The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

The Student’s Desk Newsletter – July, 2008

I’ve managed to get through another semester at PTC, and as I sit down to write another edition of The Student’s Desk this past semester feels more like a full year. This edition has ended up being longer than normal. Probably because I’m still trying to process all that’s happened! It’s been a very busy time. The fact I picked three of the hardest topics to study and became frustrated with the quality of the work by scholars added to a very long semester.

            As I mentioned last time, this semester’s subject included Isaiah and Westminster Confession of Faith. I really wanted to ‘nail’ Isaiah as I anticipated that the better I understood Isaiah, the better I could understand the New Testament. I was promptly warned at the start by a friend, “You wont nail Isaiah, Isaiah will nail YOU!” I drew no encouragement from our lecturer who also warned us, “You wont get your head around Isaiah. It’s just to big.” He did his doctoral thesis on Isaiah, and he’s saying it’s too big! What chance did I have?? Nonetheless, I did get a firm handle on Isaiah. I wont be so bold to say I nailed it, but I did achieve my objective in gaining a better understanding of the New Testament from Isaiah. For the 2 essays, I looked at the Sign of Immanuel in chapter 7 looking at the weird, whacky, and completely ridiculous suggestions commentators have come up with for the identity of the virgin and her child. Working with what our lecturer had to say helped a long way as I came up with my own ideas. I also looked at the theme of Kingship, and looking back, this wouldn’t have been much different to trying to summarise the whole book in 3,000 words – yah! Nonetheless, I gained an understanding in Isaiah’s agenda.

            As for the Westminster Confession of Faith, hmm. What can I say without causing too much controversy? I should say firstly that there is a place for church tradition and systematic theology. I’m not about to deny the relevance of the doctrinal standards of the Presbyterian Church as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith, as did happen in the 19th century. Particularly today as any aspect of Christian doctrine can mean anything and everything. It’s helpful for Christians to state what they believe corporately so we at least know what we’re on about as a group. If someone doesn’t subscribe to what is said, then maybe they’d do better to find another ‘ecclesiastical home’. But what concerned me is as I investigated again some of the controversies that have occurred in the Presbyterian denomination, I felt more like a lawyer then a Bible scholar. I found people arguing over the finer points of the Confession, and whether this or that teaching can be accepted on some technicality. Where the Bible was used, it was to provide a proof text, not some much to apply the broad, sweeping themes of Scripture. Mind you, this was at a time when only a minority of clergy believed the Bible had any credibility! I became sensitive to the use of the Bible from studying Isaiah, and being aware of the debates about the person and work of Christ that have raged in other times of Church history. Perhaps if a little more attention had been given to Isaiah, these debates would not have been so necessary. Church tradition and systematic theology have their place, but not as a second Bible! This is one of my objections to Catholicism that regards church tradition as being equally authoritative with the Bible (though in my opinion, Catholicism places the authority of church tradition over the Bible). Protestants must not do the same with our systematic theology. As helpful as systematic theology is to identify our persuasion on various issues, extreme care must be taken not to invest too much authority in it. I do not think that humanity in its fallen state has the capacity to crystallise beyond fault, the entire revelation of the Bible into systematic statements. I have come to the firm conviction that God gave us a Bible, not a systematic text, for very good reasons. I’m not sure what all those reasons are, but we would do well to give much more attention to the Bible than our traditions or systematic theology.

            However, the subject did give me an opportunity to revisit the issue of God’s providence after writing about it in relation to prayer last year. When I thought about what I had written last year, I wasn’t entirely happy with what I came up with. I also chose to write on it again as I had issues with what the Westminster Confession of Faith had to say at this point. This time, I was to consider God’s providence in relation to the problem of evil, and what the Confession has to say on the issue. This was the third difficult topic I chose. I still don’t have a final answer to the problem, and I very much doubt that I ever will. However the faculty would be pleased to know I’m more in line with the Confession on this point these days, though I still have a point of contention. I do know to be wary of people who claim to have a final answer to this issue. My studies showed that such people have a distorted view of reality, or the nature of God, or both. It was during the writing of this essay that frustration began to build. I have in my own library a copy of Erickson’s systematic theology. In it is a section addressing the issue of God’s providence and the problem of evil explaining three different viewpoints. I thought, “Beauty! That’s half my essay written! All I need to do is look up his citations.” Well, one of the references by Clark wasn’t available. But no matter. I found another book by Clark which was sure to say the same thing. To my horror, what Erickson said Clark was saying, Clark wasn’t actually saying! So this left a dirty great whole in my essay, and in any event, I didn’t fully agree with what Clark was saying! Somehow I had to integrate all this into my essay. All I wanted to do was get the essay written in the limited time! Oh, the joys of being an academic. I got the essay done, and I haven’t had my lecturer wanting to talk to me about it, so that has to be a good thing.

 

Studies aren’t quite the struggle they could be as more technology is being used to aid students. This semester I started using a computer program called End Note. This keeps track of all my references so I no longer need to write the footnotes or bibliographies – the program does it for me. I can also use an online database to import biographical information straight into End Note. This saves time and errors. The database also allows me to search journal articles relevant to the essay I’m working on. Now I think the librarian dreads the days I come through the door. It’s a sure bet I’ll be sending him upstairs with a print out of a dozen journals I want retrieved, if not photocopied. Having the library database online has also helped as I can now see what books the library has and where in the library they are. It means I can go to the library with a print out of the books I want and where they are, pick them off the shelf one by one and spend my library time reading instead of trying to find reference to read! This probably saves 1-2 hours work in the library each time. The internet itself is also becoming more of a valuable resource. Every so often I find myself wanting an obscure book and find if you dig around the internet for long enough, you’ll find a full version of the book on a computer file somewhere, mostly for free! Now I’ve gone from the problem of not having enough references to having too many references. Sufficient to say I’ve become quite good at speed reading.

            Doing both subjects by intensive blocks rather than a few hours each week was quite a different experience as well. I had hoped this would give me more time to get more work done as every week wouldn’t be interrupted by a trip to Sydney. Yet somehow the end of semester still turned out to be a mad rush. This may be due to my own pet projects more than anything else. And after 10 hours of lectures in a couple of days, I wasn’t sure of what planet I was on! Life was also made a little more expensive as I had to drive due to the shear amount of junk I needed to take. Attempts at finding an alternative to driving resulted in a strained neck and shoulder which then went into spasm for 5 days. Hence I kept driving! But I certainly appreciated being accommodated while lectures were on. A 10 minute walk to college was so much more enjoyable than a 2 hour commute.

            As usual I went on college mission just before Easter. This time to South West Rocks. I found this mission to be very different. There were social aspects to the area I wasn’t prepared for, and pretty much took me the whole week to figure out how to handle those aspects. The fact I arrived at mission already tired also didn’t help. For the most part, I had the responsibility of driving the computerised presentation which I don’t have allot of experience in. Before mission, I use to think Microsoft Power Point was a horrible, horrible program. Now I know, I was right!

 

College isn’t the only thing that’s been keeping me busy. Church services at the Allambie Heights Spastic Centre continue with the same number of people attending. I’m really encouraged by the number of people coming forward to help. I no longer feel I need to stand behind people with a big stick to put their name on the roster. Now, I have people almost fighting over dates when they can come down. It’s fantastic!

            Earlier in the year I decided to go through the story of Moses. All was fine until I got to the Ten Plagues. I was left thinking, “how am I going to teach such a huge slab of Scripture in 10 minutes? And, what’s it all about anyway? Surely it’s more than God giving the Egyptians a good spanking for enslaving his people!” Indeed it was. I spent 2 weeks studying the plagues and the significance they had to the Egyptian culture at the time. What was impressed upon me was the all-sufficiency of God in providing for people. The sum of the situation was the Egyptians lived in an uncertain world, and by observing certain rites and beliefs, they could insure and be assured of some certainty. They took pride in this and failed to recognise God’s provision. What the Egyptians put their hope in, God showed to be a sham through the 10 plagues. He is the one who provided for the Egyptians, not some petty idol. We too live in an uncertain world, and we invest time, money, and energy into things that will make us secure and happy. And all too quickly the things that God has given us to enjoy have become our idols, as we fuss and become anxious about them. We forget God gave us these things to enjoy and use for his purposes. If God provided for us in the first instance, God will always provide. Perhaps not always the same thing, but God will provide. There is no need to be anxious about anything. I achieved my objective in getting through the 10 plagues in 10 minutes by discussing these points with the people.

            Of late I have been going through the Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I’m finding that a most dangerous piece of Scripture. Just when you think you’ve got the Christian life nailed, you read the Sermon on the Mount. Hmm. But it’s been encouraging as well. I’ve been teaching it as “living life up-side-down” as Jesus inverts worldly standards to show God’s standards. This is good news if you find yourself disabled, and can’t conform to worldly standards. But Jesus doesn’t let you off the hook. The sermon emphasises relationships, and how God is honoured in those relationships. It often means doing things which are least natural for us to do. This presents a challenge for anyone, regardless of ability or lack thereof.

 

I was also involved in the disability camp in March, and to be quite honest, it feels much further back than that. I was asked to give my testimony, but apart from this, I was free and spent the time encouraging campers and carers alike, which probably does more than anything else.

 

Before returning to college, I spent the remainder of my holidays building my own website, happily entitled The Students Desk. This was a big job in itself, writing who I am, what I believe, and what I’m about. It mainly serves as an outlet for my writings so people can read at their leisure, and hopefully be encouraged in their faith. The website can be found at www.thestudentsdesk.com . My intent was to post a fortnightly devotion based on what I’m speaking on at the Spastic Centre. Unfortunately, my studies left me too tired to do much else. I’ll have to try and make more of an effort in the future.

 

Next semester I’m back to the weekly commute, twice a week unfortunately! I’ll be studying the reformation period in church history, and the doctrine of God and the work of Christ (more systematic theology). I’m looking forward to studying the Reformation. I’ve studied it briefly before and concluded that a few people came along with a theological bandwagon which everyone jumped on with their political agendas. I’m looking forward to having my knowledge of this time filled out a bit more. Hopefully the doctrine of God and the work of Christ will lift my view of systematic theology a bit higher,

 

I’ve also worked out where I’m up to in my course. I have about another 12 subjects to go, and at the rate I’m going, that’ll take another 3 years. So, there’s a fair way to go yet, but I’m getting there. I’m just thankful God doesn’t have deadlines!

 

Thank you for supporting and praying for me. It’s a big encouragement on a long road with many battles. A road that I don’t even know where it’s going! But, when all the hard work is done, it’s a good road to be on, because I’m learning more and more about Jesus.

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July 7, 2008 - Posted by | Newsletters, Site News

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