Time for part two of this short blog series, which will be my reflections on my year and half at Regent College.
The easy part is how affirming my grades have been in particular areas; my highest grades were in pastoral theology and biblical studies. Not that you can judge everything by grades, but it has been a positive experience to find that areas to which I have natural leanings towards, such as pastoral care, are backed up by my grades. But natural leanings without solid foundations can cause harm even if intentions are good, so I am both relieved and pleased that I have done well in biblical studies too.
It is a requirement at the college that we learn at least the basics of how to operate in biblical languages before taking further courses in biblical studies. When I first learned of this I was a tad frustrated as it meant I had to spend time taking courses in languages when I would rather be studying other things. Looking back now I have learned my lesson and realize that being able to study the Bible in its original form opens up new avenues for study. No one I know would say that you have to be able to operate in Hebrew or Greek in order to understand the Bible, but it does shed new light on the inevitable shifts that come in translating an ancient language into modern language and it has helped me learn new skills and tools that will hopefully enable me to handle the word of God more competently than I could before.
Not that I for one minute think that I have mastered anything. One of professors was very clear with us about this when he explained how when he graduated and started his new job as a structural engineer his manager told him that having a degree in engineering did not make him an engineer, it simply meant that he could avoid some basic mistakes and was therefore a little less dangerous. The same is very much true of us as graduate students; we are not expert exegetes but we have some skills that should keep us from making some mistakes.
I was recently playing Lego Star Wars with my nephew. I helped him complete one of the levels and when we did we were offered a couple of upgrades that made his character a stronger Jedi but there were still many other upgrades that his character needed before he was complete. And this is pretty much how I feel about myself as I prepare to return to work (and I am using the game as an example here, rather than suggesting I have improved my skills with a light saber), my time away studying has given me some new skills that I look forward to sharing with others but I am by no means complete (to be honest I do not think that completeness is even possible this side of Christ's return) and still very much have to learn how to wield what I have learned. Similar to how good intentions without solid foundations can cause harm, knowledge without Christ-like character can also be very harmful.
It is also important to clarify at this point that when I talk about skills that this is not merely an intellectual pursuit. This post is already to long to go into this in detail, so to put it briefly I want to be able to handle the Bible as best I can in order to do this and "To prepare God's people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up" (see picture below).
Due to my struggles with illness I was unable to complete my Masters in Christian Studies whilst at Regent College, so I will be finishing up via distance education across the next few years. But for now I am happy to be having a breather from full time graduate education; a couple of months ago the mere thought of reading another textbook was enough to make my brain freeze, but thankfully this has lessened over the last couple of months of traveling.
One final reflection I want to make is in relation to my generation of Christians and our understanding of the Christian story (and by story I mean the biblical narrative and the 2000 odd years since then), and that is that I think we are in real danger of repeating the mistakes of the past because of the ignorance and pride with which we approach the story of the church. We do not bother to study our past as we do not think it is relevant. We do not think learning about the story of the church is relevant because we mistake the passing of time for progress; we think that because we are the most recent generation we have progressed on from what has gone before and have an ill-founded (possibly even unfounded) confidence that we have kept all that is good and lost all that is bad. Why we think this I am not sure, as we have no idea what happened in the past so are in no position to judge whether what we have left behind is good or bad. As a result we are at real risk of repeating mistakes of the past, be they heresies or actions. I am not sure how we begin to help Christians reacquaint themselves with the story of the church (which by its very name and nature is therefore the story of all Christians) but we need to.