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Gone School'n

By Tim Butler | Posted at 0:31

I'll actually put a real post on within a day or two. Right now, I'm just trying to get through the first week of assignments for school. It is off to a really fast start this semester. I've already read, among other things, an entire novella from Herman Melville. As one professor of mine, other than the one that assigned it, says, “I'm unsure of this thing they refer to as 'American Literature.'”

See you soon.

The Road Ahead

By | Posted at 13:47

I've been trying to figure out where I am headed, in a number of ways, for some time. In different ways, I've tried to make some strides in two particular cases over the past week. I'll deal with one way now, and one in a future post, I hope.

For the past four or five years, I've realized my calling is in academia. I'm a theologian at heart and in the present time, academia would appear to be the best place to go to work on such a pursuit. Instead of the more practical pastoral ministry, this is a ministry, but one for the mind more than the heart. That is to say, my “patron saint” would be Thomas Aquinas and not Francis of Assi; John Calvin rather than John Wesley; C.S. Lewis rather than Rick Warren. The need for both is strong; these are a complementary pursuits. Knowledge does not save, but it does provide a stable foundation for faith — it is the well tilled soil in which carefully planted seeds can thrive.

I am aware that I am squarely aiming myself for a field that is “highly competitive,” which means I must be as well qualified as possible if I hope to actually crack the nut and get in. With that in mind, I'm considering exactly what kind of training I need to take aim for. Some have advised me to make my next goal a MA in Religious Studies, presumably continuing to a Ph.D. in the same. This would be useful, but is rather limited: should I ever wish to do anything in the other realms of ministry, I'd be totally unqualified by many standards (be they legitimate or not). Moreover, while I readily admit and appreciate the usefulness of anthropology, sociology and other disciplines which inform the Religious Studies field, they are not the part of the Critical Study of Religion that I have the biggest affinity with. I'd rather focus on Christian theology and philosophy and supplement that so as to make myself able to teach World Religions and other similar courses.

It seems to make the most sense to take aim for some kind of seminary degree. Ultimately, I am mostly convinced to aim for a Ph.D. track (be it directly from a school that would start me off working in that direction immediately or working through a masters and then finding a place to continue later), but along the way I must decide whether to go with a MA in Theology or a M.Div. For my purposes, the former is mostly what I need, and would allow me to reduce the amount of time I have left to reach my goal in about six to seven years rather than seven to eight. But, again, it leaves something lacking in ordination qualifications, which I think might be a mistake. Therefore, I am mostly leaning toward an M.Div. Although I do not see myself in a pulpit ministry, I do want to pursue ordination eventually.

That is not the end of the discussion, of course. My big decision is whether I should aim for the local PCA seminary, which is small and I've been looking at for some time (Covenant), or perhaps I should instead aim for a PC (USA) seminary back East. Some of those who advise me seem to think (I suspect correctly) that the well established PC (USA) seminaries may be more oriented to the scholarly, rather than practical, and therefore better suited for an academic career. This, of course, could be crucial to actually making it into a good position down the road.

Right now, the two seminaries I'm looking most closely at are Covenant and Princeton, but I'm still doing a fairly cursory consideration. Some others that I'm planning to examine more closely are Fuller and Union. I've briefly considered Concordia, which is also in town, but I think I've ruled that out, along with Trinity. The main criteria that will end up deciding what happens are class sizes, academic job placement success rates and scholarliness. Cheaper would be nice too, but none of them are going to be cheap. I would like to stay here in St. Louis, or nearby, but I don't want to shoot myself in the foot either. I'm most likely aiming to stay within the Reformed tradition as opposed to the more Evangelical seminaries.

Any recommendations, would, of course, be appreciated.

New Semester Overview

By | Posted at 21:43

Well, last week (the week of August 22) marked the beginning of the school semester for Lindenwood. This semester, I'm taking some interesting courses, which I thought I'd put some initial thoughts about here.

  • Victorian Lit — Probably of the classes I signed up for, this was the one I was least looking forward to. That doesn't mean I'm not looking forward to it at all, but this period just doesn't usually get me that excited. I'm a classical kinda guy. ;)
  • Modern Drama — Contrary to what my pastor though, who got all excited, this is not a course wherein I will be trying my hand at acting. It is actually simply a lit class on modern dramatical works. To provide perspective, I guess in case some in the class weren't familiar with classical drama, we took an immediate detour to Oedipus Rex (I like Oedipus, although I was disappointed we didn't do something from Aeschylus instead of Sophocles).
  • Economics and the Environment — This course does absolutely nothing for me, so I'm doing it as my sixth class (for a total of 18 credit hours). I'm taking the class because the professor is a friend, he invited me to take it and I find economics thoroughly interesting. We're going to be looking at how to apply economic principles to regulation of the environment, a really important topic. This also reaches into topical areas such as oil prices. As the class is small (11 students) and mostly by invitation, it is going to be a seminar style setting.
  • Old Testament — This course applies the historical/critical method to the Old Testament. So far, application of the Wellhausen (JEDP) Documentary Hypothesis has raised the ire of Christian Ministries Studies students taking the class, but that — admittedly — makes the class even more interesting, since debates always help tease out details. We'll be reading most, but not all the Old Testament in the process.
  • New Testament Greek II — This course is interesting because I am the only student in it. The rest of the students from Greek I decided not to pursue the work any further. Because of this, we are not meeting at LU; instead we are meeting at my instructor's old place of work, Covenant Theological Seminary. CTS has kindly granted the use of one of their rooms, since my instructor is an alum as well as a former employee.
  • Modern Moral Theory — This course is an independent study I added so that I could take the econ class without falling behind schedule. The professor designed the syllabus for my interests. We're going to look at utilitarian, Kantian, Aristotelean/Thomist and Protestant ethical theories. So far, I'm digging into the ever controversial utilitarian Peter Singer, of Princeton University; if you have not actually read his work, you ought to. I don't agree with it, but behind his inflaming opinions, he is essentially only applying the logical conclusions of a secularist world view.

At the urging of a friend, I almost opted to try Chinese, but as interesting as it sounded, I decided “for fun,” economics was a better choice.

Dead Tired

By | Posted at 22:22

Well, I think I just spent more time reading Genesis in one sitting than I ever have before. For this semester's Old Testament class, I had to read the vast majority of the book by Tuesday. I decided to get it done tonight, and plowed all the way from “In the beginning” to “and he was put in a coffin in Egypt.” My professor, mercifully, skipped some of the side plots, but kept the vast majority of the text. I then read the corresponding chapter in the textbook that overviews what I had just read with scholarly commentary as well.

He admits that there is too much reading in this class (which is only REL 210, but has a far more in-depth reading schedule than the normal 300 level REL class), but that he cannot figure out what to possibly leave out (it looks like Numbers gets pared down substantially, thankfully — I wouldn't want to reread it in its entirety for a second time in a year :shock:).

I am exhausted.

Another One Bites the Dust

By | Posted at 10:31

Yesterday, I had my last final of the semester. I think all of my finals, save one, went quite well, and the one that didn't go quite as well shouldn't be too much a of a problem, because I had built up plenty of cushion from other things I had turned in during the semester.

The final I was really worried about, (Koine) Greek I, turned out great — I managed to get 95.5 on the final, giving me a margin of 3.5 above the threshold for an “A” (a 92 in that class). Now the main task will be holding on to what I've learned until the fall, when I will be taking Greek II. I've already let my Greek abilities lapse once, I do not intend to do so again. I'm not sure I'll follow through, but the adjunct instructor for the course suggested that we should try learning Latin vocabulary over the summer, since the basic structure of Latin is similar in many ways to Greek; I may just do that (as if I don't have enough to do!).

The end of the semester is always a mixed event for me. I'm glad it is over so that I don't have to be rushing around trying to balance everything anymore; for the next three months, I only have to worry about my business (other than any hobbies I might want to pick back up). I'm also glad it is over in that I dislike the last few weeks of a school year, it just seems to melancholy as things wrap up. On the other hand, there are a few people I really hated saying goodbye to for the summer — particularly one professor, my religion professor whom I've mentioned before, and one fellow student I spent a lot of time talking to over the academic year. I've never been good at goodbyes. I remind myself of an old Garrison Keillor skit from the Prairie Home Companion; I was going to try to explain it, but I don't think I can do it adequately. I should see if I can find it on his web site.

I'll post my semi-annual look back at my predictions for the classes sometime soon.

Project of the Day

By | Posted at 19:49

I'm working on a paper refuting Heather Meacock's An Anthropological Approach To Theology: A Study of John Hick's Theology of Religious Pluralism, towards ethical criteria for a Global Theology of Religions (yes, that really is the title). Meacock doesn't say anything terribly useful beyond what John Hick himself has said already, so I could basically say I'm simply refuting Hickian Religious Pluralism.

At any rate, I'm trying to demonstrate how Hickian Religious Pluralism defeats itself through its own arguments. If all goes well, I'll have the paper finished up in the next few days, after which it may appear here as a multi-part series, for anyone interested. The paper defends Exclusivism and Inclusivism (arguing for a particular one of those two camps is beyond its scope) and shows why those two schools of thought are inherently more stable than Pluralism, despite Hick's claim of the opposite.

I'm having fun! :D I've been reading bits of this book for a month or two now, and today was the first day I actually put any response down on paper (well, on the magnetic platter of my hard disk, actually). So far, I have about eight double spaced pages of analysis; it will likely enlarge to ten to twelve by the time I finish.

Back To Busy-ness

By | Posted at 17:25

I have a mixed accuracy record.

Brit Lit I - I was a bit skeptical about this course, but overall pleased with it. It turned out to be a very good course rather than just an OK one. I liked it a lot. The professor turned out to be excellent and, in fact, is the one teaching Shakespeare this semester. (Better than predicted.)

Philosophy of Religion - This class was absolutely excellent. If you saw the Questions of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud TV special, you saw the material we covered in an abridged form. It ended up often taking the form of debates, just like the panel on PBS, only the debates were much better informed in the class than on TV. (Same as predicted.)

Modern Poetry - This class was disappointing. It was taught by an excellent professor, but the material was not logically ordered and things just didn't seem to flow as much as I would have hoped. (Below prediction.)

World Lit II - This class ended up taking on a lot of the elements of a religion class and was the second best class of the semester. Fascinating, engaging, etc. The material reminded me of why I'm there trying to get a lit-focused degree. (Better than predicted.)

Rennessiance Lit - This class was good, although there was simply too much material to cover and the amount covered in one period was sometimes a bit overwhelming — it would be better in a fifty minute format than a 75 minute one. As a whole, though, it was interesting and I had the opportunity to devote a paper to literary influence in Puritanism. (Same as predicted.)

Answering with Class

By | Posted at 18:47

Classy Business

By | Posted at 18:21

The Other Thing that Is Keeping Me Busy

By | Posted at 19:24

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