One of the reasons I’m praying for the Bethlehem College and Seminary is because they are filled with passionate faculty! Please consider subscribing to their weekly prayer email so you can pray with them through the year. Affections for God are important, and should not be assumed. Here’s why:
I’m reading an old Journal of Biblical Literature article from 1970 on Mark 2 and the use of the term ‘son of man’ in the account of Jesus healing the paralytic.
It is very dry.
But that isn’t the problem because the subject is inherently interesting for me.
The problem is that the writer is completely lacking any affections for the scripture, God or Jesus. Or if he has some, those affections are so buried under his academic language I can’t find them! And that leads to a bigger problem.
The people who are writing articles for journals like these are the same people who serve as faculty in our colleges, universities and seminaries. They have stature and credibility, and are shaping the next generation of pastors and theologians. And when they don’t have affections for God and his word, they are training the following generations that such affections are optional. And I believe that is dangerous because God commands us to find joy in him.
I am NOT suggesting that biblical scholarship isn’t important. As Pastor John wrote in Brothers, Let Us Query the Text,
It must bother us that James and Paul don’t seem to jibe. Only when we are troubled and bothered do we think hard. And if we don’t think hard about how biblical affirmations fit together, we will never penetrate to their common root and discover the beauty of unified divine truth. The end result is that our Bible reading will become insipid, we will turn to fascinating “secondary literature,” our sermons will be the lame work of “second-handers,” and the people will go hungry.
In the same article, he also writes:
It is impossible to respect the Bible too highly, but it is very possible to respect it wrongly. If we do not ask seriously how differing texts fit together, then we are either superhuman (and glance all truth at a glance) or indifferent (and don’t care about seeing more truth). But I don’t see how anyone who is indifferent or superhuman can have a proper respect for the Bible. Therefore reverence for God’s Word demands that we ask questions and pose problems and that we believe there are answers and solutions which will reward our labor with “treasures new and old” (Matt. 13:52).
The key difference I see between the dry article and Pastor John’s teaching is that the kind of scholarship Pastor John is advocating points toward something or someone who is trustworthy in and of itself. There are important words embedded in the above statements, such as beauty and reverence. These are not neutral words and point to a perspective that has our affections rightly oriented toward enjoyment found in God and his word.
Which makes me very glad that God has gifted Pastor John with both insight AND affections for God’s word.
Now, back to the title of this post: pray for our colleges and seminaries. The problems that the Episcopalians and Lutherans and other denominations are having over sinful behaviors did not start recently. Those discussion started in the colleges and seminaries decades ago, where dry scholarship and the appearance of wisdom are much more highly valued than developing affections for God and his word. Over time it results in terrible things outside of colleges and seminaries, like the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice website, which has ‘sermons’ that condone abortion, a practice we know results in babies with disabilities being slaughtered.
I will grant that in some ways, those affections do get in the way of some scholarship. One is more prone to doubt that the words in the bible actually mean what they say if one isn’t interested in a relationship with the author of those words. And one is less likely to ‘discover’ things in the scriptures if the desire is understanding better the old things, like an infinite God. Unfortunately, professors are under pressure to come up with new discoveries to maintain their positions and stature, and then write about them for journals and presentations at seminars.
But isn’t the point to know this God? And when we know him, we see how glorious he is! That isn’t something we should be neutral about.
So, let us pray. For those colleges and universities that have long since abandoned being tethered to the bible, let us pray for those faithful faculty who labor on, often not granted the same respect or benefits like tenure. For those colleges that are on the precipice, close to making that one degree ‘correction’ in their thinking that will, in five or ten or 50 years, result in all connections to their original missions being gone, that they will decide rightly and maintain their anchoring in the faith.
And let us particularly pray for the new ventures, like the Bethlehem College and Seminary, which is presenting a new God-centered vision for higher education. In fact, they have started a weekly prayer email, which you can subscribe to here and which I recommend very highly.
Scholarship for a seminary is not optional. But neither are affections for God and his word!
Psalm 95 makes it clear: this God, our maker who holds all his creation in his hand (including people with disabilities), is worthy of joyful noises! If that’s the case, shouldn’t even academic articles show some signs of this joy?
Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”