Well, another semester down! Woohoo! I don’t know how much you enjoyed summer breaks as a kid going to school, but I LOVED it! Of course, that time of life is long gone now (over twenty years since I graduated high school!?!). But, I have come to the end of my penultimate semester of my Master’s of Divinity Studies. This semester has been very tough. I usually have some extra weekend times and take a day or two off work, but even taking two days this last week doesn’t seem like enough. Like Bob and Larry would always chat about after episodes of Veggietales, I want to take a moment to write a memo to my future self about what I have learned this semester. So what have I learned in my Research, Writing, and Ministry Preparation (RTCH500) class?
We had three texts to read and learn from this semester: Kaiser, Walter C., Jr., and Silva, Moisés. Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning; Lowe, Stephen D. and Mary E. Lowe. Ecologies of Faith in a Digital Age; excerpts from (same authors) Orienting Adults to Learning in Graduate Theological Education; and Zacharias, H. Daniel and Benjamin K. Forrest. Surviving and Thriving in Seminary: An Academic and Spiritual Handbook. All the texts were very helpful, interesting, and useful. They will be particularly useful in the future for research purposes. I have a love-hate relationship with how Liberty University does textbooks though … First off, they are wonderful when it comes to price/value! They provide almost every textbook I need as a part of the tuition! I do not (usually) need to buy textbooks in addition to paying for tuition. Also, I love that they are predominantly available and provided in digital format. They use the Logos Bible App to provide digital textbooks. That is incredibly useful and I can access these books anywhere from any device, even just online. However, this is probably my mistake, I dislike the textbooks because it seems like some are not permanent. I will be honest, I don’t read the whole text when we have a textbook assigned for a class. There is just too much to read and the important points from the text can be found with ‘ctrl-F’ or similar searching features on digital textbooks. I do the same with physical textbooks, though I have to use a couple different tools (books.google.com is one and of course, if the book has an index or the like). The point is that I love textbooks (most of my bookshelves have what could be used as a textbook). But, I don’t have time to read the whole book(s), but I don’t always have access to those books after the class. When I have completed this class and have completed my degree in full, I would like to go back and reread these texts in full. Unfortunately, for some, I cannot. I’d have to buy them for myself. For some I certainly will be interested in doing that, for others, they will likely just fall by the wayside. Lastly, I do not like the Logos Bible App that much. It has some useful tools (like searching all books, open books, or just the current book, and other sermon-writing tools), but in general I find it somewhat unwieldy. I like the OliveTree Bible App much better though it has fewer tools. It is easier to navigate and access my books. For example, I really cannot read more than one or two books at one time and really only need to access one or two references at one time. Logos allows for dozens of different books to be open at the same time, but that is distracting and really unhelpful. The OliveTree Bible App links tools so that you can access them quickly to reference them, but you can really only have two things open at any one time. It helps with focus and ease of navigation.
The Elephant in the Sylabus
What do I mean by that? Well, one of the biggest focal points for this class was digital learning. I’ve written a lot about my views on digital learning and this class has made me at least rethink those views. I haven’t really changed my mind though … I hope that’s not a disappointment to my professor or the writer of the textbooks (Lowe and Lowe). I love online tools for learning. I’ve already talked about using apps. I love those tools! I use them constantly! I haven’t taken my physical Bible to church in a long time because I take notes in my (aforementioned) Bible app. I have those notes forever now. If I want to reference a sermon that I know I’ve taken note of in the past, I can just search through my notes and find it! Every time I read through my Bible I see little icons (they can be turned off) of notes that I have taken previously. These can be simple interpretive notes or full sermons/notes that I have taken previously. Technology is a wonderful tool, if you doubt but have any interest in biblical languages check out https://biblehub.com/ sometime (or similar ones like https://www.blueletterbible.org/). These tools link the exact words of the original biblical texts with dictionaries and lexicons to do incredibly in-depth word studies, all for free! It’s not a complete substitute for Hebrew or Greek scholarship, but it grants even the casual learner access to the best scholarship on the original languages, for free online. There are other great online tools like Bible apps that come with a social aspect, digital joint prayer groups, study groups, etc. are all available for free online. We live in an age of digital access undreamed of by previous generations. So, in a sense, I don’t disagree with the notion that we can grow spiritually using these technologies. However, and maybe this is just me being an old fuddy-duddy, there’s still something missing in purely online relationships. I’ve made some friends online that I’ve never met in person and would love to someday. I’ve also made some friends online then subsequently met them in person and loved it. But, like the thought-experiment of Mary, the colorblind neuroscientist, there is something to be learned by experience and there is something to be felt in in-person relationships that is lacking in purely online relationships. To sum this up, let’s use these digital tools, but let’s still view them as tools, not the end-all of spiritual growth and interactions.
Where do I go from here? Well, as I said, this is my penultimate semester (minus an internship class). That means only two classes and an internship and I’ll have my MDiv in Christian Apologetics! I want to apply for a chaplaincy in the U.S. Air Force, but I’m not holding my breath there. I think God could use me there. I would love to have a career/job where my goal is to go in every day and make some Airman’s life better and help him or her with spiritual needs. How wonderful would it be to have that as a job!? Think about how you answer the question about what you do for a living. I currently answer, “I’m an intelligence analyst for the Air Force.” What does that really mean? Well, I go in every day and analyze/collect intelligence. That’s rather nebulous isn’t it? Well, if I can become a chaplain, my answer will be “Air Force chaplain, where I try to help people with spiritual troubles.” Talk about job satisfaction. I hope that works out. If it doesn’t, I’ll retire in a few years and seek to start a small church (or take over a church) and build a small homestead (probably in rural Tennessee or maybe western Michigan). When I retire and live off that pension and whatever part-time job I can get in Small-town-rural-Midwest, I’ll have a slower, less hectic lifestyle and work more and more in full-time ministry. I am looking forward to that day more and more every day.