For a living, I am primarily a seminary professor. There are lots of different types of professors and it’s easy to misunderstand the nature of this kind of a position. For example, there are Old Testament professors and New Testament professors; Theology and History professors– and, ironically, Historical Theology professors (go figure); there are Apologetic (defending the faith) Professors and Homiletic (preaching) Professors… and Christian Education professors (that’s me).
Seminary Profs generally do one of two things: They provide (a) theological and biblical education and (b) ministerial preparation. Theological and Biblical Education is primarily about biblical content (what the Bible teaches). Ministerial Preparation is primarily about equipping people to use that information (what to do with the Bible and how to do the job of ministry– and what THAT means is “helping people cultivate a relationship with God”).
And because there is so much content that is taught in a seminary or divinity school, so many subdisciplines in seminaries, people often assume that “every” seminary professor is a biblical scholar.. but that’s not really the case.
A Biblical Scholar? Not me.
Take me, for example. I am not (SAY “NOT”) a biblical scholar… not in the least. Now, I DO have a working knowledge of theology and a more expansive knowledge of the Bible than some people– but it’s nothing (SAY “NOTHING”) compared to many of my colleagues. Each of us has our specialty.
Two Sides of the Seminary: Arts and Divinity
Seminaries have two primary areas– arts and divinity. Divinity is about “what.” Arts is about “how.” That’s a horrible oversimplification and not even completely accurate– but it’s a fair approximation and generally holds to be true.
So seminaries offer those types of degrees– Master of ARTS and Master of DIVINITY.
Divinity Degrees are generally related to biblical content areas (knowing). Arts degrees are typically related to practical ministry areas (doing). Again– this is a terribly shallow representation, but it’s got a lot of truth to it, and for our purposes here– it’s a valid description of how to understand what I’m saying.
The Liberal Arts: Practical Living and Practical Ministry
I teach in the Arts side of the school, but do very little in the Divinity side. So, I know and can do a little in the area of Education (such as leadership principles, leadership theory, organizational management and process, educational theory, educational psychology, motivation theory, educational philosophy, learning theory, communication, problem solving, critical thinking, etc.). So my job is primarily helping future ministers and missionaries know how to help people find God and get to know Him. And I do that by teaching them how to construct, lead, and run ministries that can help reach, teach, and spiritually feed and nourish preschoolers, children, youth, adults, senior adults, special needs people, and help those leaders know how to help people find their way spiritually, so they can become all God has made them to be. And because it’s liberal arts, I also help my students understand how other disciplines and subjects integrate and fit into one another: like how politics and faith work together– or how Christians should think about and deal with practical areas of life as a believer– medicine, justice, morality, meaning, economics, choices, etc. That’s, again, a major simplification of my job, but it’s the gist of what I do.
Divinity Studies: Classical Learning in Bible, Theology, Philosophy, etc.
And just like I have an expertise– each of my colleagues has his own emphases. Whereas I work on the Arts side of the school, most others work on the Divinity side of the school.
Some of them are theologians. A theologian often has a good working knowledge of the Bible, but his primary emphasis is, well, “theology.” That means that he primarily works with SYSTEMS of THOUGHT and DOCTRINAL FORMULATIONS. And each theologian has certain strengths and weaknesses. Some theologians are very strong in, say, what the Bible says about God, Salvation, and Meaning– but may not be near as strong in details about specific Bible books, such as the individual cities the Apostle Paul visited on his various missionary journeys. In fact, a theologian may not know that much at all about some of those more ‘textual’ areas of scripture. What’s more, theologians may specialize in a given area like systematic theology, or philosophical theology, or historical theology, etc.
Other professors are biblicists or biblical professors— biblical theologians. Among them are New Testament Profs or Old Testament Profs, and the like. Some of these may specialize in the Old Testament– but not have a great handle on ALL of it (since it’s a big book). For example, I have a good friend who is an Old Testament professor but who doesn’t feel like the Hebrew language of the Old Testament is his strong suit. (What??!!!??). It’s really not that far fetched, though, if you know much about how it all works. An Old Testament (OT) Prof may be a specialist on the Ancient Near East or the Pentateuch, or Early Monarchial History or Post-Exilic Prophetic Literature… and feel somewhat weak in other parts of the Old Testament.
The discussion goes on… endlessly.
What This is All About
I say all that to make a point and to ask for a little slack for a liberty that I am going to take in some future upcoming posts.
Like I said earlier, I’m personally NOT a biblical scholar… but here’s what I am: I’m a Christian believer who tries to think deeply about key issues and phenomena (cultural, social, philosophical, biblical, etc.) [or, in other words, LIFE] and who likes to try to produce thought-provoking ideas to help people understand those things AT A STREET LEVEL– because that’s where most of us live. I try to make God and life from His perspective UNDERSTANDABLE as much as possible.
But sometimes I like to think about and dialogue on questions that I’m not a specialist on– on things that perhaps others should address… but they’re not here!!! And one other thing– just because a person (me) isn’t a world-renowned expert on everything I talk about doesn’t mean my perspectives are useless or dangerous. It just means that they are limited in their perspective (but I can deal with that, if you can). Hey~ if I waited until I knew something before ever saying anything, I’d never feel the freedom to even write one post on my blog!
So, that’s why when a friend asks a question that stimulates me to think, I can either SAY NOTHING… OR I can try to provide a reasonable answer, on the street level, though it may lack the specificity or technical accuracy or breadth or depth that a formal specialist in that theological or biblical area would prefer.
That’s my way of saying that, although other people could often do a better job answering certain things than I, I’m going to “take a stab” at some issues from time to time that interest me (and some of you)– even though my knowledge is sometimes a little sophomoric.
That way, even though it’s not the final word and even though it could make me the source of criticism by some more informed specialists, many of them aren’t taking the time to write to the average person about these issues. And if no one answers people’s questions, then what?
What To Look For In Some (Not All) Future Posts
So that’s my REALLY LONG disclaimer.
In the future, I’m going to take the liberty of answering questions that, maybe, I have no business trying to answer. And if someone reads a post and thinks he or she could answer it better or more accurately– I’d be happy to give those people “props” and let them write their own piece, so I can link my post with theirs.
But for now, I’m excited to give at least elementary answers to at least a few questions that people have or that people ask me to address. It’ll be fun.