Saturday, November 8, 2008

Top 10 Influential Classes at Wheaton

Theology Letterman Style

This is a little break from NEGST, but it is something I've been thinking about as I process my Wheaton experience. I appreciate many of these classes at Wheaton much more now in light of the classes here at NEGST, and noticing differences in how I think about and approach things.

*Note: Ranking anything is a tricky and not always useful enterprise, especially when people are involved. The following should not be considered a list of the best classes I’m had, although that does inevitably play a role in my consideration. The numbering system is also somewhat arbitrary, and not hard and fast by any means. However, in considering my intellectual development, the following classes were highly formative for me, and have permanently affected how I think and study. Thus I believe the list is constructive. It is most useful to those still attending Wheaton, and for anyone else it may not be nearly as interesting.*

1) New Testament Criticism – Dr. Burge

This class made theology seem real and so addictively fascinating. When I was reading about the battle raging for the integrity of the Bible, the dating of Galatians, and the rigorous methods employed to respond to attacks on the biblical text, it was so exciting for me. Generally it seems the more that is expected from me in a class, the more I learn, and this was certainly true in this class—one of the most intensive classes I’ve ever taken. Through dealing with form criticism and working to defend the gospel accounts as legitimate portrayals of the historical life of Christ I felt like I actually grasped—at least on a basic level—the dynamics of criticism and how to enter the conversation.

2) Old Testament Cultural Environment – Dr. Hill

This was a relatively short class taken during my last semester, but it really challenged so much of what I believe about the Bible, and how I’ve always thought it was written. Looking at the similarities between various flood and creation accounts was illuminating in showing the cultural and literary effect upon the Bible. Dr. Walton’s book on the cultural world of the Old Testament painted a vivid picture of the culture and worldview that characterizes those writing the OT, and so many of his insights were new and revolutionary in my understanding of the text.

3) History of Philosophy – Dr. Benson, Dr. Talbot and Dr. Borden

Reputedly the 2nd (behind organic chemistry) most difficult class at Wheaton (it’s not), this class spans an entire year and is the essential foundation of the philosophy major at Wheaton. This class certainly had one of the highest ratios of information I had never heard before to information I already knew. Discussing and working through these issues was so thought provoking and difficult, and these issues have strongly defined how I have interacted with almost every class ever since. Some concepts that really stand out are Plato’s notion of recollection, Locke’s blank slate, Kant’s concept of the neumena and the phenomena, Kant’s categories of understanding information, the transcendental turn, and various postmodern ideas about knowledge and language. This class was an excellent compliment to Historical and Systematic theology, which I took concurrently to the two halves of this class.

4) Hermeneutics - Dr. Schultz

This was my second Bible class at Wheaton (during my freshman year) and set the stage for many of my later techniques for studying the Bible, finding resources, doing research, and using the library. Fairly difficult and extremely crammed because we were doing a semester’s worth of work in a quad (it has since been expanded into a semester class), I found the lectures, exercises, and final exegesis paper all very helpful. Definitely this was a class I enjoyed.

5) Senior Seminar: Global Christianity – Dr. Treier and Dr. Cohick

Another class with a very high percentage of new content, this was one of the most interesting and unique classes I have taken. This is one of the few classes in which I would check the clock with dismay because time was running out and I found the discussions so fascinating. I wish theology from all over the world was integrated into all theology classes at Wheaton and not tacked onto the end in one class. I learned a great deal from the considerable reading for this class. The concerns in theology in Africa, Asia and South America are so different and have much to teach us in the West. Our discussions in this class were great and I feel that we were able to interact and meaningfully engage the content we were reading. Student presentations at the end explored many issues I would have never been able to consider otherwise. Researching the nature of deliverance ministry and demonology in Ghana was a new project for me, and quite pertinent given that I was already planning on going to Africa for seminary.

6) Theology of John Calvin – Dr. Spencer

Most of this class went way over my head, and I felt very much out of league, but still I gained a basic knowledge of John Calvin, and also some important principles for studying theology. The amount of reading assigned for this class was absolutely overwhelming, the most I have ever had for any class. Two things stand out that have shaped how I consider theology ever since: the principle of “foils” and that of accommodation. The idea of foils is fairly straightforward despite its strange sounding name; all that it means is that often when approaching an idea there are two extremes on both side, and the correct way lies between the two. Often when I have come upon a problem this idea has shaped my initial response. First, I determine the extremes, and then I attempt to determine a mediating answer. This does not fit all issues but has been very helpful for me. The second principle gained from this class is one that Calvin emphasized through his theology: accommodation. In revelation God has accommodated Himself to us, which is in many ways an incredible thought, and this has far-reaching implications for biblical interpretation and application.

7) Historical Theology – Dr. Lauber

My favorite thing about this class was the textbook, which read like a novel to me: I would read it just for fun. Learning about the early church and the debates over the nature of God and theology was at times confusing but essential for a genuine understanding of the church. This is one of the classes that led me to choose history over philosophy as a double major, even though it’s not even a history class, technically. This is the class where the study group that would help sustain me most of the way through the theology major started. This was also my introduction to Dr. Lauber, who became one of my favorite profs and has written several key recommendations for me.

8) Doctrine of Scripture – Dr. Spencer

I have come to very much appreciate Dr. Spencer’s style for doing a class: reading the best authorities on a subject and wrestling through the stances they take. Elaborating a solid theology of the scriptures as the Word of God is difficult, and I am much more aware of the various disagreements and tricky areas. This is probably the main class that I actually understood some of what Barth was saying, which I consider an accomplishment!

9) Systematic Theology – Dr. Treier

One of the most fundamental and notorious classes of the Bible/theology major at Wheaton, I did not learn as much from this class as I expected but I did still learn quite a bit. The most helpful exercise was the assignment due at the end: writing your own confession of faith. Having to take a stance upon many issues of which I am still not sure of a position was helpful and thought provoking. Many of the topics treated in the class overlapped with the content of historical theology, which I took first, but it was a good repetition. I still get confused with several of the heresies…

10) The Bible as Literature – Dr. Ryken

This class stands out as one of the most memorable and time consuming classes of my Wheaton career. Anyone who has taken this class, or any class with Dr. Ryken, will immediate understand—the pig of progress, dress up day, optimum day, use of “technology”—but for those who have not it is impossible to adequately describe. The time I spent on this class drained much of the time that would have gone to systematic theology instead, largely explaining my disappointment with that class. This class was an excellent survey of the literary approach to interpreting the Bible, and Dr. Ryken is one of its pioneers and leading proponents. When I was taking hermeneutics at NEGST, and he was listed under literary approaches, I was able to question certain aspects of how the subject was presented, since I had an in-depth exposure to this methodology.

Honorable Mention: Intro to Christian Education with Dr. Root, Theological Ethics with Dr. Lauber, Theories of Origin with basically the entire science department, and History of Christianity in North America with Dr. Long

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An Ideal Day

So a basic day at NEGST looks something like this: I get up before 8, often not very much before 8, and go to class, which for me start at 8 Monday through Friday. At ten, we have a break for chapel Tues, Wed, and Thur, which goes from 10-10:45. Then we have tea. On Monday, we have an adviser group meeting at 10, called Field Ministries, but it really doesn't have much--if anything-- to do with the field or with ministry. On Friday, we have grace groups, a small group that you are assigned to that includes staff, faculty, and students. Different members take turns leading, and its quite a good mix of people. I enjoy my group, its always interesting and there are usually refreshments as well.
I have class from 8 - 1 pretty much every day, although one class was moved from Wed to Friday afternoon, so I have class from 8 - 4 on Friday. At 1 I head back to the housing compound for lunch, and then I have a quiet time, read, do homework, things like that. At 4 I often head over to IT to work there for an hour from 4-5, and I do whatever project is at hand. At around 6 there is a group that plays football in the field behind Q, where I live, so I go out and join them sometimes. I'm really bad but it is a lot more fun than running by myself. If its been a sunny day then I can take a hot shower, since the solar panels on the other end of my building work, so I use the bathroom on that side. Its really great, but it means rainy or cloudy days are doubly unfortunate.
At 7 I go to eat dinner. After that, I go back to my room and do more homework or relax or something like that. At 8:30 M-Thur there is a Hebrew study group that meets, so I decided if I want to have any chance in Hebrew it is very helpful to attend that group. Then I head back and I tend to go to bed earlier here than in America, generally around 11 or so, sometimes I do stay later and read or finish up work but not often past midnight.
So that's a general day. I've never done all of those things in one day, but we'll see if it happens: that would be my ideal day at NEGST. Oh, and to celebrate Obama's victory in style, Kenya declared tomorrow a national holiday. That's right, because America elected Obama, the entire nation of Kenya will have the day off. And we won't have class, and all the offices and the library will be closed. I'm thinking American-Kenyan relations won't be the biggest issue facing Obama over the next few years...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The First Few Pictures

This is the entrance to the student housing compound. You can see a bit of the parking lot. Married students live on the lower two floors, and singles live on the top floor. Each building has a letter, from around H to T. I live in Q. As you go in, you would take a right and my building would be straight ahead.
This is the local supermarket, only a few kilometers down the road. The store is called Nakumatt, and the area or suburb is Karen. It is a very nice store with just about everything you would need. The groceries are on the bottom floor, and the household items such as mattresses, plates, appliances, and books are on the second floor. They even carry a number of American brands, but those are much more expensive.
Here's a picture of Emmanuel and myself. This is at the meeting of the Anointed Learning Institute, after I preached on the Jesus' words from the cross about being forsaken. This is at a hotel in Nairobi; they rent out a room for the afternoon for their meeting.

This is the 1st year football team that triumphed over the continuing students! It was a lot of fun, probably one of my best memories so far. You can't see me very well because of the trophy. We actually had enough players to play a real game, full field, with a referee and jerseys and everything. Most games since then have not been as well attended, but this was the kickoff of the season.