What I learned in Seminary This Quarter

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Another quarter has come to end and again I sit, reflecting on all that I have learned over the last three months. I did a lot this quarter.  I wrote intensive papers on Absalom’s revolt against David and the Call of Elisha.  I studied the Sermon on the Mount more intensively than ever.  I learned about great men and women of the reformation and throughout Western Christian history.  People like Conrad Grebel, John Calvin, Martin Luther, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Anne Judson and Josephine Butler.  Each subject, each person more interesting and influential than I ever expected.

I could go on and on about the details of all the learned, but those kind of posts make for a long and boring blog.  However, I can reflect on the overarching things I learned this quarter.

1.  I learned that if you look for Jesus too hard in the Old Testament, you miss out on God. 

I took a class called “Former Prophets.” In it, we studied most of the books of the Old Testament after the Pentateuch (The first five books of the OT).  We studied the Kings of Israel like David and Solomon, then the Kings of the Divided Kingdom. But most importantly, we studied about God’s love and desire for his people and their rebellion against Him.

One specific story that is found in Isaiah 7 is what is known as “The Sign of Immanuel.”  Most Christians grew up, as I was, thinking that this passage is about Jesus. However, when read in context, one begins to realize that when Isaiah speaks to the King, they are in real trouble and a message about a messiah hundreds of years later would have been of little help.  God’s mercy and faithfulness shines through the Old Testament.  I won’t go into detail about this story here, but you can check it out Claude Mariottini’s blog starting here.

2.  I learned that when it comes to the ethics of Jesus, virtue ethics is just not enough.

Virtue ethics teaches that good habits produce a good person, and a good person does good acts.  I would think that most of us believe this, and nothing is really wrong with this way of thinking.  But I don’t believe this is what Jesus taught.  When one studies the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps the best place to go if studying Jesus’ ethics, one beings to realize that Jesus never makes the connection that habits produce a good person.  A good person it formed solely by his proximity to Christ.  For more on this, check out my discussion on the fulfillment of the law.

Jesus’ ethics are three fold: From below, which means some of his ethical teachings are based in reason and practicality. Many of the OT laws fall into this realm. They were also from Above, which means that at times God will direct his children and that is that.  It is a loving, merciful father telling his child “Because I said so.”  And finally, Jesus’ ethics are from beyond. That means, they have an eschatological impact.  The ethics of the Kingdom of God which will be fully realized someday are here in part.  This is a rather hard to understand. Here Jesus gives commands that seem impossible to follow because he is describing what the world will be in the end. For more on the ethics of Jesus, also check out Scot Mcknight’s, blog here.

3. I learned that the history of the Church is full of men and women who did great things, but in the end they were still human. 

When it comes to great men and women of faith, we have a tendency towards hero worship.  For instance, I grew up in the reformed church. My grandparents when to Calvin church, my friends when to Calvin college, and my pastors graduated from Calvin seminary.  And to be fair, Calvin did some amazing things for the reformed faith.  He challenged authority where few else would, and he stood firm in his beliefs no matter what.  However, he was also connected to an oppressive city/church council in Geneva and was at times very harsh (Rumors of him burning people at the stake are greatly exaggerated. One man was put to death in Geneva during the time of Calvin, and reports vary on his involvement in the instance).  David Livingstone, one of the most famous missionaries of all time, had only one convert during his time in Africa, and that man converted back later on in life.  But his work to fight the slave trade in Africa changed the world for the better. 

The men and women God chooses can be anyone, anywhere.  They are often unqualified for where he has called them and they would not be who you or I expect to be his agents.  But isn’t that a lesson we keep on learning? From Abraham and Moses to David and the disciples and eventually Paul, God is constantly reminding us that who he chooses to bring further his Kingdom will never be who we expect.  So we must treat all with love and respect.

And finally, as always, here at Northern Seminary weaving through all my classes and homework, internship and jobs, one thing remains:  That when it comes right down to it, the one thing I am constantly learning is how to love God with all my heart, strength, soul, and mind and to love my neighbor as myself.  Jesus said there is no greater commandment than these.  I just forget sometimes that they will take a lifetime to learn.

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