Tuesday, August 30, 2011

what good is the old testament?

I'm reading a great book, and just came across a paragraph that captures so well the value of the Old Testament.  Christopher Wright, in his Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, says this:

"When the human race chose to rebel against God and fell into disobedience, arrogance, strife and violence, God's response was not simply to rescue individuals for some disembodied existence at a safe distance from the doomed planet.  Rather, God chose to call into existence a community on earth and in history that would be different, and through whom he would eventually bring the blessing of redemption to humanity as a whole.  Even in its origins in the book of Genesis, this community was given an ethical agenda.  In a world going the way of Sodom they were to walk in the way of the LORD, by doing righteousness and justice.  The way of the LORD was made clear to them through his great acts in their history - especially the exodus.  This community was further shaped by the law God gave them at Sinai, and by the other great traditions of their faith - prophets, wisdom writers, psalmists, historians and so on.  The purpose of all this was not merely for Israel's sake alone, or merely to keep God happy.  Rather, Israel as a society was intended from the start to to be a paradigm or model to the nations, a showcase of the way God longs for human society as a whole to operate.  We are not only justified, therefore; we are indeed expected to make use of the social patterns, structures and laws of Old Testament Israel to help us in our thinking and choosing in the realm of social ethics in our own world." (73-74)

Christopher Wright is one of the few scholars who have focused on the ethical value of the Old Testament for us today.  His work is a joy to read!  He emphasizes again and again that Israel's election was not proof that they were better than anybody else, but that they were meant to be a model for the nations of the character of Yahweh, the God who called them.  The nations were supposed to be able to look at Israel to find out what Yahweh was like.  Israel's history is littered with failures, but one Jewish man who carried out this mission flawlessly is still alive today.  (You can read about him in the New Testament.) I look forward to spending the next three years of my life digging into these truths!

Friday, August 26, 2011

What does a PhD have to do with real life?

A wise mentor challenged me before our move to Wheaton.  He told me not to get trapped in the ivory tower of academia wrestling with questions that only matter to other scholars.  He urged me to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground, seeing to answer the qeustions that people on the street are asking.  Good advice.

As we traveled this summer and spent time with family and friends, I was struck by how many times the conversation turned to the Bible and theology.  Now that I've identified myself as a Bible scholar people take the opportunity to ask questions that have been bugging them.  These questions do not necessarily relate to my dissertation topic (though sometimes they do!).  People want to know ...
  • How can I square Genesis 1-2 with science?
  • Why does God tell the Jews to slaughter the Canaanites?
  • How can I accept the Bible when it teaches against homosexuality?
  • Does it matter whether Adam and Eve really existed?
  • Does God still heal today?
  • How can I discern God's will for me?
I'm convinced that the Bible is enormously relevant to the real-life questions people are asking today.  The death of a child, a diagnosis of cancer, strained relationships, unemployment ... these don't just happen to other people.  They happen to Christians.  And when they do we are pushed back to the Bible to find answers.  It's a privilege to be able to devote so much of my time to understanding God and His Word, and to watch God at work in the intersections of our lives.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

I spy ... Jesus?

The other day I was window shopping in Glen Ellyn with Emma and Easton.  It was after hours, and we had ridden the train there to eat a treat at Two Toots Train Restaurant.  Emma (almost 6) peered through the window into a darkened store and announced, "I think this is a Christian store!"

"Really?" I asked her, surprised.  "What makes you think that?"
"Because I saw a sign that said 'Jesus'."
My curiosity was piqued, and we both shaded our eyes and looked inside.
They were having a 50% off sale on Jeans.
"Emma, it says 'Jeans' not 'Jesus.'"
"Oh, right.  Well ... they're similar!  Jesus could wear blue jeans!"

Friday, August 19, 2011

onward and upward!

The German exam is happily behind me.  It was not nearly as painful as it could have been.  I won't find out until next week how I scored. 

Meanwhile, Multnomah University, my alma mater, has just published my story on their blog.  You can read it here.  I was honored to be asked to write for their "Alumni Connection," and I hope that our journey will encourage many other alumni to step out in faith in response to God's call.  God is full of surprises, and He loves to do the impossible!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

trial by fire

I'll be officially welcomed to the Wheaton community tomorrow morning at 9:00 ... by a Theological German exam.  After that we'll be oriented to the library.  Granted, knowing German is a prerequisite for enrollment.  Still, I can't help feeling that it's an intimidating way to say, "Welcome to Wheaton!"

If you think of it, prayers are appreciated!  I've been spending about 3 hours a day on this language with its convoluted sentences often 5 lines long. It's coming along, but there's no way to tell for sure how I'll do until tomorrow.  Last year, 3 of the 4 brilliant new recruits failed it.  There is at least some comfort in that: if I fail I'll be in good company!

Monday, August 15, 2011

back-to-school tips for students: 2 do's and 2 don'ts

You didn't ask my advice, but you did check my blog, so if you're a student here are some tips to make this year a success!

-Don't go into class worried about what you don't know.  If they let you enroll, then you are in good company. Accept yourself where you are, and don't be afraid to ask questions.  The professors want to impart knowledge, but they can't as long as your goal is to show them what you already know (or keep them from finding out what you don't know!).  Take the opportunity to learn all you can. Ask questions in class … lots of them.  If you need clarification on something, chances are someone else does, too.  While making too many comments in class can become annoying to others, usually questions are appreciated.  Again, the goal is to learn … not to show how much you already know!

-Don't be limited by the syllabus.  Your teacher is not responsible to fill your head with all you need to know on a particular subject.  It's your job to pull it in.  Rather than shooting for the minimum, do whatever it takes to learn what you need to know.  Don't be afraid to ask the professor if you can customize the syllabus to fit your interests.  Every school has their own "mood" about these kind of appeals.  Some are not friendly towards proposed changes.  Others are warmly welcoming.  At Gordon-Conwell I was able to choose particular research topics that fit my interests in 13 of the 20 courses.  I had 6 courses waived so that I could choose more advanced courses, and in 8 of the 20 that I took I requested a change in the syllabus.  Three of the 20 were transferred from other institutions.  That only leaves 3 courses that I did not customize in some way!

-Do choose classes and paper topics that interest you and will contribute to future study projects or ministry opportunities.  I remember choosing to write a paper on miscarriages when I was first married.  My mom had had two, and I knew that even if I didn't experience miscarriage it would be helpful in ministry to others.  Not only did I end up needing what I learned for my own journey through miscarriage, but I have used it countless times with others.  On the academic side of things, choosing a topic that relates to a research interest can create a sense of momentum between classes.  As it turned out, my thesis, writing sample, exegesis paper, and dissertation topics were all interconnected, which has given me a great head start on my doctoral research.

-Do plan ahead.  Procrastination is the enemy of quality academic work. If you're writing your paper up until the very last minute, then there is no room left to edit your work.  I find that if I can finish a paper a week ahead of time and then revisit it a few days before it's due, I see problem spots that I missed the first time through.  Sit where you are less likely to be distracted in the library (or wherever you study).  Close email and Facebook so that you can focus.  Block off regular times to keep chipping away at your assignments long before they are due.  When I have a lot of reading to do, I count the number of days in the semester that I will likely be able to read and then divide the number of pages by the number of days to give myself a target.  Perhaps you work well under pressure, and so you are tempted to wait until later when the pressure is building.  My advice is to create your own pressure by making self-imposed deadlines earlier in the semester.  With my reading schedule, the pressure starts building as soon as I'm more than a day behind because I know it will be tricky to find time to make it up later!

Now I'm going to follow my own advice and get back to studying, but just in case you're worried about my German exam this Friday, you might like to know that I wrote this post in June and saved it until now.

Have a great semester! 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

a dream coming true

The stress of relocating as a family of 5, followed by 27 days of living out of suitcases, is gradually subsiding.  Each day we're a little bit closer to being settled in our new home.  The picture of what life will be like here is coming into focus.  Best of all, the joy is trickling back into my soul.

It was hiding out for a while, behind towers of boxes and mounds of laundry, under piles of toys and stacks of paper.  In its absence was something like resolve, with twinges of anxiety.  Grit is a poor substitute for passion, though.  One of the German proverbs I was asked to translate this summer read something like this: "One who wants to can do more than ten who have to."  So true.
I'm happy to report that my "want to" is back, along with the joy that fuels it.  I've met twice now with Dr. Block, and I have to agree with one of his former students who told me that he is the world's best supervisor.  He has put me at ease and put me to work all at once, and that takes a special gift!

This journey will not be easy, but God has moved mountains to bring us here, and I'm excited to see what He has in store for this season of our lives.

Friday, August 12, 2011

looking for treasure?

Look no further.  Here's a gem I came across today in the new NIV (2011):

He will be the sure foundation for your times,
a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.
Isaiah 33:6

There are riches in store for us:  Wisdom we need desperately.  Knowledge we crave.  Salvation we cannot do without.  A firm foundation when life threatens to sweep us off of our feet. How do we access these treasures?  By fearing the LORD.  We're being issued an invitation to know Him, trust Him, and bring all of our cares to Him. That is the key to the treasures He is waiting to give us.

Read it again. 
This one's a keeper.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

planning (way!!) ahead

This is not a joke.

Emma (almost 6) is already packing for college.  She picked out some nice looking shoe boxes that she found in the mess of moving boxes and asked if she could please have them.  When I asked what she needed them for, she told me quite seriously that they were just the thing she had been looking for so she could pack for college.  I don't believe she's in a hurry to get there, but when the time comes she'd like to have all her special things along.

She can also see into my future, apparently.  While sitting through her great grandma Dorothy's funeral service I caught her gazing at me.  "You're gonna be a grandma some day,"  she whispered.  "Yes, I hope so, when you grow up and have children, " I replied.  Then there was a long (should I say pregnant?) pause, while she gazed at me some more, and fingered my hair.  "'Cause I see all that white hair streaming down."

I just hope that she goes to college before I'm a grandma.

Monday, August 1, 2011

full circle

Background info:  In college I had some incredibly talented classmates.  Some of these guys were light-years beyond me in academia (you know who you are).  After my college graduation in 1999 I wanted to go on for further study of the Bible.  I could not, however, readily identify a PhD program (or even an MA program) that seemed like a good fit.  I decided to wait until some of my talented friends had become professors so I could study under them.  So while I had babies and moved overseas as a missionary and back, these guys went on to earn their MA's and PhD's at impressive schools like the University of Wisconsin, Duke, Notre Dame, Emory, and Oxford.  One of them landed a job teaching at Harvard Divinity School (I told you they were smart!). Meanwhile, Wheaton started my dream PhD program with a focus in Biblical Theology and it was a no-brainer to apply. 

Ironic moment:  So here I am in my study carrel in the Wheaton library, diving into my coursework for my very first PhD seminar.  I'm required to read a book called Interpreting Isaiah: Issues and ApproachesIt's a book full of essays by a variety of scholars, including Richard Schultz, the professor of our course.  Imagine my surprise to see that one of the chapters is written by Jake Stromberg, a former classmate!  Jake has made use of his time since college by earning an MA at UW, a PhD from Oxford, teaching at Duke, Oxford, and UNC, and publishing two books on Isaiah, including his dissertation.  So while things didn't quite work out the way I had imagined (that is, I'm not taking classes from one of my college friends), I'm still benefitting from their work.  How cool is that?!