As I continue in this new humbling and exciting chapter in the journey I get to be a part of, many thoughts ruminate that haven’t in quite some time. To say I loved my time in academic Bible training would be an understatement. Yet as I pursued it I felt almost guilty that I wasn’t serving, ministering or relating in the way Jesus seemed to emphasize. My wife has been barking up the “you need to be in theological academia” for 12 years. And I agree it is a sweet spot. It’s hard because the praxis of said training isn’t as obvious because the ministry is much more indirect. Train and serve others so that they may be the foot soldiers. That’s what I’m called to and living out right now. Yet the fact is: I simply love Jesus and my “ministry” is just that.
[box] Disclaimer: I feel like I write too much about me. But so often our experiences shape our thoughts and the lens in which we view life. I do believe it is one of the means how God shapes us. I hope that when I write about these experiences they can be trasferrable to others’ situations. If it is, I find it worth doing & encouraged that God could use me. If not, it is good catharsis – but feels vain & selfish. [/box]
My past experience:
- ministry through teaching
- leading youth
- some preaching
- a Bible degree from a “liberal Christian arts” school
- “just” a masters in Theology, emphasizing Biblical Studies (I passed classes in Greek and Hebrew) – from a school considered liberal by conservatives and conservative by liberals
- some seminars and countless books (at least hundreds).
I would love to pursue more training (PhD/ThM), but time and money are the big hindrances. Am I called to that? I actually think so, but I’m blessed to be where I am, despite the lack of credentials I have in where I serve. That being said, I look back and see a paradoxical opportunity situation. I’ve been blessed by multiple opportunities, yet I’ve always wanted (thought I could do) more. That may be human nature or it may be the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
I know I always find ways to make things harder on myself and live in a somewhat fear-based reality. In academia, it’s somewhat rightfully so. Because of knowledge, people are so strong (stubborn) and intimidating. In my context, more often than not, their love prevents them from puffing up (1 Co. 8:1), but credentials, knowing all the right things to say and being like-minded seems to weigh larger than the reality that we are children in the family of God through Christ Jesus. At least that’s my fear/perspective.
As I mentioned:
- credentials: very little
- knowledge: I know I know very little
- saying the right things: can fake it sometimes
- like-minded: I don’t think so, but I don’t know enough to know whether I really do or not.
- experience: vocational ministry, teaching, administration
- The experience of being with people day in day out as a professional Theologigan, Minister, Teacher, Leader and “Model” is extremely valuable and rich. And while it may not be as difficult cerebrally or high pressure in some ways, serving in vocational ministry is far more challenging, taxing, non-stop, and volatile. I’m not talking about the pastor who is a figurehead and just speaks or teaching, but the one who does it all, from custodial to preaching to website management to counseling, etc. Jack of all, master of none.
Ironically, theological academia is passionate about training students to minister with the Gospel so that it might transform lives to focus on and be changed by Jesus (at least at the school where I serve). Yet so many pastors snub those who trained and sought the best for them, as well as the institution that helped them (i.e. calling it “cemetery,” saying it took x number of years to “de-train” them from such academia). From an academic standpoint, there are many messages and ministries that just aren’t accurate theologically, and as long as the Lord tarries, it could really mess up Jesus’ message and purpose for the incarnation (I know Jesus doesn’t need us per se, but for us to “correctly handle the Word of Truth,” correct theology is important). From a “in the trenches” ministry standpoint, academia can bring up and argue about issues that just aren’t relevant to people’s individual lives and how they are to live out following Jesus or trust Him in their desperate situations.
So what’s the solution? Are they mutually exclusive? Can you not have both? Is academia just “puffing up”? Is ministry the real deal because it’s changing lives? Is theological training changing lives so that students can then use that transformation to change others’? Yes. But both exist simply because Jesus loves us. And we love Him. And it’s how we live out our spiritual act of worship. It’s pursuing Truth and being passionate about People. It’s laying down crosses, it’s together changing lives – both ours and others’. Almost every day I go to work I prear up just thinking about Jesus’ love for me and how I’m:
- so undeserving of it
- so incapable of repaying it
- so humbled by it and Him
- so blessed, all to His grace
- reminded of situations He’s brought me from
- so in love with Him
- in complete trust of Him
- not really able to do anything on my own and joyfully because of that
- completely amazed
- still in aw
- worn out by it all, causing more prears from exhaustion, overwhelmingnessand unworthiness
- and through it all, filled with joy
And when I think of this, I realize I just love Jesus. I need to pursue academic issues like:
- Calvinism v. Armenianism
- Dispensationalism v. Covenant Theology
- Divine Foreknowledge
- Reformed Theology
- Charismatics tendencies v. emotionalism – how far is too far?
- Christian history and Christian Theology’s history
Yet I love Jesus more than answers. I count His sacrifice as my redemption and want to be crucified with Him not just to be resurrected with Him but because of all I listed above. I am changed by Jesus the Christ. I will continue to be changed by Him. That is my salvation working itself out and He is my first love.
The academic part is often simply remembering that.