritating ontological proof of God goes something like this: “Things exist in one of two realities. Things are ideas or things exist. If God is the most powerful Being, then a God that exists is necessarily more powerful than a God that is just an idea. Therefore, God exists.”
So you heathens have before you two options. Given that you are aware of the concept of “God” or an “ultimate reality” of sorts, you have to choose between two options. One option is that God is an idea conceived by humans bent on deceptively obtaining power over other humans; the other option is that God is an idea conceived by humans because God, in fact, exists and seeks relationship with his creation–in other words, God wasn’t conceived by humans but revealed himself to his creation.
For me, the “created for deceptively obtaining power” conception of God is a little too “black helicopter/Illuminati”. I’ve been a part of some very well-funded, very intelligent organizations and the simple fact is we’re all just people making our way along the journey of life. Nobody is secretly controlling shit. Who has time for that?
Ergo, God–or an ultimate reality if you’re anti-the-word-God–exists.
The next question is, “What is his character?”
So I just read that book that I was so excited to read for school–War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century. Good stuff.
I partook in a “war”. I can’t say I was a Christian during it, but I grew up believing I was a Christian and today my beliefs necessitate that I label myself the same–Christian. So you’re curious to know my conclusion after reading a few essays on whether Christianity condones war? Obviously the matter is complicated, but my head is clear. If I had the time to order a personalized bumper sticker, this is what I’d make it say:
“Vengeance is mine” – God.
Christianity = Pacifism.