Blog Archives

Lunch with Greg Beale!

Earlier today, the Th.M. students at Western Seminary had the chance to eat lunch with Dr. Greg Beale from Westminster Seminary. And, we had a fabulous time talking about Peter Enns‘ book Inspiration and Incarnation and how the discussion around that book developed at both Wheaton and Westminster (yes, the very first question anyone asked was what Beale thought about that whole situation), inerrancy and how you interpret Genesis 1-2, New Testament theology, the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, and interesting/exciting areas of study for new biblical studies scholars. All that in just over an hour. It was fascinating.

Why am I telling you this? Mostly because every now and then I like to rub in how great our Th.M. program is by pointing out the cool things that we do. I realize that this may frustrate those of you who are not a part of this amazing program. And, I’m okay with that.

If any of the Th.M. students who were at the lunch happen to see this post, I’d be curious to know what you found most interesting in the conversation. So, let us know what you thought.

The Power and Pain of Hitting “Delete”

Delete.

I’m starting to hate that word. Today marks the beginning of editing my way through my Gospel book to get a couple of chapters ready to shop around (more on that later). Since I’ve been over the early chapters a few times already, I thought they’d be pretty set by now.

I was wrong.

.

.
.
Instead, I’m making far more changes this time around than ever before. And I’m okay with that. They are good changes and I think they’re making the writing clearer and more focused. That’s not the problem.
.
The problem is that I’m finding that I need to get rid of stuff I really like. As I’m discovering, that’s one of the keys of editing. It doesn’t always matter whether something is good. Every section exists to serve the whole. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.
.
For example, here’s a paragraph that I  used at the beginning of one chapter.
Like many kids, I used to assemble models—airplanes, cars, boats, etc. At least, that’s what I was supposed to be doing. I wasn’t very good at it. The kits came with complete instructions, but I didn’t have the patience to read them very carefully. Instead, I’d look at the box to get a general idea of how the finished product should look, and then I’d start working—this piece probably goes here; that one sort of fits over there; just push a little harder; some extra glue will help; probably didn’t need that piece anyway; I can cover that with some paint. You can imagine how my models generally turned out. Several frustrating hours later, I’d have something that looked like it belonged in a post-apocalyptic horror movie—a bad one.
I like that paragraph. I like the image of a small child hunched over a basement table trying desperately to jam mismatched model pieces together. I like the rhythm of the various clauses. And, I like how it led into a section on the ways we mess things up when we act without knowing the plan (i.e. the Gospel).
.
Unfortunately, that isn’t really what the chapter is about. Close, but not quite. Consequently, it introduces a thought that isn’t developed anywhere in the chapter. As much as I like it, then, it needs to go. I may be able to use it somewhere else, though I need to be careful about forcing it in just because I like it. For now, it needs to go.
.
Good writing in the wrong place is bad writing.
.

And, of course, this is true for any kind of writing. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a high school book report, a seminary research paper, or a book on the Gospel. Every piece exists to serve the whole. If it doesn’t, then it actually weakens the whole. Get rid of it. Even if you worked really hard on it, you have all kinds of research to support it, and you think it’s the best thing you’ve ever written. Be ruthless. If doesn’t fit, get rid of it. Your paper (and your readers) will appreciate it.

Hit delete. It hurts. But, it’s a good hurt.

[By the way, I don’t actually delete sections like this. I copy them into another document for future possible use. But writing a post on “The Power and Pain of Copying and Pasting Text into Another Document for Later Use” just didn’t have the same ring.]

Is it time to run ads?

No, I’m not “selling out” to “the man.” (Actually, I suppose that since I have a good job and live in the suburbs with my family of four, I’ve probably already sold out to the man. But, that’s a question for another post.) But, I do have a good reason for thinking that it might be worth running ads on the blog. More on that in a second.

You’ve all seen what it looks like – the sidebar with several small ads. (I wouldn’t go with the three-column visual monstrosity you see on some sites.) And, the ads would all be related (hopefully) to Christian life and ministry. So, I’m not thinking about using some generic ad service that would push ads that have nothing to do with what the blog is all about.

Now, I realize that these ads don’t bring in very much money. So, you might be wondering, “If we’re not talking about very much money, and if the ads take up space on the blog, why bother?” Good question. (Of course it is or you wouldn’t be wondering about it.)

Th.M. scholarships.

It wouldn’t take much advertising revenue every month to subsidize a small scholarship for the Th.M. program. We have a few Th.M. scholarships and I’ll be posting an announcement soon about a very generous scholarship for Th.M. students headed toward teaching. What I would love to have is even a small Th.M. scholarship dedicated toward students focusing in pastoral theology and preparing for local church ministry. (A big scholarship would be better, but I’m willing to take baby steps.)

So, here are my questions for today. Would it bother you if we included ads on the blog? Or, if any of you have some experience with this, Is running ads on a blog worth it? I don’t really know the logistics of blogvertising (I don’t know if that’s a word, but I like it). So, I’ll take any input I can get.

[This is part of a series reflecting on the future of the blog. Earlier questions were Is It Time for a New Name? and Is It Time for a New Look?]

Time to spend some quality time with Jonathan Edwards – any suggestions?

Every year I get to lead a Th.M. seminar focusing on key figures in historical theology. This year, it’s Jonathan Edwards. (So far I’ve done seminars on Augustine, Luther, and the Greek Fathers. I love my job.)

So, as I get ready for the seminar this summer, it’s time for me to brush off old favorites and explore new resources. I’m just about to dig into Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word by Douglas A. Sweeney and The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics by Kelly Kapic and Randall Gleason, which I’m thinking about using as a resource for orienting students to the broader Puritan context of Edwards’ theology. In the next few days, I’ll also be reading through Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life again, since that will be the key biography for the course.

I have several other books on my reading list and I’m looking forward to digging more deeply into Edwards than I have in the past. But, I’m also open to suggestions. So, I have two questions. What are your favorite books about Edwards? And, what are your favorite works written by Edwards?

For extra credit, if there are any journal articles or book chapters that you think do a particularly fine job of addressing some aspect of Edwards’ life and/or theology, please feel free to pass those along as well.

Tips for the ThM (roundup)

Here are all of the “Tips for the Th.M.” that I’ve posted so far. If anyone has suggestions for further posts, please let me know.

Deconstruction and Hermeneutics: Placing Jacques Derrida and Hans-Georg Gadamer in Non-Dialog (Paper)

The PDF document that I am providing for download is a copy of the paper I wrote for the Th.M. class where we explored the relationship between philosophy and (Christian) theology. I should note that it was a better writing experience than it is a paper. I decided to take on the overwhelming tasks of juxtaposing Hans-Georg Gadamer and his philosophical hermeneutics with Jacques Derrida and “deconstruction”.

What will make this paper frustrated for the reader is that I go back and forth between writing for a novice and writing for someone familiar with the subject. In part, this is likely because I wrote as a novice trying to become more familiar with the subject so there was an evolution in my own thinking over the course of working on this project. Also, as anyone who has studied Gadamer and/or Derrida could have told me, if the paper is going to be around five thousand words just focus on one person. There is no way to give either philosopher sufficient attention at twenty five hundred words a piece.

So now that I have told you why not to read it let me tell you why you may want to read it: the subject is interesting. Gadamer and Derrida met in person in 1981 to discuss this very relationship. Many people are still baffled at the results. I will leave it you to decide on one thing: does reading this paper make you want to know more about either Gadamer or Derrida? If so, I count it a success.

Download here: LePort. Deconstruction and Hermeneutics

 

Need More Foucault?

Fellow Th.M. students who were in the philosophy class today: I didn’t provide hand out notes but if you want to engage the subject more, or you would just like a printed version of the discussion guide, you can find it on my blog:

Foucault: The Power of Educational Institutions.

Upcoming seminars in pastoral theology (John Coe, Will Willimon, and D. A. Carson)

If you’re in our Th.M. program, you know (I hope) that we have five areas of specialization: systematic theology, historical theology, pastoral theology, New Testament, and Old Testament (though quite a few of you are actually blending a couple of these into more customized specializations).  And correspondingly, we offer a Th.M. seminar in each of those areas  every year. The pastoral theology seminar, however, is unique in that we offer that class in partnership with Western Seminary‘s D.Min. program. Typically, we focus on identifying classes that have a good balance of academic research (making it a good Th.M. class) and practical application (making it a good D.min. class) so that it serves both programs well.

Though we have not worked out all of the details yet, here are the upcoming pastoral theology seminars that we will be offering. I’ll pass along more information as soon as I have it.

  • 2010/2011 – Jon Coe on “Spiritual Theology and Pastoral Transformation” (June 13-16, 2011)
  • 2011/2012 – Will Willimon on Christian Leadership (Jan 16-19, 2012)
  • 2012/2013 – D. A. Carson will be teaching a class that combines homiletics and exegesis as the class works through some NT book (Oct 13-17, 2012)

If you’re interested in any of those courses and would like to add them to your Th.M. plan, let me know.

Do I need a Master of Theology (Th.M.)?

One of the more common questions I run into as a Th.M. program director is, “Do I need a Th.M.?” That’s an understandable question. Before you spend that much time and money on a degree, you should be convinced that you really need one. And, I probably answered that question a dozen times this past summer. So, I thought I’d do my best to answer it here. Here’s my answer….No.

I realize that’s probably a surprising answer from someone who runs a Th.M. program, but the simple fact is that whether you are headed toward a doctoral program, local church ministry, or something else, I’m not aware of any Christian vocation that absolutely requires a Th.M. In virtually every sphere of life, the Th.M. is optional. So, do you need a Th.M.? Probably not. It used to be the case that many Ph.D. program required that M.Div. students get a Th.M. as an academic upgrade to their largely ministerial degree before beginning their doctoral work. That is generally not the case anymore.

But, if you don’t actually need a Th.M., why would you bother getting one? Ah, now that’s a different question. Whether you should proceed with a Th.M. is not so much a question of whether you need a Th.M., but whether you need a Th.M. The job that you’re headed toward may not require a Th.M., but there are a variety of situations in which a Th.M. can be of tremendous value anyway. Here are several reasons that you may want to pursue a Th.M. even though it’s not absolutely required.

  • Filling gaps in your training. Let’s face it, unless you are a truly unique individual, you probably did not have time to pursue everything that you needed to in your Master’s degree. There’s a good chance that you prepared really well in some areas and less well in others. Even if you intend to specialize in one area of biblical/theological studies, a Th.M. provides you the opportunity to develop some of your secondary interests and fill some gaps in your preparation. Some of our Th.M. students come in with only the basics in Greek, Hebrew, systematic theology, or church history. These students use the Th.M. to fill these holes in their training.
  • Broadening your training. Other students were able to lay a good foundation in all the biblical disciplines during their undergrad and graduate programs, but still feel the need for greater breadth in their preparation. I entered my Th.M. at least partially because I wasn’t ready yet for the kind of specialization that would be required in a doctoral program. Specifically, although I intended to focus my Ph.D. in systematic and historical theology, my Th.M. allowed me to spend considerable time on Hebrew and OT studies. These were areas that I did not develop adequately in my Master’s training, and I wanted a broad foundation that included significant time in all of these disciplines. Others are interested in using the Th.M. to prepare for local church ministry, seeing the Th.M. as an opportunity to broaden their biblical/theological training further than they were able in their Master’s programs.
  • Determining your specialization. One of the more common reasons for pursuing a Th.M. is that you want to continue on to a doctoral program, but you don’t yet know the specific specialization that you want to pursue. You may be interested in both systematic theology and church history, both NT and OT, or both the Gospels and the Pauline literature. Without a little more focus, it can become difficult (if not impossible) to select to right doctoral program for you. The Th.M. gives you a little more time to pursue various interests so that you can  make the right decision about what you want to focus on in your doctoral program. As a matter of fact, it was during my Th.M. that I was finally able to settle on systematic theology as the focus of my doctoral program rather than historical theology or NT studies. So, the Th.M. proved very helpful for me in this area.
  • Developing your specialization. Other students know what they want to specialize in during their Ph.D. program, but aren’t yet qualified to pursue that specialization at the doctoral level. If you fell in love with Greek during your Master’s program, but didn’t have enough electives to develop sufficiently in this discipline, the Th.M. allows you the time to lay a solid foundation for succeeding in your doctoral program.
  • Developing more teaching areas. Many schools are looking for people who can teach in more than one discipline. If you only have a specialization in Old Testament Law and its ancient near-eastern parallels, you may find it somewhat more challenging to find a teaching position than the person who is qualified to teach introductory classes in a couple of different disciplines. A Th.M. lets you develop some of those secondary teaching areas that can be very attractive to administrators.
  • Deepening your biblical/theological foundations for effective ministry. This is actually somewhat akin to “broadening your training,” but I wanted to make it more explicit that the Th.M. can be a great degree for ministry preparation. It’s not just a pre-Ph.D. degree. As Mark Stevens helpfully pointed out, the Th.M. can help add depth to your preaching/teaching ministry and give you a chance to develop (further) your understanding of pastoral theology. Around half of our Th.M. students use the degree to prepare for a doctoral program. The rest are in the program to deepen their preparation for effective ministry.
  • Setting you up for future success. All of these really add up to the same thing. Although the Th.M. is not absolutely required for anything, there are a variety of situations in which a Th.M. can be very helpful in setting you up for future success in your doctoral program or ministry setting.

So, as I often tell students, the Th.M. is the one degree program that no one actually needs. (That’s why they don’t let me work on marketing material.) But, the Th.M. can be very valuable for a lot of people in quite a few different circumstances. Whether you fit in any of those categories is something that you need to work out.

A video of Western Seminary’s ThM students

I took this video during my Th.M. seminar last spring, and it clearly shows our Th.M. students excitedly gathering to learn more amazing theological truths from their esteemed program director. I’ve tried to tell them that they really don’t need to squeak like that all the time, but we were discussing the Greek Fathers, so I can understand why they’d have a hard time constraining themselves.