Archive for ‘College of Biblical Studies’

Never. Stop. Seeking.

by   |  10.30.17  |  Christianity, College of Biblical Studies, Learning, Theology, vocation

Never. Stop. Seeking. 

When I was just 3 years old, my family was invited to the home of one of the members of the church for which my dad had recently started preaching. They lived in a grand old house with a seemingly endless maze of rooms, each filled with artwork and antiques. As our host gave us a tour, she would pause before various pieces and tell about how or when or where they had been acquired. Passing by an antique chair, she patted it and said, “Oh, there’s a story behind this chair.”

After dinner was finished and the adults were chatting over coffee, my mom looked up and realized that I had left the table. Worried that I might break something expensive in a house filled with priceless objects, she began moving from room to room, trying not to panic. She was less than pleased to discover me in one of the rooms that we had visited earlier, with a piece of priceless furniture overturned on the floor. She gaped at me and asked, exasperated, “What are you doing?!” To which I answered, matter-of-factly, “I’m looking for the story behind this chair.”

I sometimes wonder if hearing that story repeated throughout my childhood is the reason why one of my favorite songs, as a teenager, was “The Seeker” by The Who, the opening lyrics of which went as follows:

I’ve looked under chairs

I’ve looked under tables

I’ve tried to find the key

To fifty million fables

They call me The Seeker

I’ve been searching low and high

I won’t get to get what I’m after

Till the day I die

I’ve thought of myself as a seeker for as long as I can remember. I may not have always used that word, but I’ve always had an interest in getting to the bottom of things, in discovering the story behind them. I’ve always been taken with stories of seekers, particularly Biblical characters, and the theme of seeking runs throughout the Bible. The Psalms alone are filled with reminders to “seek the Lord.” The writer of Psalm 63 begins:

O God, you are my God,

earnestly I seek you,

   my soul thirsts for you;

my flesh faints for you

The New Testament, as well, has many references to seeking. Jesus famously challenges the hearers of the Sermon on the Mount to “seek first his kingdom.” The writer of Hebrews assures us that God “rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

One of the frustrating features of late-20th century evangelism was that churches began referring to those who were not yet Christians, or those in the initial stages of their Christian walk, as “seekers.” The problem wasn’t that these people weren’t seekers, but the implication that they would eventually reach a stage of development when they were no longer seekers. And, while that may not be the language used by 21st century churches, the idea behind it has held on. We think of seeking as something for curious agnostics and newborn Christians. Many long-term Christians have simply stopped seeking. Or, if we are seeking, we’ve limited our scope to the new and different. None of this same ol’, same ol’ style seeking.

Many ministers fall into this same trap. We finished our learning in school and now we’re simply seeking whatever is going to get people in the doors, filling seats, and writing checks. We’ve stopped digging into deeper understanding in our reading, our conversations, and the basic habits and practices that shape the Christian life.

And yet, it’s through these basic habits and practices that we are most likely to encounter Christ. Through prayer. Through meditation on Scripture. Through the sharing of songs and Communion with the people of God. Through service and hospitality and fellowship. Through study. These are the things that form us. This is how we draw near to God. This is how we come to know Christ.

One of the things I most appreciated as a student in our Graduate School of Theology, and continue to appreciate as an employee of the GST, is the consistent emphasis on being a community of learners and disciples, of teaching and modeling how to be seekers. The GST understands the importance of knowledge, but as something that leads to a deeper wisdom, that understands theology as “faith seeking understanding.”

When Jesus enters the temple in chapter 21 of Matthew’s Gospel, he begins turning over tables because he came looking for a house or prayer and found something else entirely. The question I find myself asking increasingly often is what Christ might find if he visited our “house of prayer”? What might he find if he just visited our houses? Might he not start turning our lives over and asking, “What’s the story here?”

It’s easy to lose sight of our story and to find ourselves caught up in a different one, one in which we’re the central character, rather than Christ. To remain true to our calling as followers of Christ and finding our identity in him takes honesty and humility, discipline and courage, a commitment to discerning the truth and keeping an open mind. The shared commitment of all Christians, whether standing in the pulpit or sitting in the pew, leading singing or working in the nursery, teaching Sunday school or planning a potluck, is that we must never stop seeking.

About the author: Kester Smith (’15) graduated with a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University’s Graduate School of Theology and is also currently pursuing a MA in Theology. Kester is the Director of Student Formation and Vocational Discernment for the College of Biblical Studies at ACU.

Student Spotlight- Morgan DeBoer

by   |  10.09.17  |  ACU, College of Biblical Studies, Students

Morgan DeBoer is beginning her first semester studies at ACU’s Graduate School of Theology, pursuing master degrees in both Christian Ministry (MACM) and in Social Work (MSSW). She is originally from Council Bluffs, Iowa and graduated from York College, where she earned an undergrad degree in English.

Where you have seen God working recently?

I had not considered a formal degree in theology or ministry until recently, so the decision to begin this program was in several ways an uncertain one. But now that I am here, and immersed in my classes, I know that there is no place I would rather be, and nothing in the world I would rather be learning about. So I can’t help but wonder how God may have been at work this past year in ways I didn’t understand.

What made you decide to do a MACM & MSSW? 

There are some fairly broken contexts that I wanted to serve in, but I felt that I wouldn’t be truly equipped to do so without deeper training in discipleship, and a deeper understanding of God. So when I saw that ACU offered both a MACM and a MSSW degree, I was interested in how that might allow God to mold both my heart, and my skillset.

What would you like to do in the future/what do you feel is your calling?

I am somewhat of a vocational disaster, and wouldn’t say that I have ever sensed a clear calling. But that is one reason (among many) that I am grateful to be part of the GST, where it looks like I’ll have the opportunity to flesh out vocational direction with great teachers, mentors, and fellow students by my side.

Is grad school like what you had originally expected? If not, how is it different?  

I think before coming, I equated graduate school theology professor with untouchable magic wizard, so the accessibility of GST faculty caught me a little off-guard at first. The professors here are not only ten times cooler than any wizard but are clearly committed to GST students, challenging us in the classroom and engaging with us outside the classroom. Within my first two weeks I met several through church, GST hosted events, and my Mentor Group, and on all occasions they were so encouraging, asking about my move to Abilene, and reminding me they were glad I was here. So I am not exactly sure what I expected, but I am so grateful for what I have found. 

GST Author Highlight

by   |  10.09.17  |  ACU, Alumni, Bible, Church, College of Biblical Studies, Ministry, Professors, Theology

The Graduate School of Theology has many gifted authors who are using their talents to minister to the church & the world. Below are four books that have recently been published by either GST faculty or alumni. We hope they will be an inspiration to you.

 

Meditations for the Lone Traveler written by Mark Hamilton

“In writing this book, I wanted to speak to those who feel alone in their faith. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Faith is not purely intellectual, but comprehensive in its impact on life. In the pursuit of faith, we are not alone.”

These twenty-two meditations on the songs, prayers, and stories of the Bible invite readers to imagine themselves as part of a world in which human beings may fully live into their sufferings and joys as part of a vibrant while still critically searching faith in God. Here we see prophets and  poets, as well as ordinary men and women, embrace the realities of life without apology or fear. For more information, click here.

 

The Oxford Handbook of the Epistemology of Theology edited by Fred Aquino

This volume brings together leading scholars in the fields of theology and epistemology to examine and articulate what can be categorized as appropriate epistemic evaluation in theology. Part one focuses on some of the epistemic concepts that have been traditionally employed in theology, such as  knowledge of God, revelation and scripture, reason and faith, experience, and tradition. Part two concentrates on concepts that have received significant attention in contemporary epistemology and can be related to theology, such as understanding, wisdom, testimony, virtue, evidence, foundationalism, realism/antirealism, scepticism, and disagreement. Part three offers examples from key figures in the Christian tradition and investigates the relevant epistemological issues and insights in these writers, as well as recognizing the challenges of connecting insights from contemporary epistemology with the subject of theology proper, namely, God. Part four centers on five emerging areas that warrant further epistemological consideration: Liberation Theology, Continental Philosophy, modern Orthodox writers, Feminism, and Pentecostalism. Learn more here.

 

Among the Early Evangelicals written by James Gorman 

Among the Early Evangelicals charts a new path showing convincingly that the earliest leaders of this Movement cannot be understood apart from a robust evangelical and missionary culture that traces its roots back to the eighteenth century. Leaders, including such luminaries as Thomas and Alexander Campbell, borrowed freely from the outlook, strategies, and methodologies of this transatlantic culture. More than simple Christians with a unique message shaped by frontier democratization, the adherents in the Stone-Campbell Movement were active participants in a broadly networked, uniquely evangelical enterprise. Find more information here.

 

Pray Like You Breathe: Exploring the Practice of Breath Prayer written by Houston Heflin

Pray Like You Breathe: Exploring the Practice of Breath Prayer chronicles the history and practice of this unique spiritual discipline focusing primarily on the Psalms as a reservoir of language for prayer. The book can be used as a 28-day experience of prayer for individuals or it can also be used as curriculum for small groups and Bible classes. Purchase your own copy on Amazon here

Discovering My Vocation: The Fanning of the Flames

by   |  09.05.17  |  ACU, Ancient Languages, Bible, CSART, College of Biblical Studies, Students, Theology

Recently I was browsing my TimeHop (which, for those who are blissfully unaware, is a cell phone app that mercilessly displays your unfiltered social media posts from today’s date in years past) when I came across a Tweet from four years ago that read something like this: “Is it weird that I’m actually really excited to learn Greek???” If I could talk to this four-years-in-the-past Ryne, I’d tell him that although it is quite weird for you to have shared such an arbitrary thought with the entire Internet, you will be delighted to know that your desire to learn Greek is not weird at all but will in fact be quite fruitful.

That naïve version of me couldn’t have really understood how rewarding the study of this ancient language would be. Indeed, only now in retrospect am I able to fathom the many doors that were opened to me through my study of Greek (and, eventually, other ancient languages) at ACU.

At the outset of my undergrad time at ACU I had only a vague sense of vocation. Something to do with the Bible, something to do with ministry. I was sure that the arc of my career would involve these two aspects, but I had no clearer direction than that.

The story of how my vocational understanding eventually crystallized is long and multifaceted, but for the purposes of this post, you only need to know the primary catalyst and the new ministerial yearning that it sparked within me. The catalyst was Greek; the yearning was for a ministry conducted not in a church building, but in a classroom.

The long and short of it was that I absolutely loved learning Greek. Before college, I had no particular interest in language learning, but Greek opened my eyes not only to a new skillset that I possessed, but also to new doorways through which to study the biblical text that I held so dear. My first taste of Greek was sort of like a baby’s first bite of chocolate cake at their first birthday party—I wasn’t quite sure what this new thing was, but I was absolutely sure that I wanted more.

Luckily for me, I happened to choose a university with a faculty that was uniquely and diversely equipped to give me more. Languages were a huge part of what brought me to the Graduate School of Theology for my master’s work. I had drank deeply from the well of Greek in undergrad and had dipped my toe in the waters of Hebrew, and the GST offered an opportunity for more of the same as well as an expansion of my linguistic horizons.

In my first year at the GST I got involved with CSART—The Center for the Study of Ancient Religious Texts. I’ve spoken above about the doors that language learning at ACU has opened for me, and this has been one of the biggest. In CSART, students (undergrad and grad) have the opportunity to partner with experts in textual scholarship in the study of primary biblical and early Christian texts. The project that I’m currently on, for example, is working with a seventh century monastic text called The Ladder of Divine Ascent.

studying ancient artifacts

Ryne examining books & artifacts at the Matthew Parker Library in Cambridge.

My involvement in this project, as well as in another one during my time in undergrad, opened two very tangible doors for my academic career: two summer trips to a conference in Oxford, England. The Logos Conference is hosted by the Museum of the Bible Scholars Initiative, with which CSART partners in its projects. Because of the generosity of the Green family (the owners of Hobby Lobby, who founded the Museum of the Bible and the Scholars initiative) as well as the work that CSART does, I was able to spend a couple of weeks each of the past two summers in Oxford with other students from all around the world listening to and learning from internationally renowned biblical scholars.

Those experiences in Oxford were especially formative for me, not just because of the academic interest they held for me but for the way they affirmed my sense of vocation. I’ve spent most of this post spotlighting the way language learning at ACU has opened doors for me, but now I want to turn briefly to that ministerial yearning I mentioned before. My affinity for ancient biblically related languages has not only been fruitful in scholarly opportunities, it has also instilled in me a deep appreciation and passion for the importance of these ancient languages in studying the Scriptures.

At those conferences in Oxford I was able to look around and see professional scholars engaged in an academic sort of ministry as well as many students like myself aspiring to do the same. My paradigm for ministry had been shifting and I was beginning to wonder if teaching the Bible and its languages in a higher education context could actually be considered ministry. For my whole life I had thought of ministry as something that was done in either a church building or a mission field, so this idea that it might also be done in a classroom was foreign and frankly a little difficult to wrap my head around. But it was in Oxford that I finally settled into this vision of ministry and fully accepted that my passion for the biblical text and its languages could and should be leveraged into a teaching ministry conducted in the classrooms of a university.

So now as I reflect back on that tweet from four years ago and I think about the excitement that preceded my first day of Greek class, I realize that that enthusiasm was pregnant with something much weightier than academic curiosity. It was dripping with divine purpose, and though I couldn’t see it yet, that purpose would dramatically reorient my world. It would open academic doors that I didn’t know existed, it would deepen my connection with the biblical text that I loved, and it would define the shape of my ministerial vocation.

I had a déjà vu experience a few days ago that helped put this all in perspective for me. As I walked into my last class of the week, I realized that it was next door to an old familiar room. I glanced inside at the handful of youthful faces—a few of which were fresh with the excitement of a new academic challenge. I recognized that look in their eyes. And I recognized the voice of the professor, introducing another batch of students to the wide world of New Testament Greek. I remembered fondly the first time I had sat in that room, excited for the challenge but naïve to the opportunity.

And then I walked through another door. With the voice of my first-year Greek professor still barely audible, I sat down in the midst of that old familiar anticipation. And with thankfulness for the way that spark of intrigue in Greek had been fanned into a full-fledged flame of passion for ancient languages, I pulled out my syllabus for Elementary Syriac. Another new door that will undoubtedly lead to more opportunities—academic, spiritual, and ministerial all.

Ghana Benefit Concert

by   |  11.30.10  |  ACU, Christianity, College of Biblical Studies, GST Events, Worship

Ghana Benefit 2.0(3)

A free Christmas Benefit Concert for Heritage Christian College of Ghana, West Africa will be held in the Chapel on the Hill on December 6th, 2010 beginning at 7pm. This event is being sponsored by United By Faith.  The fund raising goal is $5,000.00 to help Heritage Christian College complete their building program. Many in the ACU Graduate School of Theology community will be participating in the Concert, and everyone is welcome to attend!

Theology, Technology, and Innovation

by   |  11.29.10  |  ACU, College of Biblical Studies, David Kneip, Learning, Students, Theology, Video

ACU Graduate School of Theology, the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy, and the Department of Bible, Missions, and Ministry (DBMM) are all a part of the College of Biblical Studies at Abilene Christian University.  In the video below, DBMM instructor David Kneip speaks about theology, technology, and innovation at ACU.