Monday, August 13, 2012

Fighting against Providence

To my limited sight, sometimes providence doesn't look so wonderful.

For instance, this summer, I've really been struggling to work on my dissertation. There are several reasons for that, and not all of them are bad, much less sinful. But I've come to realize that one of the reasons is that I've been angry at God.

Earlier in the summer, I had told myself, piously, that I don't really get angry at God, that it just isn't a thing I struggle with. But I'm no longer so sure. At least, in my case, it seems to take the form of a sullen, distracted, foot-dragging resentment that covets what others have instead of praising the Lord for what I've been given.

See, I've been feeling restless in the seemingly endless student phase of my life and coveting the season of life that many of my friends and peers are in--growing families and putting down roots and just, well, living real, grown-up looking lives. Sometimes it truly feels like we're never going to arrive there. While it might not be wrong to long for those things, at times I've allowed the longing to spill over into discontentment and ingratitude.

I know that plenty of people would love to be in the position I am in, of getting to study theology and history full-time, and working towards producing something publishable in the field. Honestly, right now my response to that is, "I promise, this is not as fun as it looks." But I've felt convicted of the need to repent of an entitled, thankless attitude. It's failing to recognize the privilege of advanced study and the goodness of the decade's journey that's led here. What's more, it's God's loving provision for me, and it's wrong for me to grumble about it. He has a purpose for it. Thankfully, it's not my job to discern that purpose right now!

I don't doubt that God could shake things up in such a way that academia doesn't end up being my primary focus in future years; but for right now, it's what's right in front of me, and every indication I have is that it's what He intends for me to pour my heart and soul into indefinitely. So my prayer is that I can get to a place where I am pursuing it joyfully once again. Including on the days when it's unpleasant, "just a job," and when the temptation is to fixate on other things.

There's part of me that's still crying angrily, "This is a crummy provision! This isn't what I want to be devoting these years to anymore. Can't you just give me what I want right now? Maybe give me an easy out?" But the Lord has shown me again and again that He knows far better than I do what I need, and how He wants to be glorified in my life. And it's for me to trust Him and learn (over and over again, however painfully) to be satisfied in Him above all else. Please pray for me as I struggle to believe and to show forth in my life that His providence is indeed wonderful.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Seminary and Spiritual Growth

This week a particular blog exchange caught my attention. First, one of my favorite church historians, Dr. Carl Trueman, wrote this post in which he remarks that the primary job of seminaries is to impart the skills needed for future ministry, but that seminaries "cannot really engage in spiritual formation in any deep way"; such formation takes place in the context of the church, where the Word is preached and the sacraments administered, just as it does for every other Christian.

Later, another respected church historian, Dr. Michael Haykin, responded with his own blog post in which he agrees with Trueman that the seminary is not the church, but argues that Trueman downplays the formative role of preaching, friendship, and faculty mentorship in seminarian formation. Trueman comes back with an interesting and appreciative response here.

This has been a fun exchange for me to read because it's a question I have considered before myself--exactly a year ago, wouldn't you know!

You might recall that one of my disappointments about my own seminary experience was that, as I wrote before, "there is little shared sense of how, or for what end, students are to 'formed,' or shaped, for service." Of course, it was a different issue for me than for the kinds of seminarians with whom Trueman and Haykin are mainly concerned, in that I wasn't attending seminary with the goal of ordained ministry. Plus, my situation was a little unique in that I was of a different theological stripe than most of my classmates (something I hadn't quite expected coming in), and it had been some years since I had been really immersed in the life of a local church. For both those reasons, I leaned on my church much more heavily than the seminary in order to grow in my faith--I needed a refuge, and I needed to learn how to be in the church in the first place! It was only in church that I learned to submit to the teachings of Scripture, to come to the Lord's Table, and to walk with brothers and sisters in Christ. The same kinds of accountability, kinship, and grace were not at work in the seminary classroom, generally speaking.

With that in mind, I incline toward Dr. Trueman's perspective on this. The question he poses--"what does the church do that the seminary cannot?"--is vital and needs to be considered in light of the historical development of seminaries and their relationship to the church. Still, I'm intrigued by some of Dr. Haykin's comments, particularly on Christian friendship as a means of grace! It's always exciting to follow a rigorous and respectful exchange between world-class historians, and I hope to see further discussion of this important subject from them and others.