My post last week on thinking about going to seminary unleashed a bag full of suggestions and, in particular, the questions about “to go or not to go” to seminary (its necessity) and “what do you really get out of it” (its affects and effects). I don’t want to address those questions today, but leave them for another day. For now, I’d like to reflect on my Galatians course at Biblical Seminary in Hatfield, PA.
My question today is about Galatians: What is the moral or ethical impact of Galatians on you and on your family and on your church? If the focus of the letter is freedom, how serious are you about “grace-empowered” freedom? Is freedom one of those moral markers of your church?
For all the joking I’ve done about my teaching at “semitery,” I have to admit this: the experience was intensely rewarding for me in three primary ways. And the reason why is this school is fully committed to a missional theology for missional leadership in missional communities of faith. Just read the clearly-written and pastorally-useful Missional Journal studies of Dave Dunbar, the President at Biblical. (By the way, the students all talked as if they know the President.)
First, because our class on Galatians met once a month on a Thurs evening and then all day on Friday over three months, it took awhile to build a sense of community, but by the time we were all done the class had formed into a supportive, interactive, and bustling community. We went out for pizza on Friday at noon and then, on the last Thursday night, we went out to Applebee’s after class — getting me to my B&B well beyond my bedtime.
Second, because most of these students are involved in ministries already and because the focus of Galatians is on what I called “grace-creating” freedom, one of our assignments and lengthy discussion times was on how to let grace work itself out into freedom in local church settings. The concerns were serious, the practical efforts obviously difficult, and the desire for wisdom palpable. Some frustrations were expressed, but there was also a sense of hope that God’s Spirit can genuinely make things happen. Each of the students also engaged his or her pastor in a discussion about freedom in the local church setting.
Another assignment, which comes from my belief that we need to cross over into other contexts to make ourselves think more seriously about freedom, was to read a memoir (not necessarily a Christian memoir) and to examine the memoirist’s theory of freedom in light of what Paul means by freedom. I will say this — a number of students were quite enthused about the memoir they read so they were swapping memoirs. Really good papers. Lots of fun to read.
Third, class interaction was outstanding. There are many pressing issues to discuss when one studies Paul today — many Reformed thinkers today collide with the New Perspective and the pastoral implications of what Paul says about freedom are enormous. Does anyone really tell anyone, when they ask about moral direction, to do what the Spirit leads? (I think Paul would say that.) But, back to the New Perspective. We’ve learned from the need to figure what Judaism really did believe, so one of our assignments was: “Imagine Reuben is a leader of the Judaizing wing. How would you describe his theology? What would he say back to Paul’s central ideas in the letter?” I can’t tell you how invigorating our discussion was. It was at this point that I said to myself, “They get it. These folks can think their way into Galatians and they can apply Paul’s central ideas to our world. Job done.”