I have just started a three-year online seminary program with Grand Rapids Theological Seminary under Cornerstone University. I am earning a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies, taking advantage of my GI Bill and Army College Fund that runs out in 2016.
This is the realization of an unfulfilled dream that I had thirty years ago when I began a Master of Arts in Christian Education program at Western Baptist Seminary in Portland, Oregon, in the fall of 1982 that I was unable to finish. Rather than pursuing this seminary degree for a new career in full-time ministry, I am merely wanting this for my own personal growth and to be a better Sunday School teacher. I am so excited to see where God takes me in this journey!
Here are the first of my reflections.
1. (Personal) I picked a great school (Cornerstone University/Grand Rapids Theological Seminary); the online Master of Arts in Biblical Studies program is absolutely a perfect fit for me. I am definitely ready to take this degree seriously; I am looking forward to this three-year journey.
2. (Personal) It is a really good time for me to start and finish this degree. I am grateful to have the opportunity to use my GI Bill and Army College fund; it is more than enough. I am thankful for the last 30 years that I’ve had to mature as a believer, to experience God’s power at work in providing for me and my family, and to minister around the world through teaching Sunday School, participating in men’s ministries, and providing spiritual leadership as needed.
3. (Personal) My understanding of the Bible has come through decades of careful reading, studying, memorizing, and preparing to teach, prayerfully depending on the Holy Spirit, without knowing Greek or Hebrew, using commentaries or other resources. This has been a source of pride for me, actually. However, I now realize I need to begin to learn how to use some appropriate (and affordable) Bible study tools that are available in order to be a better teacher. Somehow I’ve developed a unique ability to understand the breadth of Scripture and synthesize biblical truths, but I recognize that I lack depth. I look forward to developing my abilities to do research and see the value of knowing how the background, culture, and history affects the meaning of the texts, in order to better understand the more difficult passages and also those that I think I already know well.
4. (Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard (K, B, & H)) Struggling with the constant emphasis on “taking verses out of context.” I fully understand why context is so important to get at the author’s original meaning of any text. However, I’m not wholeheartedly in agreement with statements like these that I read here, “The chapter and verse references do help us identify and locate passages quickly, but unfortunately they have also contributed to the widespread practice of elevating individual verses to the status of independent units of thought,” “There is simply no justification for routinely treating individual verses as independent thought units that contain autonomous expressions of truth,” and, “Detached from their contexts, individual verses may take on meanings never intended by their writers” (page 217). True, there may be dangers in misapplying biblical truths outside their intended meaning, but it almost sounds like they think it wrong to memorize just one verse, one that might come in handy when sharing our faith or when we need to encourage someone (or ourselves) with a clear word from the Lord. Aren’t all single verses true? Don’t they come from the Lord? Aren’t they useful? Of course they are! The average believer does not need to be afraid to commit to memory hundreds of individual verses that will be useful down the road, like John 3:16 or 1 John 1:9.
5. (Dr. Meadors’ notes from Week 1). There are two basic kinds of translations. The first is referred to as “formal equivalence”. This is a “word for word” translation. Examples include King James Version (KJV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), Revised Standard Version (RSV), and the English Standard Version (ESV). The second is called “dynamic or functional equivalence.” This is a “thought for thought” translation. Examples include the New International Version (NIV) and New Living Translation (NLT). Bible translations affect interpretation. “A ‘literal translation’ requires more from the reader since the translators do very little interpretive adjustments,” and “A ‘dynamic equivalence’ translation is an interpretive translation. It therefore requires less judgment from the reader since the translators have included their interpretation of texts ambiguous in English in their renditions.” He recommends, “Choose 2 to 3 Bibles for study (KJV or ESV, NRSV, NIV, NLT). Watch how the dynamic equivalent versions interpret your formal equivalent control Bible.” I’ve begun to incorporate the reading of several versions in my studying here and there, and have found it a very helpful technique.
6. (K, B, and H) I am beginning to accept that I have been missing out on a deeper understanding of biblical truths by not using various research tools that are out there for serious Bible students and teachers, especially after reading statements like these, “We need methods that are appropriate to the task of interpretation. This task requires diligence and learning all dimensions (language, history, culture, theology) that relate to the study of the Scriptures. . . There is no substitute for diligent study and the use of available tools. The interpreter must cultivate a sensitivity to hear and learn from all the data available. This requires study and practice. Interpreters cannot settle issues that concern factual matters by an appeal to prayer or the illumination of the Holy Spirit” (pages 141-2.)
7. (K, B, and H) For a minute or two I was wondering, “How did I ever learn anything from the Bible?” with my lack of adequate study methods and bad habits over the years. Then I read this helpful insight, “We affirm that the Bible is understandable; it is an accessible book. It presents a clear message to anyone willing to read it, and that is why people throughout history have understood its teachings. This does not imply that it is a simple book or that anyone may grasp easily everything it contains. The doctrine of the perspicuity or clarity of the Scriptures, so stressed in the Protestant Reformation, always referred to that which was essential for right doctrine or living – not to every sentence of the Bible. . . Yet, the Bible is not a puzzle or cryptogram whose solution remains hidden from all but an elite group who know the code. Written so that common people could apprehend its truth, the Bible’s central message still speaks clearly to human hearts even after scores of intervening centuries” (pages 149-50.)
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.