Chapter Seven – I teach in seminary
I’ve now been a professor, teaching in English and then in Spanish, for 25 years.
The first seminary where I taught put us through a sort of Professor Boot Camp. Our academic dean stressed: “Your students will remember only a portion of the content you teach; they will always remember your attitudes and values.
That principle has been true as far as my memories: I can remember a few professors who came across as, well, self-satisfied, distant, or lethargic; I hope my impressions were mistaken.
Other professors seemed to be hard workers, careful students of the Word, loving individuals and encouraging.
Here are two men whom I hope to imitate:
Few people had more of an impact on evangelical scholarship since World War II than F. F. Bruce. He trained a generation of New Testament professors. His first book, New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (1943) is still in print and has helped countless believers to maintain their trust in God’s Word. Less known is the fact that he was a member of the Plymouth Brethren, a movement that emphasizes that everyone should study the Bible for him or herself and not depend on paid clergy or “experts.” A story has been circulating around Britain for years: in his congregation there was a man who had some Bible questions, and the man he was talking to said: “I can’t give you a very good answer, but Brother Fred seems to be a serious Bible student; why don’t you ask him?” Brother Fred was F. F. Bruce, one of the leading lights in international Bible study and an honored scholar – but in the end, another brother who was pleased to sit down and talk about God’s Word with a fellow believer.
Another example was my New Testament professor at the university. A friend of mine was attending a theology conference a few years ago, where the speaker was explaining a specific method of Bible interpretation. During question-and-answer, a slim man in the back stood up and said something like, “I’m not sure I understand what you meant by such-and-such.” He asked a polite question or two, said thank you, and sat down. Someone nudged my friend and said, “Do you know who that was? It was professor so-and-so!” They commented on his gracious and humble spirit.
Now, I’m a strict professor. But foremost, I hope and pray that I may be to my students what I want them to be to their sheep: loving, patient, attentive, a listener as well as a talker, teachable.
Chapter Eight – I write commentaries
From 2000-2012 I was in the middle of major writing projects. The first commentary to be published was 1-2 Thessalonians (Zondervan). The second is on 1 Corinthians; it is available from Logos Bible Software, but also as a free pdf file from this blog (1 Corinthians commentary, available from Logos!). It will also come out in Spanish.
I’ve learned a lot about the Bible; for example: the importance of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12-14); the punishment of unbelievers (2 Thess 1); why did Paul want women to wear a scarf on their heads in church (1 Cor 11); what is it that “restrains” the Man of Sin (2 Thess 2); and through digital searches in the Greek, I found information about a few words which I did not see in other books. I am working on an article about one of them, the specific meaning of “meddling” in 2 Thess 3:11. What pleases me the most is that I can still open up these three epistles and learn even more, as the Spirit continues to guide me.
I also learned a great deal about diligence when studying the Bible. When I turned in the first draft of one book, I waited one month, two months, and expected to hear: “Well, excellent, we’ll publish it as is.” But when the editor finally got in touch with me, it was to tell me: “Well…this doesn’t work for us. You have to work more to improve it, and I mean, much more.” People had read my manuscript and written in the margins: I do not understand. I don’t see it. What do you mean? What about this other interpretation? Your proof? And again and again. For 500 pages. I had to work for an additional year and a half.
I also learned a lot about the Holy Spirit. There are two popular models out there. First is the notion, Just open the Bible, no matter where, no matter if you are already in the pulpit, and the Spirit will show you the truth. If someone says, for example, that you neglected the context, the answer is Yes, but remember, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (a famous misuse of 2 Cor 3:6).
The other viewpoint is one I hear from people more in my theological camp; their perspective is not wrong, but it is badly incomplete: ‘Hermeneutics’ is the science of interpreting the Bible correctly, using the grammatical-historical method, taking into account the context in which the word of God was originally given. It provides the tools to be a good interpreter of Scripture. Period. One person told me about his seminary: “They have Bible interpretation down to a science.” All I could picture is the sausage grinder my mother used to use: put the Bible “meat” in one end, turn the crank, and Life-changing Scripture Teaching will come out at the other end. If someone talks about the importance of the Spirit and his role in interpretation, they of course agree, but immediately warn of the danger inherent in a “Pentecostal” tendency. “Oh, we should seek the Spirit’s help when it comes to application or when we go to preach the Word; but it’s dangerous to seek the Spirit’s help when it comes to the scientific steps of reading in context, doing word studies, looking at historical background – who knows what you’d come up with!”
I don’t believe in the first model, but increasingly, I have come to doubt the pure “scientific” model. The task of writing commentaries has taught me that the Spirit must be present during the entire experience: when I do exegesis in context, carry out detailed, technical word studies, seek contemporary application, walk in personal obedience, engage in proclamation and the formation of disciples. We cannot ask the Spirit to get on the bus at the fourth stop and get off at the sixth; He must go the whole distance with us.
That insight informs me every time I open the Bible. If I’m writing an exegesis of a passage, no matter how technical, I must seek the Spirit’s guidance. And when I’m having my own personal devotions, I must look at the context and take other steps of exegesis. Every Christian is called upon to love God through heart, mind, soul and strength, and that applies to Bible study. I try to impress that fact on my students, even the ones at the most advanced level.
May our Spirituality – our life in the Spirit – be learned, and our learning Spiritual.
Postcript – Writing out this journal has taught me that God delights to bless us through his Word, and that he is pleased to show us fresh blessings every year, every step of our walk. I would be grieved to think that my journey is over. I hope my readers find this is true of themselves as well.
“My Four Decades in the Bible, Part IV, Conclusion,” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica