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.
Edvard Munch’s ultimate work was his expressionist series The Frieze of Life. In that series Munch sought to illustrate some of the most fundamental themes of the human experience: life, love, death, melancholy, and fear.
The emotion of Fear was characterized and immortalized in his painting, The Scream. That workis highly-acclaimed because, in painting it, Munch tapped into the epicenter of that universal experience and phenomenon: “fear.”
Fear causes dread. It cultivates terror. Fear is very, very personal. Fear is intimate.
Everyone understands fear. Just meditating on the word itself can cause us to physically shudder. Fear evokes caution within our innermost person. And, ironically, what produces fear in one’s emotions and troubles people’s minds are not necessarily the same thing. Some fears move from the rational into the irrational– resulting in hard to understand phobias. Phobias range from rational fears, such as being uneasy around tight spaces (claustrophobia), to irrational fears like becoming dismayed at the sight or thought of human beards (pogonophobia).
The sense of feeling or being threatened arrests us and is capable of immobilizing us and bringing our entire lives to a grinding halt.
So what is fear? Or more importantly, how does fear “work?” Why does it have such an effect on us? And how do some people live with fearless abandon– in spite of fear and threat?
People feel fear because of the fact that we are not omniscient, omnipotent, or sovereign.
Omniscience is the quality of knowing everything. Since we don’t know everything, we are afraid because of the Fear of the Unknown.
Sovereignty is the quality of being “over all.” It speaks to the ability to pull the strings on everything and make reality do what we want it to do. Since we’re not sovereign over our own lives, much less anyone else’s, we have the Fear of the Uncontrollable.
Omnipotence is the quality of being all powerful. Since we are not all-powerful in the least, we have the Fear of Powerlessness.
These fears are very real because those things they represent can harm, exploit, and even kill us. That’s why we are afraid…
The solution to fear is for the fearful to locate a higher power that is all of those things– Omniscient, omnipotent, and sovereign… AND ONE MORE THING: Omnibenevolent.
Omnibenevolence has to do with having the quality of being “completely and absolutely good.”
So where does that leave one? Should a person simply grab hold of some “higher power” and feel safe? No, for two reasons.
1. Only the God of the Bible identifies Himself as having all of these attributes, including Omnibenevolence. No other religion even makes the claim to have a god like this. Ah, I’m sure some will doubt what I am saying, but it’s true. Those who are really familiar with other faith traditions know this to be the case.
But one more factor needs to be understood.
2. Just believing in a higher power isn’t enough. That’s because belief alone is inadequate. One can’t just fabricate confidence and fearlessness. We’ve tried that, haven’t we? We can’t fake ourselves out or trick ourselves out। The answer isn’t belief in a higher power without those attributes– because it’s not our belief that makes us fearless… it’s belief in the one higher power that does possess those attributes। His power, knowledge, sovereignty, and goodness ENSURES we’re going to be OK. And that’s how to overcome fear: Place yourself in the care of the One and Only True God.
The Irrelevant Disclaimer.
Everything that interests me isn’t thrilling or profound, but most of my insights come through thinking or talking about ideas– so I decided to think through some issues about people I sometimes meet who just don’t seem to be “going” anywhere. They have no life.
Life is meant to be lived.
I know this sounds glib and sort of cheeky, but it’s true nonetheless. Life is a gift. It’s a precious treasure. It’s a pearl of great price. It’s something of inestimable worth. And its value is what makes it such a terrible thing to waste.
I guess I feel this way more than usual because someone close to my family passed away this week and will be buried tomorrow. And since death is such a cold, brutal reality– the green vitality of life is a theme that’s on my mind today.
Life is a full-contact sport. But some people don’t like that aspect of it. They don’t like the rough and tumble. The bumps and bruises. The hurt and the burn. But that’s sort of like wanting to eat a big piece of cake without having to go to the gym to burn it off– we have to take the good and the bad, because the two can’t be separated. The good and bad of life represent two polarities– sort of like a magnet. Both forces are always present and they come as “part of the package.”
So, back to those without a life. There are those people we know who just won’t get into the game. Those are the ones who just ride the pines and let life bench them. The truth is that I GRIEVE for people like that. I mean, life’s simply TOO important to miss out on it.
And it’s short too– relatively speaking, anyway. The irony of it is that life seems *painfully long* for those who have no real purpose. And its *unjustly short* for those trying to ingest its fullest and drink it in.
Something I’ve noticed about people without a life is that they often fall into two broad categories. Most seem to either (1) live vicariously through others or (2) anonymously through technology.
And it’s through these two ways that they both “escape” life and “engage” it at the same time.
But each of those approaches pose a problem.
Living Vicariously. Living vicariously means that we personally never experience those actual things, themselves– except by proxy. As a result, the emotions and thrills and excitement such a person does have are second-hand, or at least one dimension removed from their own personal reality. And since it’s second-hand, ultimately that type of living won’t satisfy our innate craving for daring and drama. No, we’re hard wired for life in stereo– not mere mono. Life’s thrills, emotions, hurts, and the catharsis those things bring should be an eyewitness event, not hearsay. The best of life’s experiences shouldn’t be hand-me-downs from someone else.
Living Anonymously. Those who don’t have a life and who choose not to live their years through others’ experiences want to embrace life in all its fullness, but fear and insecurity make them want a layer of insulation from the brunt of life’s sometimes cruel realities. So they often live in the cocoon of anonymity. They try to experience depth of meaning and intimacy, but they do it in a world that is only a form of quasi-reality (Not a bad word– I should get intellectual credit for that one if you use it). This quasi-reality is the world of technology. People want to go interactive but they also want to remain anonymous. These are the people who have online identities without names or pictures. They want to know you but don’t want you to know them. They want you to see their kids on their avatar tags, but not they-themselves.
All of this to say the obvious: We need to embrace life. We need to live. We need to know– and we need to BE KNOWN. We need intimacy. Intimacy is a two-way street of giving and taking. But a person can’t be intimate if they have no identity.
And that’s really what this post is all about: That until we come to terms with ourselves, we can’t have an identity. And until we have an identity, we can’t have intimacy. And until we have both, we won’t have a life.
Those who profess to be Christians do not make that proclaimation of faith without strings attached. By the very act of referring to oneself as a believer, certain requirements are foisted upon that person. Not to worry, however, as Jesus said that His yoke is easy and his burden, light.
One primary responsibility of a professing believer, then, is this matter of living life straddling two realities– life in two kingdoms: the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of humanity.
Each kingdom presses us for loyalty. Each kingdom works, at least for now, according to its own rules. That is to say– the world, in that it is under sway of the “prince of the power of the air” (satanic influence), has its own set of rules that are, many times, in opposition or somehow juxtaposed with the rules of righteousness. God, on the other hand, forces the issue by saying (through the Lord’s Prayer in the words of Jesus), “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” This is another way of saying that God wants His Will done “here” and “there” and EVERYWHERE, simultaneously. After all, that’s what dominion is all about. And His Kindgom is about the purpose of spreading and establishing His rightful dominion everywhere– for the Glory of His Kingdom and, incidentally, for the betterment of the world. (It’s impossible to improve on God’s plan, no?).
That leads to the inner core of this blog: That believers live in two Kingdoms, but are subject primarily to one and must work to usher in that Eternal Kingdom into the temporal one.
The problem with this proposition is that sometimes earthly kingdoms try to eclipse the Heavenly one, and such is the case today in America. Though I am a loyal citizen, I have a higher loyalty than to Barack Obama or his followers and handlers.
When obedience to God and the obligations of faith are challenged, believers are called to choose truth over national loyalty or political party. That is why I am the loyal opposition today– I cannot, in good conscience, stand for the release or delay of prosecution for known terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, for the hard core push of a Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgender culture, for the absolution of marriage, and the socialization or Marxism of our economy.
What can I say? God help me, amen.
So I just returned from worship at a church, the location of which is irrelevant. What is relevant, however, is this alarming trend that I see in churches that is distinct from Christianity in the past.
Much of what is seen today in churches is more about Churchianity than Christianity. It becomes rather nauseating. Now, I am a devout believer in the local church. I have shown by my words and actions nothing other than a PROFOUND commitment to the church as a primary expression of faith and the epicenter of God’s work in the world– so this has nothing to do with an anti-church rant.
Rather, it is the fact that (not all– but ‘possibly’ your church too, before you let yourself off the hook too quickly) MANY churches today are primarily for women and many men are increasingly uncomfortable attending churches. Recently I heard that up to 75% of all attendees in the United Methodist Church are women. Can you imagine? A major denomination where only 1/4 of attendees is male– when 50% of the population are men? Something’s not right about that. And this isn’t a slam on Methodism, as much as it is an illustration of my point. Nay, much the same could be said about many denominations and non-denominational churches in many areas.
My point is this: When the average man’s man attends a local church, what they often find is a group of “largely domesticated and sometimes effeminate men” with whom they cannot relate. That’s what I felt today. I sat there thinking, “Who ARE these people?” Men appeared WAY TOO “nice, polite, smiley, accommodating and, frankly, soft.” I’m all for politeness, but this was too much. I’d rather see men who are generally strong, robust, direct, surefooted, level, candid… AND nice, polite, and accommodating. Can’t we produce both in our churches?
I’m a huge supporter of women and their development and their great contributions to ministry. I love children and believe deeply in strong children’s ministries, youth ministries, and family ministries. I love it all. But can we just learn to allow men to be men and help cultivate strong men in the church, instead of presenting mealy-mouthed weaklings and passive pushovers as the prototype of biblical manhood?