Monthly Archives: December 2011

TEDS PhD Graduation 2011: Why The Labor & Pain of Seminary Is Abundantly Worth It

Casey Lewis of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas just wrote a nice post reflecting on his MDiv experience (HT: TGC).  It’s worth checking out.  Here’s a snippet from his comments on plugging in at church:

Don’t coast through your seminary career thinking you will minister when you take on your first church. Find a church now, plug in, spend as much time with the leadership there as you can, and minister to as many people as you can, even if it is not from the pulpit. In addition, you should give the church you attend during seminary the same opportunity to examine your calling to the ministry as you did your home church.

Read the whole thing.  Well done, Casey.

This reminded me of a series of posts I did some years back entitled “Seasons of a Seminarian,” parts 1-3.  I wrote them in 2007 just before graduating from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with my MDiv (the image is of SBTS in winter) in order to try to show fellow seminarians and would-be seminarians just how meaningful my time at SBTS was.  My opinion of that degree has not changed in the least.

Seasons of a Seminarian: Beginning
Seasons of a Seminarian: Middle
Seasons of a Seminarian: End

Here’s how I began the series:

Every Christian seminary is different, and SBTS is no exception to this rule. Our seminary has its own quirks, its own flavor, its own strengths, its own weaknesses. And yet we can also guess that the experience of a Southern student has much in common with that of a Trinity student, a Southwestern student, a Westminster student. Whether in Illinois, Texas, Philadelphia or Louisville, every seminarian goes through certain seasons, certain periods defined by common trials and joys. It is the purpose of this series to briefly reflect on the various seasons of a seminarian through my own three and a half years at SBTS. I hope that my recollections interspersed with more general commentary on seminary life will prompt recollection about your own seminary experience. In covering this subject, then, we remember and celebrate the experiences of that uniquely blessed and taxed creature: the Christian seminarian.

****************

Now I’m at a different threshold: graduating from another seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, with a doctorate in Theological Studies and a concentration in Historical Theology.  Surveying the last eight years of my life, it was abundantly worth it to move to Louisville and do an MDiv and then move to TEDS and do a PhD.

I blogged on this a little while back after SWBTS President Paige Patterson said that in-person ministry training was best (using Navy SEALS as a helpful example), and also at The Gospel Coalition’s national conference following a panel on this topic with Mohler, Carson, Driscoll, and others.  I got a bit of pushback on that post, but I haven’t moved an inch from my conviction that Patterson is quite right.  It’s hard to move to another place; it can require dexterity to find a job to support your family; juggling classes, church, and work is never dull; there will be times when you wonder whether it would have been way smarter to do online classes and save your family the hassle (and your body the sleep).

But there is no substitute for an in-person MDiv, especially when you couple it with service to a Christ-exalting local church.  It’s hard, it’s challenging, and it is not necessarily “at your own pace,” but it is wonderfully enriching, stretching, and eye-opening.  Provided students make contact with their professors, and provided students plug into their local churches, the residential MDiv is far superior to watching videos in your home and posting comments in discussion forums.

Many of us are grateful that online training makes it possible for people who simply can’t move to still earn a meaningful education.  But that gratefulness, at least on my part, does not at all mitigate the fact that attending classes with peers, learning from real-life instructors, and generally experiencing the benefits of the campus community offers the student an incredible opportunity to learn in an immersive way.

This is true of my PhD as well as my MDiv.  Lord willing, I will graduate tomorrow from TEDS.  I am very glad that I actually went to TEDS, got to know a whole new group of peers, knew my professors, played basketball on Friday mornings, and generally experienced life in Chicagoland.  What a formative time it was, and how grateful I am for an excellent degree under the supervision of Douglas Sweeney and committee members John Woodbridge, George Marsden, and Richard Averbeck.

This is not to say that my time at TEDS was not without challenge.  It was.  But it was a blessed season, a gift of a very kind God, one that I would encourage fellow future ministry workers to enter as soon, and as fully, as they possibly can.

7 Comments

Filed under ministry, seminaries, seminary life

Mother Stirs “Dead” Baby to Life by Skin-to-Skin Contact

This is a truly incredible story; I got it from my buddy Doug Hankins.  An Australian woman was told by doctors that one of the two twins she had just prematurely birthed at 27 weeks was dead after they tried for 20 minutes to help him breathe, to no avail.

Instead of letting tiny Jamie go, the woman–Kate Ogg–took her son, placed him on her chest “skin-to-skin” (called “kangaroo care” by the Aussies) and hugged and talked to him for two hours.  She didn’t really think he would live, but she wanted to hold him close.  Incredibly, according to Ogg, he started gasping for air just five minutes after she started stroking him and giving him breast milk.  The doctors informed Ogg that his movement was likely “just a reflex,” but she kept going, nurturing him and touching him.  Eventually, he opened his eyes, though even then, his parents thought he would not live.  But his mother, tenaciously nurturing her tiny boy, refused to let him die.

This story is over a year old, but I missed it back in the day, and it’s worth passing on.  I’m more inclined toward intellectual blogging than your standard Today Show fodder, but this one stirred me.  There is such power in a mother’s love for her children, though biblical and traditional motherhood is under attack in our day.  Too often, the intangible blessings a mother gives her children through constant care and attention are devalued.  Human-interest stories like this one show us how important such work is.  This woman literally brought her child back to life.

Few mothers will experience such drama, but every committed mother blesses her children in untold ways, especially when they reject the culture of death and embrace the culture of life.  This fallen world makes it hard for us to prize life; witness the obstacles Kate Ogg encountered in trying to coax her son to life.  Medical professionals–doctors!–who seemingly would be disposed to do all they could to lead Jamie to life, gave up on him and even seemed to dissuade her from trying to revive him.

We are reminded that we who fight for the dignity of human life in myriad forms are up against principalities and powers of darkness (Eph. 6:12).  We are also reminded that God and righteousness are stronger still.

I don’t think that many of the news media made this connection, but this is an almost perfect illustration of Ezekiel 16:1-14, one of my favorite biblical passages.  The Lord is speaking to his wayward children in this passage (represented by the city of Jerusalem), reminding them of how he first loved them and how they have strayed from him.  Here is what he says of their origins (vv 4-6):

And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths.  No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born.  “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’

As with his chosen people then, so with his people now.  The Lord has found us, loved us back to life, and renewed us through his gospel.  Kate Ogg’s story gives us a powerful glimpse of the kind of tenacious love that God has lavished upon us.  He has refused to let us die.  He has refused to let us cry, with no one to hear, in the wilderness.

God has said to us “Live!,” and now we can.  The aforementioned story is a marvel, but it pales in light of the greater work of our adoptive father.

Leave a comment

Filed under biblical womanhood, motherhood

Is Tim Tebow Succeeding Because of the “Hand of God?”

It seems to be Tim Tebow week here at the blog, though without any prior planning toward this goal on my part.  I wrote a piece on the Sunday night comments of NBC sportscaster Bob Costas that suggested that God does not “take a hand in the outcome of [football] games.”

Readers of this blog will know that I like sports but do not practice Sportianity and even have some concerns about the violence of football.  Nevertheless, I thought that Costas’s surprisingly theological words were worth addressing.  Here’s a snippet from the piece, entitled “Tebow, Calvin, and the Hand of God in Sports”:

Costas, one of the most eloquent and thoughtful voices in sports, suggested that Tebow’s recent string of performances was “approaching, okay we’ll say it, the miraculous.” Many have made similar comments in recent weeks. Costas switched to a more controversial track, however, when he went on to suggest that the God Tebow worships has no interest in influencing the outcome of games. I quote at length from the full transcript:

Again today, Tebow did next to nothing until the waning moments, and then, down 10-0 with two minutes left, he throws a touchdown pass, and the Broncos tie it at the gun on a 59-yard field goal. And then win it in overtime on a 51-yarder. The combination of Denver’s continuing late heroics, and today, the Bears’ otherwise unexplainable errors, is enough to have some at least suspect divine intervention. Except that Tebow, whose sincere faith cannot be questioned, and should be respected, also has the good sense, and good grace, to make it clear he does not believe God takes a hand in the outcome of games.

Most of us are good with that. Otherwise, how to explain what happens when there are equal numbers of believers on either side? Or why so many of those same believers came up empty facing Sandy Koufax? Or hit the deck against Muhammad Ali? Or why the Almighty wouldn’t have better things to do?

Is Bob Costas right? Does God “take a hand in the outcome of games,” or does he “have better things to do,” as Costas, a moral but not notably religious man, seemed to suggest?

Go here to read the whole thing.  This was a fun opportunity to do some theological work in the context of the culture.  John Calvin + Tim Tebow = an unusual combination, to say the least.

9 Comments

Filed under sports

Serving the Least: Tim Tebow and the Brain-tumor Victim

I found this excerpt, from one of the 1,000 Tim Tebow journalism pieces on the web at present, quite powerful.  I’m not a Tebow zealot, nor am I a big fan of the unnecessary violence of football, but there’s no arguing with character like this:

Mr. Tebow’s acts of goodwill have often been more intimate. In December 2009, he attended a college-football awards ceremony in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The night before, at another gala at Walt Disney World Resort, he met a 20-year-old college-football fan named Kelly Faughnan, a brain-tumor victim who suffers from hearing loss and visible, continual tremors. She was wearing a button that said “I love Timmy.” Someone noticed and made sure that the young woman had a chance to meet the player.

Mr. Tebow spent a long while with Ms. Faughnan and her family, and asked her if she’d like to be his date for the award ceremony the following night. She agreed, and the scene of Mr. Tebow escorting the trembling young woman down the red carpet led much of the reporting about the event.

Read the whole piece.

I’m deeply encouraged by the way that Tebow is up-front with his faith, and I would encourage other believers to live and testify with similar boldness in the spheres of influence we possess.  There’s nothing fancy about being a gospel witness.  There’s no gnostic secret you need to learn to be a faithful evangelist, and there’s not a separate gospel for different people groups and sociological types.  You just open your mouth, speak the gospel, and back up your words by a holy life lived in the power of the Spirit.

People may not accept your words–many will not–but they cannot argue with your character, and you will be rewarded for it on the last day.

(Image: Newscom/Wall Street Journal)

3 Comments

Filed under sports

Evangelical Gnostics and the Mind-improving Nature of Physical Exercise

This snippet from the NYT Well blog should encourage you to get whatever exercise you can in these winter months:

To learn more about how exercise affects the brain, scientists in Ireland recently asked a group of sedentary male college students to take part in a memory test followed by strenuous exercise.

First, the young men watched a rapid-fire lineup of photos with the faces and names of strangers. After a break, they tried to recall the names they had just seen as the photos again zipped across a computer screen.

Afterward, half of the students rode a stationary bicycle, at an increasingly strenuous pace, until they were exhausted. The others sat quietly for 30 minutes. Then both groups took the brain-teaser test again.

Notably, the exercised volunteers performed significantly better on the memory test than they had on their first try, while the volunteers who had rested did not improve.

Want to do better in school?  Remember more things?  Memorize more Scripture?  Remember that you’re not a brain in a vat, but a holistic person created by God to glorify him in both body and mind–or perhaps the fusion of the two.  It’s remarkable how much care for your body affects your overall life performance.  A story from The Atlantic a few months back suggested that careful attention to diet and exercise may play a potentially major role in warding off and defeating disease and bodily illness.  For more on this point, see Matthew Anderson’s helpful Earthen Vessels.

Evangelical gnostics, take note.  Many of us, I’m guessing, could use less snacking, less sugar, and more attention to our health, not because we’re scared of dying, but because we want to steward what the Lord has given us for the glory of his Son.

(Image: Adam Weiss for Getty Images)

Leave a comment

Filed under sports