Last week, I preached on prayer. Here’s what I had to say:
Last week, I preached on prayer. Here’s what I had to say:
This past week was the second week of Fall quarter at Fuller Seminary. I generally make the first week into an introduction of the topic and an introduction to the course structure. There’s always a lot of adds/drops/questions in the first week, so wait until the second week to really jump in to a deeper discussion.
For my HT501 class (which is on God: Three Persons, One God in Trinity), I begin in a somewhat unusual way. The tendency in theology is to begin by talking about God in general terms, a notion of divinity, then talking about God’s characteristics, and revelation. Maybe proofs about God. Theism works its way to the Biblical revelation and then that opens the door to more specific discussions about God’s work and nature. The Trinity, of course, also gets mentioned, as that is how Christianity understands God’s nature.
I don’t begin there. Mostly because while that’s a logical place to begin a discussion about God in an academic way, it’s not really how most people encounter God. It’s also not the reason we’re talking about God in the way we do.
This first focused week I talk about Christology, the formal study of the person and work of Christ (some theology terms are more self-evident than others). But that too can have a lot of different starting points. I choose to start with the resurrection.
Because, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15, the event of the resurrection is the fundamental argument of Christianity. If it didn’t happen, we’re all wasting our time talking about the rest. If it did happen, then everything–literally everything–changes how we need to understand and live in this world.
I also have a discussion on introduction to Christology, providing a basic framework of history and approach. Such as how there’s two general patterns to approaching the study of Christ: From Above or From Below. The “From Above” approach emphasizes the divinity and overarching revelation, then looks how the incarnation fits into that. The “From Below” approach emphasizes the incarnation and then looks how divinity is reflected from that. The latter is the way people originally encountered Jesus and seems to reflect the approach of the Gospels.
In starting with the resurrection, I’m mixing the two approaches a little, but I think it creates a useful starting place. My overall approach in the class is to teach on the Trinity with a Trinitarian method. I’ll talk about Christ this week, then the Father (the usual starting place) in week three, then the Spirit in week 4. In week five, I start the cycle over again: Son (week 5), Father (week 6), Spirit (week 7). In week 8, I start the cycle again for the third time.
But, that’s getting ahead of things. Another pattern I use is to include introductory material each week for new students and more advanced material for (you guessed it) advanced students. That way everyone has something.
Here’s a portion of my (introductory level) discussion on the Resurrection (know that this is likely among my least visually interesting lecture notes… I’m working on spicing up the presentations this year. As is, this is more of a podcast with posted notes):
Meanwhile, in my IS501 class (Practices of Worship) we talked about “Gathering and Sending” this past week. While this may not on the surface seem as worship focused, it really sets the tone for those involved (in the class and in a worship setting).
Simply understood as the welcome blessing and benediction in a service, it really is more than that. We’re gathering people from a wide variety of stories and experiences. In this gathering is also welcoming, a way of including and recognizing people for who they are. But the message of Christ isn’t a rubber stamp.
It’s an invitation into the story of God’s renewal. So, we’re inviting people to remember the story of Christ, to be renewed in this, and to then go out into their week in tune with God’s rhythms.
As part of the class, students actually have to practice the practice of the week. I try to get them thinking outside the usual church service mentality, so have a weekly “beyond the boundaries” task that has them engage the practice in a non-typical, but still worshipful way. This week, I encouraged students to pick one or two people in their life they did not know well, to learn about their stories and more of who they are (thus ‘welcoming’ them) then encourage them in how God is working in their lives (‘sending’). I then had them write a short post saying what they did.
I had some great responses, encouraging to me that we really are called to the particular and specific people in our lives, not some passive general patterns that other people do.
One student wrote and posted this as part of her longer description:
With the mindset of gathering and sending for this task I felt better focused on listening and uplifting instead of trying to solve issues. Understanding the blessing of benediction in conversation through positive comments is a meaningful addition to the worship event of meeting together.
Here’s an excerpt from my lecture on Gathering and Sending:
I’ve been teaching full-time for 6 years now. Just about every term over the last six years I’ve had a new class to develop. Maybe 1 or 2 where I didn’t have a new class, but then there was some kind of other major change, like moving to a new online learning management system.
This quarter I am teaching 2 classes I’ve taught before and do not have any major changes. They did throw a new modality at me (online live!) but it only requires some minor shifts.
Which means for the first time in six years I can spend more time making adjustments and reflecting on the courses. As part of that, I decided I’m going to add a public element, and talk a little about what I’m doing each week in my two classes over the next ten weeks. A little peek into seminary teaching and topics.
The quarter started this last week and I’m definitely enjoying the diverse and thoughtful posts from my students all over the country (and some are even in different parts of this world).
I don’t quite have students from all the states this quarter, but I have a student in Hawaii and a student in Alaska, so that’s a pretty good reach.
I’m teaching two classes, HT501 and IS501. That doesn’t mean anything to most people, of course.
HT501 is a systematic theology class on the topic of God. Of course, isn’t all theology about God?
Well, in a way. But not all theology classes focus on God specifically. There’s theology about church, and theology about salvation, theology about creation, and even theology about people. At Fuller those are separate classes.
HT501 is about God, specifically as Christianity asserts that God is Trinity: three-in-one. So, it’s a class about God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit. God is a big topic, to say the least, or rather God is a substantive subject, infinite even.
The first week we don’t even get to our main subject.
It’s the first theology class for many students after all, and so we talk about approaches to Christian theology in general and how systematic theology fits into that and into what each student is doing in their ministry/vocation.
Here’s a look at a small part of the discussion from this week:
IS501 is called Practices of Worship. It’s about practices that we engage as part of Christian worship, not surprisingly.
As one of the four “Integrated Studies” classes (that’s the IS part) , the goal isn’t just to say “Here’s how to lead worship songs” or here’s “10 steps to better communion.” The goal is to provide a big picture exploration of very immediate experiences.
So, each week we look at a different ‘practice’ (such as “gathering and sending” in week 2), and explore it in light of Scripture, history, theology, and practical ministry. Understanding how a practice fits into all these helps each student better grasp the overall place each practice has and gives them tools for creative/deepening development in their setting.
This first week, though, we don’t get to those. We talk big picture, “What is Christian worship?” Sometimes seemingly easy questions like that can have a lot more complexity than first realized.
Here’s an extended clip from the first week’s IS501 lecture:
Another big step for me this quarter is beginning to learn video editing. I’m new to this, so am starting with the basics. Which for this quarter is streamlining the discussions and getting everything neater.
It’s not very dynamic yet, so really it’s more like podcasts with accompanying text. I have hope for continued development!
In late July, I preached a sermon on Psalm 88, which is one of the most lamenty of lament passages in the Bible. I sought to dig into the place of lament in our lives and how lament actually functions as an expression of faith. Its not something to be avoided. We should embrace it as part of our authentic journey with God.
Amy opened with a lament she wrote a number of years ago:
Here’s my sermon:
Here’s the sermon notes:
As I go into this Fall, I’m considering student expectations and how to navigate these in light of my own growth and, honestly, my own sense of calling. It occurred to me that students really fall into three basic categories of expectation, and these are part of why it’s hard to please all the students all the time.
I’ve come to these categories after being a student at various places for most of my life, and from teaching students, specifically at Fuller and APU. At various points in my life, I’ve been in each of these categories, so these aren’t offered as judgments, but as a way for me to better come to terms with student expectations. This post is me thinking out loud as I sort out how to help students, so feel free to make suggestions.
I. The first category is what I call Minimizing students.
The key question they ask is, “What is the least I need to do?”
Now they may not always ask this out loud, but this is a driving question. They are intimidated, and sometimes even offended, by course requirements, and so will tend to push for doing less, getting more time, wondering how to cut corners.
What they should know: A class is not just about their time and their goals. They should bear the burden of not having enough time, energy, or concern.
What they should do:
1) Know the syllabus, so they know how to best use their time and focus.
2) Learn how to read books without reading every word
3) Don’t make others bear the burden. Own it.
4) Pick a research topic they already know something about and with a strong focus so they don’t get overwhelmed by research and either give up or just not do adequate research.
Comment: Even when a course has been vetted for how much time assignments and readings take, these students will complain that it’s too much. Some students are honest about this, and don’t offer problems. The trouble comes when a student is both a minimizing student and a perfectionist.Which sounds like a paradox, but it’s not.
They sometimes want to be perfect at a minimal level of expectation, so they tend to complain about the reading, about paper length, about lectures.I’ve even had students complain about how much optional material I’m posting.
Which confused me at first–since it’s optional–until I realized they felt a need to be perfect, felt some inner pressure to do it all, so having that optional material stressed them out. They were confronted by the fact they couldn’t do it all, and thought it was a problem with the class.
I’ve been a minimizing student in courses throughout my life. Sometimes because I’m overwhelmed with life, sometimes because I decided to prioritize another class. It’s not a judgment, but it is a distinct approach, so a student should own it and do what they are willing to do.
These students are going 55 in the fast lane and don’t think about moving to the right. They might be arrogant about what they know and don’t think they should do more, or they might just not know how to go faster, or they might be in car that’s having trouble so they’re doing the best they can.
II. The second category is what I call Middling students.
The key question they ask is “What do I need to do?“
What they should know: They shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the material. If they already knew it, they wouldn’t be in the degree program. They should know their strengths and their weaknesses, so they can organize their energy in a way that gets the most out of their efforts.
What they should do:
1) They should know the syllabus, charting due dates, and how much each assignment is worth, utilizing their time accordingly.
2) They should find a few aspects they’re particularly interested in and focus on those, rather than get lost in the weeds of too much information.
3) Ask clarifying questions.
4) Pick a research topic they are particularly interested in, something based on questions they are asking or people they know are asking. This helps academic research have a sense of real-world purpose, which can be a good motivator.
Comment: These students are generally going to ask useful questions about clarification or about a topic. They generally won’t complain and if they do, it’s probably something to be addressed. They do the work as well as they can, and while it may not always get top scores, it reflects interest and commitment. They won’t go above and beyond in either research or material, but they’ll do what they should do in an enriching way. These students are going the speed of traffic, and move to the right when someone is coming up behind them.
III. The third category of students is what I call Maximizing students.
The key question they ask is “What more can I do?“
What they should know:
A class is not just about their time and their goals. They should bear the burden of their learning and do the course tasks well while also seeking out added information and research. If a class is too easy or not covering a topic/direction of particular interest, a student has the freedom to do more, add more, read more, matching the content to their interests. If you want fish, and are good at fishing, don’t wait around the docks for someone to give you a fish.
What they should do:
1) Know the syllabus, know where there’s space to be creative and do more, and ask about policies related to making assignments longer than assigned.
2) Follow the “rabbit trails.” Whether recommended reading, references in lectures or footnotes, there’s no end of material that can be added to the required. Follow those trails and see they can discover.
3) Research thoroughly. Read as much as they can about a topic or by a particular author, becoming an expert in the time they have. For instance, my first “maximizing” student experience in my sophomore year, I read all of Tertullian’s writings for a research paper. That reading has served me extremely well since.
4) Ask good questions that relate to their actual curiosity and interest, including asking about research directions or more reading. Don’t ask questions to show off what they know or because they want to show they have questions. I love eager students, but I’m not fond of students that monopolize time.
5) Help other students. Maximizing students may be called to teaching, so they should try it out if there are forums or opportunities. Be a benefit to the whole class, not just yourself.
Whether because they have experience in a topic or because of a strong passion for it or because of a standout work ethic, these students see the requirements of a class as as starting place. Their research paper might add a huge amount of reading to their course work, but they’re thrilled with the chance to do it, and they want as much feedback as possible. They’re doing 80 in the fast lane–or more if no one gets in their way.
Some added thoughts:
I’ve learned that different institutions tend to have different student cultures. And it generally doesn’t reflect overall intelligence or capability.
Fuller has a mix of all three, which probably makes it more of a “middling student” school in general. In large part because most of my students are working other jobs.
Which again is to note these categories aren’t judgments about anyone personally, but how they shape student expectation. I have some students who are very capable and passionate, but are overwhelmed with other parts of their life. They’re minimizing students but really good and interesting people.
The tricky part about teaching at Fuller is that I have think about each kind of student in my course design and assignment instructions. I need to be able to provide clear guidance and introductory material for the minimizing or new students, while also having advanced material and additional resources for maximizing students.
I need to make space for student initiative and interest, so can’t be so narrow in assignments or make busywork, while trying to make sure no one gets left behind. I often teach classes where I have both brand-new-to-seminary students and last-quarter-before-graduating students, as well as the mix of student expectations for all sorts of reasonable and unreasonable causes.
It makes things tricky but I really do think it’s an interesting challenge both because I’m intrigued by strategic organization and because this is also the situation for churches.
There’s people with a mix of expectations, and far too often the minimizing attendees get all the attention, with the middling folks becoming the backbone of the community, and leaving the maximizing people out altogether–unless they’re on staff. People can, I’ve learned, actually mature out of a church community. They’re needing more than milk, but there’s no meat or bread to be found. So they wander. Sometimes wander away if they don’t know where to find more substantial guidance.
The challenge in teaching both in seminary and church is to find a way to pull the minimizers along (and hope that they get charged up) while also encouraging the middling and the maximizers to continued growth. Create space, maintain space, allow space. I think that’s a good mission for a teacher and a pastor.
That’s my challenge and maybe even my calling in both arenas, as long as they’ll have me.
When I was 6 or 7, I wrote a personal testimony of faith:
As of this past April, now age 43, I am a licensed pastor in The Wesleyan Church.
The process wasn’t that difficult. I started it late last summer, when I casually asked Chris Snider, the pastor of my church, about the ordination process. He got me in contact with some key district leaders, and all of a sudden, I was caught up in the momentum. It just started happening. Which made me laugh a bit, because it is a lot like so much in life. Things take a long time to start, but when they do? Whoosh!
My actual professional training (MDiv ’02) is in ministry (an MDiv is a 3 year professional ministry degree). Much of my work experience is connected to ministry. My PhD dissertation (PhD Theology ’13) was on Jürgen Moltmann’s understanding of church in conversation with missional church writings. And I teach ministers or soon-to-be ministers for a living. Getting ordained wasn’t part of the story up until recently, however. I’m not sure why. God had me on other paths and when I finished seminary I was pretty burned out with the thought of ministry. Which had nothing to do with what I learned, and nothing to do with the ministry work itself, it had everything to do with my frustrations about church politics. I’ve not had a lot of success with leaders in my life. I didn’t like the idea of being a vocational pastor, even though that was my professional training. Quite a quandary. God wasn’t finished with me yet.
A winding road later, here I am, moved to Sacramento in summer 2015, began attending a church that is in our community (that was my priority) not long after, and it happened to be a Wesleyan Church. We attended a Nazarene Church when we got married and up to moving. Before that I was variously non-denominational, Conservative Baptist (with a Gen-X flair), Foursquare, Conservative Baptist (with no flair), Assemblies of God. Before all that, I was Wesleyan.
My family history going back generations has mixed religious roots, but there’s Methodist in there, though they left the Methodists when it became too liberal, roundabout the late 19th century.
I started reading Wesley’s writing in college, in a junior year Christian ethics class. His theology and passion clicked with me in a way that few others had up to that point. Indeed, my encounter with the Ante-Nicene Fathers my sophomore year and my re-discovery of Wesley in my junior year radically changed my understanding of Christianity, the Christian life, and my own self in this world.
To be licensed, I had to take one class on Wesleyan Church history and discipline (while teaching a Wesleyan theology class for Fuller at the same time, oddly enough). I had to talk to some folks, fill out some paperwork. I also formalized my participation at my church, becoming an assistant pastor (unpaid) of Christian formation (eternal pay), which teaching, doing some online writing, and occasionally preaching.
In getting licensed I’m acknowledging the journey I’ve been on, and while I still bristle a bit at the title ‘pastor’, I know that God has clearly led me in ways that keeps me on that path. My role as a theologian teaching in a seminary and my volunteer work at my church teaching and preaching are what I do, so I might as well embrace it.
Becoming licensed is a bit like a second (or third) baptism for me. It’s a public acknowledgment of my confession of Christ as lord, and all that entails.
I’m owning my story, and what Christ is doing in my life.
What Christ did in my life, from a very early age, involved the Wesleyan Church.
I remember sitting outside of San Dimas Wesleyan Church during an Easter service in 1979, when I was four, repeating the words of the pastor to accept Jesus into my heart.
I don’t have a picture of that, except in my mind, but I remember it so clearly.
I became a (junior) member of that church the next year.
I was baptized at that church (or at least a nearby swimming pool) in 1980, when I was five. I have evidence of that:
Here’s me (in the middle) with Pastor George Jenewein (who preached that Easter sermon and baptized me) and my friend Brandon (who I don’t remember at all).
That’s a long time ago (just look at the shirts in the picture), but things have come just about full circle, at least in terms of denomination. A lot has changed, but there’s been a clear trajectory from that time to now. And things I thought I left behind have come back into the scene.
Very interesting to see what comes next. Very interesting to see what God takes from the past and makes new.
Indeed, even my testimony isn’t much different after all these years.
Before moving to Sacramento, Amy and I lived in the house right next door to the address listed on my baptism certificate (which my family moved from in late 1980).
I’m back involved in a Wesleyan Church. I have pretty much kept the same fashion look (just with shorter hair).
I’ll just have to update a couple of things in my testimony, but even it is mostly the same:
My name is Patrick Oden. I am teaching at a seminary. Jesus became my savior when I was 4 years old. I love Jesus.
John Wesley was one of the more influential Christian leaders in history. He was a prolific preacher (3 times a day, often his first sermon was at 5am), writer, and organizer. He was passionate about Christ and what it meant to reflect Christ’s life into and for this world in the power of the Spirit. He was also pretty severe with those who served under him at times. In his letter to John Trembeth, a Methodist minister, he added this strong reminder that life of speaking involves a life of reading and growing:
“I scarce ever knew a preacher read so little. And perhaps by neglecting it you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. It is just the same as it was seven years ago. It is lively, but not deep; there is little variety; there is no compass of thought. Reading only can supply this, with meditation and daily prayer.
“You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it any more than a thorough Christian. O begin! Fix some part of every day for private exercises. You may acquire the taste which you have not; what is tedious at first will afterwards be pleasant.
“Whether you like it or no, read and pray daily. It is for your life; there is no other way: else you will be a trifler all your days, and a pretty, superficial preacher. Do justice to your own soul; give it time and means to grow. Do not starve yourself any longer. Take up your cross, and be a Christian altogether.”
CHAPTER XVII: CONCLUSION (of his book Ordaining Women written in 1891 )
“What are we, what our race,
How good for nothing and base,
Without fair woman to aid us?
What could we do, where should we go,
How should we wander in night and wo,
But for woman to lead us!”
—Cristoval DeCastillejo, A.D. 1590.
IN the preceding pages the following propositions have been clearly proved.
We come, then, to this final CONCLUSION: THE GOSPEL OF JESUS CHRIST, IN THE PROVISIONS WHICH IT MAKES, AND IN THE AGENCIES WHICH IT EMPLOYS, FOR THE SALVATION OF MANKIND, KNOWS NO DISTINCTION OF RACE, CONDITION, OR SEX, THEREFORE NO PERSON EVIDENTLY CALLED OF GOD TO THE GOSPEL MINISTRY, AND DULY QUALIFIED FOR IT, SHOULD BE REFUSED ORDINATION ON ACCOUNT OF RACE, CONDITION, OR SEX.
In early 1999, my church had a major crisis, as there was a group of people who left the church and others were threatening to leave over the issue of a woman preaching on the occasional Sunday morning. It was nominally a Conservative Baptist church, albeit one that was planted to minister to Gen-X, and was still predominately made up of singles and those under 30. It was, as my t-shirt proclaimed, “The Flock that Rocks.” But still conservative in many ways. I had friends on each side of the arguments, and so rather than just pick a side, I decided to use my Wheaton training and study the issue in more depth on my own.
As I’ve been going through some old folders, I ran across one that had a bunch of writing from my pre-computer days, when I used a Canon StarWriter 80. That word processor got me through college and and through the year before seminary. It wasn’t fancy, but neither was I. I’ve never had enough money to be fancy.
It was a good tool (and had a better built-in thesaurus than Word does now) but sadly the file types were proprietary. Apparently at some point I exported them all as text files, then left them unedited with all sorts of strange markup. My “position” paper on women in ministry was in that electronic pile. In light of current conversations, I thought it was interesting to read when I became committed to a position and why. So, I cleaned it up and thought it worth postingg.
Here’s what I wrote in the summer of 1999 (slightly edited for clarity):
With all of the controversy and conflict which has arisen concerning the topic of women serving within the church I have decided to spend a little time researching and drawing some conclusions. I want to have a clear idea in my head on what I believe to be the “right” answer, as well as provide myself with a bit of writing practice before a grade is dependent on my now rusty talents. I come to this topic with, to be honest, no prior issues or opinions. My thoughts have been content to remain vague and undefined.
To be honest, it has not occurred to me to find anything wrong with a woman teaching within a church setting. I have been taught by women throughout my life, to my benefit. However, some people have found this to be a considerable issue indeed, even to the point of separating themselves from their local community. With this in mind I have decided to more formally interact with the subject of what a woman’s place in the church can be extended to.
My goal in this brief treatise is to examine the arguments supporting and refusing a woman to speak in a church setting. I will examine the challenging texts, explore their possible interpretations, as well as offer some thoughts which are not directly related to the texts. I am seeking a clarity of thought, as well as hoping to add some minor contribution to the arguments. Continue reading