Let me start off by telling you that I spend a lot of time reading books. I’m a full time student at Nebraska Christian College and I like to read books on the side. If you look in the messenger bag that I tote around everywhere you’re likely to find at least two or three books aside from my Bible that I’m reading concurrently. I just love to read. I’ve given up trying to count how many books I’ve bought in the last year so much so that I’ve never even attempted to count the number of books that I’ve read. Truth be told, I’ve always wanted a library of my own and one day maybe I’ll have a nice office or house to do that in.
Being a student, I’ve been forced to read some – not a lot – but some things that are irritating. I go to a Bible college near where I live and, for the most part, I try and do my best to soak it all in and learn as much as I can. I breezed through the first year without a whole lot of difficulties (at least academically) because it was mostly stuff I already knew or had picked up in my reading in the six or 7 months before I actually enrolled. But at my school there’s something I was told to expect sometime in my career at the college and it’s been affectionately titled my Hell Year. And this is where the fun really starts because this is where this whole thing was going.
This school year is my Hell Year. It’s been tough and it’s only gotten tougher as the months go on. This year has consisted of my theology course and Hebrew for both semesters and then the classes I’ve thrown in with it. I spend a lot of my time, probably 12-20 hours a week just reading and working on homework so I feel that my brain is going to swell and spill out my nose with all that I’m being required to absorb. The killer has been my theology class not just because it’s a class on Systematic Theology because Systematic Theology is interesting to me. However, in reading for the class I have run into a certain conflict and it’s been souring my thought processes these last couple of weeks.
Let me just preface this by saying that I don’t think I could be a theologian as a career. I don’t think I’ll ever write books or commentaries that will open people up to the scriptures in some new and exciting way. I’m just not wired that way. “But, Jeremiah, you’re such a smart young man!” you might say. That’s neither here nor there. So far, this semester I have been subjected to what seem to be two rivaling ideas in the realm of hermeneutics and its use constructing, supporting and creating large and expansive writings in the form of Systematic Theology. I know that sounds wonderful and exciting to you. I’m actually writing this to put myself to sleep.
For anyone who have studied hermeneutics then you’re familiar with the concept of studying the text within the realm or culture of ideas that it was created first. My OT professor described it as being etic but getting as close to emic as humanly possible, a desire that is essentially as possible as reaching zero by dividing a number by two. You’ll approach it but you’ll never completely reach it. That is, if you’re speaking of a text thousands of years removed from your own culture like the Torah. In that realm of thinking the text starts to unfold and make more sense in its own purpose and then you can begin to bridge all the gaps between then and now. What I’m learning in my class over the Pentateuch right now is basically an extension of what I learned in my hermeneutics class and it actually makes a lot more sense with some application. But I really dig that approach and it’s really been helpful to know some of the language as that helps in the process of becoming more emic. What does that have to do with my being a theologian? I’m glad you didn’t ask but probably made the logical next step while you read this ceaseless rambling.
My conflict arises when I read things from my theology textbook or things that are provided by my theology professor. I love my theology professor. He’s a genius in many respects and comes off as extremely staunch and conservative (of which he is the latter… very much) but he’s got a really warm personality once you get to know him. He goes to my church so he also has to look me in the face almost every Sunday. So, perhaps it’s easier to acquiesce to liking me than anything else. Whatever the case may be, he has provided us with a wonderful textbook (can wonderful be perjorative?) by Dr. Jack Cottrell of Cincinnati Christian University called The Faith Once For All. What I am told about this particular author is that he is the big voice of the “Restoration Movement” of which I’ve been absorbed into. Just as a sidenote, my professor was a student of Dr. Cottrell some years ago.
But what I’m starting to see a lot of – and I’m not entirely sure why I missed it before – is theologians including my professor and his mentor, the Apostle Jack, is doing some wonderful exposition on the text then taking some very odd leaps into applying their studies and writing to the current culture. A prime example would be an article that I was given to read as an assignment to be discussed in class. It began as what could be a simple explanation as to why Jesus, as a Jew and the Son of God, would not have a literal “tattoo” on his thigh as described in Revelation. Fine, I can accept that even though one could take the logical step of asking who would have the opportunity to get that close to the Messiah with a tattoo gun before he come back and exacts His perfect justice? But what I did not like was the next “logical” step I was asked to take in the verses in Leviticus that somehow apply to my life. According to what I was given, tattoos, piercings, long hair, colored hair and trimming my beard are all wrong because they are all somehow degrading to my image bearer of God.
And it’s not just that article. I don’t want you to think my theology professor is a nut or something just because of one article that he provided to me because really, I think he’s an OK guy and he hasn’t said anything to me personally about the things I have chosen to do to my body and, really, that’s not the point I’m trying to make. So, let’s move forward.
My problem is that I’m seeing this more and more in the theology that I’m reading. Either I’m entirely jaded and they are explaining how they got from point A to point B and I’m just glossing over it because I think I know it all or they’re making some serious jumps into pools of water they ought not be jumping into quite so hastily. Dr. Jack does this quite frequently at least that I’ve read so far in his section on Anthropology. It goes from a basic overview of what the Bible says which is what you’re supposed to do in Systematic Theology to a rant on Calvinism and their view on the sovereignty of God and how that affects people’s free will and it gets to the point where I really want to throw the book against the wall just out of sheer frustration. Is it so wrong to want to learn something without having to be fed someone else’s view on yet another party’s doctrinal views?
So, right now that is affecting my view on what I’m going to do once I’m done with my undergrad work. If I keep doing as well as I have been I probably have a good shot at getting into a decent seminary which would take me out of the God foresaken state of Nebraska. But do I really want to spend more time being frustrated or go into doing the things I’m actually good at. I’m an introvert by I have a lot of extroverted tendencies. I like people and I think they’re sinners like me which puts us on even ground no matter what inferiority complex I feel I may have. I like to keep to myself so I like to study a lot and I’m really into studying original language which, right now, is Hebrew. Next year it will be Greek. I just don’t see why people with such heart and so much intelligence feel the need to take stabs at people when they’re trying to teach. I guess I’m just a stickler for doing things the right way and the ways that make sense which is usually the right way and that’s why I’m feeling so affected by it. It’s the word of God we’re talking about, ultimately. Isn’t it?