Category: School

For all the graduate students

This is for all those grad students out there.  Whether you’re in Law, Medical, Business, or Divinity (like me)…you can relate to Bart!  Hilarious!


Could more of America’s evangelical seminaries close their doors?

In this month’s issue of Christianity Today, Collin Hansen describes some of the financial difficulties facing evangelical seminaries.   Many of the schools’ administrators attribute their financial struggle to the recent decline in the stock market and shrinking endowments.  As a result, budget shortfalls are forcing some schools to make difficult administrative decisions.  Do they lay-off faculty and staff?  Do they increase tuition?  Do they cut programs?

Hansen also points out that hard times are mostly affecting those seminaries without ties to larger universities.

As someone content to rise out the stock market (the stock market has made money in every 10 year period of its existence) I feel confident most schools will avoid shutting their doors for good.  However, how will the cuts they make now affect the school down the road (when financial times rebound)?  Will enrollment shrink as a result of less financial aid?

Update: As Peter Smith reports in Louisville’s Courier-Journal, several theological schools in Kentucky are facing the crunch, and cutting jobs.  Smith highlights the troubles at: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Asbury Theological Seminary, Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, and Lexington Theological Seminary.

19For the past 10 weeks a group of church members have been studying with A Short-term Disciple Bible Study: An Invitation to Psalms. While the sessions have proved incredibly educational, inspiring, and transformational, there have certainly been a lot of questions.  Last night, the discussion centered around the imprecatory Psalms.  There’s nothing better to get people talking than to mention “the wrath of God.”

Together, we raised many interesting and curious questions.  What does God’s wrath look like in today’s world?  How do we compare and contrast the wrath of humanity with the wrath of God?  How does righteousness and justice fit into the love of God? While we ca begin to answer these questions faithfully, the question that remained most perplexing was How do we understand the psalmist’s portrayal of God as wrathful and vengeful?

As the Divinity School Student Pastor, they look to me for answers!  I wish that I had more answers.  Some mysteries of God just get us every time!

Still, when I got home last night I did a little reading to examine what others have said about the Psalms of imprecation.  Also, I looked back at lectures from the my Fall 2007 Old Testament class with Dr. Stephen Chapman at Duke Divinity. (Some of what is below came from D. Chapman’s lecture.)

As expected, the range of interpretations varied greatly.  Here’s a few nuggets of thoughts for you to ponder:

Just to make clear, we are only talking about the imprecatory psalms/prayers against enemies: Psalms 59, 64, 69, 83, 94, 109, 140.

One one end of the spectrum:
James Luther Mays, The Lord Reigns: A Theological Handbook to the Psalms (2004):   Mays claims that Christians can no longer read and/or understand the imprecatory literally by because they violate Jesus’ command to love enemies (see Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 9:51-56; Romans 12:14-21).  However, Mays does believe that these psalms can still be read allegorically as about sin, death, and the devil.  In some ways this view sounds almost like Marcion.  Although Mays is not rejecting the OT God entirely, he seems to want to rewrite it in light of the NT.

On the other end of the spectrum:
John Calvin (16th century): Calvin claims that the enemies in the Psalms not merely personal enemies, but enemies of God.  Therefore, these psalms can be prayed so long as the worshiper is free from self-interest (see 1 Corinthians 16:22).  So, Christians must pray these Psalms with a heart of humility.

Another view in the spectrum:
Walter Brueggemann, “Vengeance” in Praying the Psalms (2007):  Brueggemann argues that he Psalms present a realistic and honest dialogue about anger in human experience.  If we treat the Psalms in this we we make ourselves available for more authentic worship.  (The prophets also reinforce this connection between emotion and right worship.)  He also states that imprecatory psalms can function as a way to transfer human anger to God (Psalm 69:13; 76:10).  Consequently, our own desire for vengeance is ruled out as an option for our emotions (Psalm 94:1; Deuteronomy 32:35; Isaiah 63:4; see also Hebrews 10:30).  Brueggemann further claims that such psalms, rightly understood, might reduce violence.

As I discovered, our Disciple calss is not alone in our curiosity/confusion/deliberation over the Psalms; it is a centuries old discussion. Overall, I am not sure any one view is correct.  On one hand we can not simply cast off the Psalms/images of God we don’t like.  Yet, on the other hand, we can not be consumed with only one Biblical representation of God (God of love in NT).  In the end, we must strive to be aware of the different interpretations, and attempt to hold them together in faithful tension.

How beautiful, that issues such as these continually remind us of God’s Holy mystery, and force us back to our Holy Scriptures.

The other day I found myself in an interesting situation. Miranda was reading The Red Tent, a book about the life of Dinah. The novel, based on the Biblical text in Genesis, is written as a narrative from Dinah’s point-of-view. As Miranda was reading she came upon a few details that she believed might not be Biblical. Therefore, she came to me, the Duke Divinity student and student pastor who just completed a year of Old Testament studies. In other words, I was the Biblical scholar and resident theologian. It was time for me to produce some answers!

Looking back, I notice several unique ways in which God was working in our exchange. First, I was encouraged by Miranda’s inquiries. Biblical fiction novels such as The Red Tent force us to return to the Biblical text and ask questions. Such novels provoke us to dig deeper into our Holy Scriptures. After returning to the text myself, I discovered many details I had overlooked in my previous reading. As is often the case, my second reading opened my eyes to new details, relationships, and interpretations.

Furthermore, our exchange highlighted the importance of our Christian relationships— relationships that are vital to our spiritual journey. It is so important to have people in our lives that ask us the right questions. People that push us and stretch our faith. People that build us up in Christ’s love. When we surround ourselves with others who share our faith, our joy, our goals, and our love of the Lord we take the necessary steps to solidify our faith. There is no substitute for genuine and sincere Christian relationships and community. It is my prayer that we all have persons and communities in our lives that serve to lift us up and enhance our Christian lives.

Prayer: Dear Lord, we thank You for your Holy Word. Your Word is deep, very meaningful, and extremely powerful. Help us live as better students of your Word. Open our eyes, ears, and hearts to your Message. We thank You also for those special people and communities You place in our lives. We pray that our relationships and friendships please, praise, and glorify You. In Christ’s name we pray. AMEN.

Do you have any interests or hobbies that others might find interesting? Is there something you enjoying doing that might surprise even your closest friends and family? For example, maybe you like older, classic movies and t.v. shows. Perhaps you like to read comic books. Or maybe you enjoy playing golf. Maybe you like to follow politics. Has it ever happened to you that this “information” becomes public?

The other day, I found myself in this situation. After class some friends and I were talking, and I made a jazz music reference. “Jazz music!?!” they said. “You listen to jazz? You, the guy from Kentucky that is always singing Johnny Cash and George Strait tunes, likes jazz?” Well, yeah, actually I do.

Isn’t it funny when people try to put your personality or interests into one neatly arranged box? All around us people try to fit us with one-size-fits-all labels. Southerner. Country folk. Urbanite. Conservative. Liberal. Sports Fanatic. TV Junkie. Labels surround us in our family, with our friends, and at work. However, I’m not sure I like having to fit into another person’s single label for me. Why can’t I be a southerner who likes country music and jazz music. In fact, the more I think about such labels, I realize I’m only comfortable with one label: Christian

How great thy cross?

I hope everyone is enjoying the nice weather. Spring and summer can’t come soon enough for me.

Today, as I spent a little time study my Greek vocabulary something jumped out at me. As I worked down the list, these three Greek words, and their definitions, were listed sequentially:

posoV (posos) : How great?
soV (sos): thy
stauroV (stauros): cross
(I apologize if the Greek text/font doesn’t appear on your computer. I also included the pronunciation in parentheses.)
I looked back at the English words: “How great thy cross?” Wow, what an interesting — and powerful– arrangement of words. Also, what an appropriate message for Easter. In fact, the more I thought about the words, the the more magnificent they became. I stopped to read them several times. It’s amazing how we can find God –or He can find us– in our daily routines. We just have to anticipate His presence and voice, and stop to listen.
“How great thy cross?” This, my friends, is the message for us as we approach Holy Week. As we observe Christ’s final week and the cross grows nearer, our Lord begs us to stop and ponder, “How great thy cross?”

As the Church’s ecclesiastical needs have changed, the foundational concept of ordination has also adapted.  Early in the third century church leaders generally viewed ordination in light of the Old Testament priests.  Many years later, primarily during the 13th century, views of ordination shifted and ordination gained Sacramental legitimacy.  Later, as the Church adjusted during the Reformation the concept of ordination expanded to hold that all who are baptized are considered priests.    Therefore, priestly lifestyle, attitude, and character were not limited to the ordained. Moreover, ministers were those who were called out from among the whole of believers to preach to the congregation in the name of Christ.   As history indicates, diverse roles for the ordained have created diverse definitions of ordination.

Despite the transformational nature, perception, and expectations of ordained persons, several theological and ecclesiastical components remain constant.  Ordination is a gift of God to the Church and for the Church.  Ordination, therefore, descends from God to the Church, but also arises from God’s earthly congregations in accordance with God’s purpose.  Additionally, ordination is one way in which individuals live out their baptismal call.  More specifically, ordained persons fulfill his or her ordained call by serving as the link between God’s will and the Church’s needs.  Through service, leadership, and character ordained persons fulfill God’s and the Church’s will, needs, and desires.

At its most foundational level, ordination is a gift from God to the Church.  Since the Church’s conception God has foreseen the unique and abounding challenges the Church faces and God has creatively given the gift of ordination.    Specifically, God has gifted the Church by calling out individuals from the greater Christian body and equipping them for ordination.  In the same way God gave humanity the good news of the gospel and the Church body in which to celebrate the good news, God also provides ordination and leaders to facilitate the glorification of God.  It is God’s grace, love, will, and hope for humanity that establish the foundation for one of God’s most glorious gifts, ordination.

In addition to the theological and generally universal concepts that form the basis of ordination, individual Christian denominations also establish ideas about the meaning of ordination. For United Methodists, the Book of Worship utilizes the Methodist discipline and liturgy to define the Church’s view of ordination (as it pertains to Elders).  In the opening section prior to the liturgy the discipline states that ordination is grounded in the Church’s ministry of Word, Sacrament, and Order.   Later in the liturgy the Bishop tells that ordination is for those individuals who possess certain gifts that enable them to perform acts of Word, Sacrament, and Order.    Clearly, ordination within the United Methodist Church entails that an ordained individual accepts the tasks of proclaiming the Word and Sacraments and takes his or her role seriously.   Like the various Christian movements throughout history, today the general Church and various denominations have attempted to establish a theologically grounded concept of what exactly ordination means for individuals as well as the Church.

Not only is the foundational concept of ordination important, the idea of where ordination originates is equally important. Ordination, as a gift from God, comes from God’s love and desires for the Church.  God strives for the Church to imitate his image and it is ordained persons’ responsibility to personally strive towards that goal while at the same time helping the Church do the same.  In Pastor, Willimon presents the view that “the pastor is sent from God to fill the pulpit.”    While not all Christians subscribe to this view of ordination it does stress that ordination is a gracious, special gift from God.   The United Methodist traditions echoes this sentiment when the Bishop prays during the ordination service thanking God for abundantly pouring forth gifts to make some people pastors and teachers.

Alternatively, and in addition to ordination as being from “above,” ordination also arises from the earthly Church’s needs and expectations.  Since the Church’s growth in the first century Christian communities have sensed the need to “call out” from among them leaders who are capable of facilitating and equipping Christians on their journeys.  For United Methodists the Church’s role in initiated and originating ordination is especially important.  In fact, the Book of Worship repeatedly alludes to ordination as an act sprung from the Church which is necessary to continue the building up of the Church’s ministry.   Regardless of the dualistic perspective that ordination comes from both “above” and “below” one concept remains theologically necessary: both God and the Church play a role in recognizing an individual’s gifts and calling them out for ordained ministry.

Still, ordination encompasses more than just God and the Church’s role in defining and creating ordination.  Also central to the concept of ordination are those individuals that respond to God and the Church’s call.  For, without individuals who respond to God and the Church’s call there would be no Church.
For many individuals a call to ordination comes in light of his or her baptismal experience and vows.  That is, through baptism Christians are reclaimed by God as one of God’s children, made part of a community, and invited to share in God’s mission for the world.  Therefore, Christians’ identities and purposes precede a call to ordination.  Consequently, a Christian can fulfill his or her baptismal call in a variety of ways and ordination is only one way to live out one’s baptismal call.

In addition to the baptismal influence on ordination, several God and Church-ordered characteristics lie at the heart of the theological implications of what God expects from the ordained.  As gifted by God and called by the Church, ordained persons are called to be servants within the Church. That is, ordination theologically requires that individuals live lives of servant hood to both God and the Church’s wills and needs.  For the United Methodist Church the servant nature of ordination is particularly important.  During the Elder ordination liturgy the Bishop speaks about the Church’s role in examining and inquiring about ordination candidates in order to determine if they are called to be in service to God in particular ministries.   Similarly, Willimon views ordained persons as privileged waiters or waitresses in the Lord’s house and at the Lord’s Table.   Servant hood is a vital component of theologically based ordination.

In addition to the servant nature of ordained ministry, ordination also theologically requires leadership in many capacities.  Administrative, educational, and spiritual leadership are all forms of leadership ordination necessitates.  In many capacities ordained individuals serve as the authoritative theologian and teacher within his or her own ministerial community.  Leadership through administrative order is another responsibility of the ordained.  So important is the leadership component of ordination that the United Methodist Church explicitly states that the ordained are ordained to Order within their own community and the larger Church body.

However, perhaps the greatest act of leadership an ordained person is called to carry out relates to worship.  For Barbara Brown Taylor this is particularly true since she believes strongly that worship is what Christians were made to do.  Likewise, the Book of Worship calls for ordained Elders to preach and teach the Word of God, administer the Sacraments, and lead God’s people in prayer and worship.   Ultimately, worship is the way in which ordained individuals serve most effectively in linking God with the non-ordained whom the Creator longs to share with in fellowship.

Finally, an individual’s character is theologically important to God and the Church’s ordination framework.  It is vital that ordained persons act in a way that befits their public, communal, and church obligations.   Today, ordained Christians are called to imitate God, setting the example for the whole Church.  Such character integrity is not lost on most Methodists. In fact, the discipline permits ordination only for those who have been examined and “found to be of sound Christian character.”

Interestingly, most early Christians refused to ignore this personal aspect of ordination.  In fact, Gregory the Great repeatedly wrote about the personal characteristics required of those who are ordained to serve as leaders of Christian communities.  In several letters and books Gregory wrote about ordained persons as pure in thought and exemplary in conduct.   For without these personal qualities, Gregory believed, a person was unfit for the title and role of ordination.

Ordination, as a gift from God, is necessary to fulfill both God’s will and the Church’s needs and expectations. Therefore, out of an individual’s baptismal call, he or she senses and embraces their purpose as ordained Christians.  Ultimately they serve as the link between God and God’s people through their service, leadership, and persona.  Preaching the Word, administering the Sacraments, and providing order for God’s earthly community all define the theological requirements of the ordained.  In all, ordained individuals should do all things in order to enable the church to act as the Church that God intended.

My Call to the Vocation of Ministry

Whether or not we as Christians comprehend and embrace its importance and significance, we are all called by God for a unique purpose. As a result, His purposes are as diverse and interesting as the people who accept them.  According to our gifts, our specialties, and our interests God has in store for each of us a calling to something that is greater than ourselves.  Yet, God does not randomly assign such purposes. Such callings do not simply create themselves.  Rather, there is a source, or an initiator.  For many, including Barbara Brown Taylor and William Willimon, the source is clear.  The source is one’s baptism.  We Christians, they argue, are called through our baptism to “join ranks with God.”

However, baptism is not simply an act that one should feel obligated to perform.  Nor is it an event to take lightly.  In fact, as Taylor and Willimon point out, baptism should serve as a turning point in an individual’s life.  Through baptism we turn over our identity to God in favor a new identity as a child of God.  Also, we connect with a community in order to share in God’s eternal mission.  Only through this process are we able to better discern God’s call in our lives.  For me, this baptismal foundation for calling rings particularly true.

First, through baptism, and in my case infant baptism, I was re-created as a child of God.  Consequently, my identity is rooted solely in God’s vision and plan for my life.  My identity is no longer formed by physical fitness, wealth, or knowledge.  Rather, my baptismal identity as kin of God is the new foundation.  With a new identity free from the world’s standards I am liberated to listen more closely for God’s call on my life.
Likewise, my baptism allows my membership in God’s holy and eternal community.  Through baptism God incorporated me into a new family.  As Taylor writes, after baptism I was “received into the household of God.”   Such reception with believers should serve as the foundation for strengthening my faith as well as helping me better hear and interpret my call.  For when I do hear God’s call I will be able to discern and discuss with fellow believers.  Again, the privilege of joining God’s community through baptism has been, and continues to be, extremely beneficial as I seek God’s purpose for my life.

Finally, in addition to gaining a new identity and a new family, baptism charges me to share in God’s mission for the world.  That is, to confess the faith of the crucified Jesus Christ and proclaim his resurrection.   Essentially, I must share the good news of Christ.  Again, my baptismal vows require that I share in the mission and equip others to participate.  Through this I am able to help myself better discern God’s call for me to minister in His name.

As I think about my baptismal vows and reflect on their true significance, my call takes on new meanings.  I am renewed as a child of God and embraced and incorporated into His eternal family.  Also, I am called to share in the mission of confessing the faith of Jesus Christ.  Now, as I examine my call I am overwhelmed by multiple renewals and affirmations of my baptismal vows throughout my experiences.  A new identity, a new community, and a new role with God have been, and are, truly present in my life.

I first felt God’s distinct call on my life during winter break of my sophomore year in college. While home I read a book about John Wesley.  In the book the author talked about Wesley’s “gentle warming of the heart.”  I suddenly felt that same warming.  I had always been involved in church and had often left Sunday services with a similar feeling, but this sensation was more powerful.  I sensed something distinct and almost overwhelming.  A few days later, the sensation remained.  I knew God was speaking to me.  After weeks of praying and talking with my pastor I began to understand that God was calling out my life for a distinct purpose.  It was at this moment that I believe my baptismal vows took on a new meaning and my identity in Christ was renewed and solidified.  As Taylor wrote, “I remembered who I was.”  God was calling me out of my old life and “warming” me to serve Him.

After realizing my new identity and recognizing God’s call on my life I began to explore how God might use me.  Growing up in the church, I immediately thought that a call to ministry meant a call to become a pastor.  I wondered, however, does my calling automatically destine me for the pulpit?  At the time I was deeply involved in religious studies classes and the academic aspects of Christianity.  Essentially, I was seeking faith with reason and thought that I might fulfill my call in the classroom.  Despite my interest in fulfilling my call outside of the church office, several prayer-filled conversations with mentors and professors led me to pursue my call within the parish ministry framework.  Eventually, through the Candidacy Process and other church-related experiences I began to feel that God was calling me to ordained ministry, particularly the ministry of an Elder.

In keeping with my baptismal identity and role within Christ’s body I continually turned to my fellow believers for guidance.  Their unconditional love, support, and willingness to assist greatly aided my discernment process.  I was constantly encouraged by their prayers and through their conversations. Whether they or I understood it at the time, my home congregation epitomized the role of a community of baptized believers.  The more I shared and explored my ministry options with those in my baptismal community the more my call to parish ministry was confirmed.

Specifically, my call was affirmed while I served as the Assistant to the Pastor in my home church, Virginia Avenue UMC.  At Virginia Avenue I helped serve Communion, delivered children’s sermons, ushered, and also preached every fifth Sunday.  Each time I assisted with Communion or delivered the message I was overcome with the feeling of a “warmed heart.”  I remember how nervous I was the first Sunday I served Communion.  However, once I took the bread in my hands my nervousness abandoned me. Again, maintaining and discerning my call while worshipping with a Christian body made my experiences joyful and fruitful.

A similar experience occurred during the Kentucky Annual Conference 2006.  At Conference I attended several worship services, the ordination service, and parts of the legislative assembly.  While there I witnessed the love, grace, and peace that each Elder embodied.  In the same way as before, God warmed my heart and I sensed Him telling me that ‘this is where I want you.’  As the baptismal vows allowed and encouraged I felt genuinely at home with other baptized Christians.  Now, not only was my home church involved, but the larger church body was also active in my discernment.

Most recently, Unity United Methodist Church in Kannapolis, North Carolina helped me discern my call.  At Unity I helped with a “Meals on Wheels” ministry, taught during Vacation Bible School, taught Sunday School, visited nursing homes and hospitals, led worship, and preached.  Unity not only embraced me as a baptized member in the larger Christian community, but they also enabled me to share, with them, in God’s mission.  The congregation truly embraced their baptismal vow to spread the Good News and I was able to do the same.  My time at Unity UMC further opened my eyes to parish ministry and also reaffirmed my desire and call to work as a pastor with local congregations.

In addition to my experiences in church settings, God continued to strengthen my call through the classroom.  Throughout college religious classes helped formed both my spiritual and theological understanding, while at the same time strengthening my faith.  With more knowledge about the historical aspects and context of Scriptures I felt better equipped to educate others about the Gospel.  Also, after studying Greek the New Testament text became more alive.   Many courses not only inspired me intellectually and theologically, but these courses also deepened my spiritual understanding.  Now, as God has called me, I want to equip others with the knowledge and insight I gained in the classroom.

My experiences in both the parish and classrooms have been vital to my understanding of God’s purpose in my life.  As I continue at Duke so continues my discernment process.  While here I want to form my own “pattern for ministry.”  Fortunately, as Willimon points out in the differences between Gregory and Basil, there is no shortage of historical patterns.  In fact, there is no single style of ministry, ordained or otherwise.  There is a “rich legacy of patterns of leadership.”   As the saints and others did previously, through prayer, reflection, and practice I want to develop a pattern suited for my future ministry.

As I begin to delve deeper into what it means to establish a pattern, or image, for ministry I am constantly reminded of those currently in ministry who have influenced me.  I look at those pastors, professors, and mentors and hope to learn from them the “promises and pitfalls of ministry.”   Additionally, I want to mix and incorporate ancient ideas of ministry into my contemporary environment.  As Gregory states, a pastor should “lead a spiritual life” and “sympathize and rejoice with neighbors.”   Furthermore, I intend for my pattern to involve giving bounteously of all my gifts.   I pray that my pattern for ministry requires and enables me to give my time, energy, mind, and being for God’s glorious mission as defined in my baptism.

Through my experiences in parishes and classrooms I have developed a better understanding of my call and am more secure in my commitment to pursue ordained ministry.  In the future I envision myself fulfilling my call through parish ministry.  I aspire to share my passion for God’s grace through preaching and pastoral care.  I want to help others experience the grace, hope, and guidance God has given me.  Thus far I have enjoyed serving in assistant roles in various congregations; but I imagine future congregations, congregations I can call my own.

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