Friday, September 23, 2016

"Dimensions of the Faith"

For the last few months, I've been working through a series of Bible classes from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. All missionaries serving long-term with SIM are required to have some basic Bible courses, and this one was highly recommended. My first term of service overseas will likely be less than 2 years (and therefore not "long term"), but I am planning to return to Africa as a "career missionary," so I decided to start working on the additional requirements. *Go ahead, call me an over-achiever!*

Their "Dimensions of the Faith" course is available online for free, with both the audio lectures and PDF workbook available for download. The courses are designed for any Christian desiring to have a better understanding of how the Bible is put together, basic church doctrine and theology, and a proper understanding of missions. Thankfully, there are very few seminary terms, so it's pretty easy to follow along! Each lesson is about 45 minutes, and the two- or three-page workbook lesson helps me stay focused. Seriously, you should go check it out!

After working through the "Biblical Interpretation" and "Old Testament Survey I" courses, I decided to skip ahead and go through the "Church History I" class. Here's a quote from yesterday's audio lesson that really hit me:

"In our own post-modern world with its radical relativism, there appears to be less and less need to be tethered to truth or tethered to historical evidence. People simply tell their own stories and allow you to tell you ownbut with no absolute requirement, no rule against which all of these are tested. In the midst of that relativism, although, I'm here to remind us that for the Christian scholar, history must be a study built upon evidence. We must find those sources, study them, analyze them, and tell the story based upon what was the reality of the past rather than what we might have wished it to be. This means for the evangelical scholar that we must be absolutely diligent in our searching out of the truth rather than creating reality for our own purposes."
-Dr. Garth Rosell

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for "telling your own story" and recognizing each person's individuality. I believe it's important for each person to feel like they've been heard, their ideas are valid, their experiences are real, and their reactions are normal (albeit sinful at times). I agree that there are personal applications of Biblical principles. I agree that the Bible is "living and active" and that the Holy Spirit causes verses to "pop out" and enlighten us as we read. But where we can easily get into trouble is when we interpret the Bible or alter our theology based on our individual desires. However, the Bible is not a story that needs re-telling in our own ways, nor do I think it needs a "modern-day interpretation."

Likewise, church history should not be retold without talking about the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, or the Reformation. Without understanding what led to those dark periods in our history, we can easily repeat it! There's a tendency to downplay the low points of our particular denomination while tearing down other denominations. It's easy to point fingers at other religions and their heresy while disregarding the wayward teachings in our own churches today. I see that the modern-day church is becoming more and more "culturally relevant" while becoming less and less a source of truth and clarity. In our search for the lost sheep, are we drifting further and further away from the sheepfold and the Shepherd?

Anyway, just some thoughts. I'm enjoying going through this course as it draws me back to the foundations of my faith, challenges some of what I've always been taught, and consistently points me back to the Scriptures to seek out the truth. I'm realizing how important it is to be firmly grounded in my own faith before leaving for the mission field. There, I know I will encounter Christianity mixed with animist (folk or voodoo) beliefs, churches that are struggling to implement Biblical worship and church government, and unique Biblical interpretations seen through the African worldview! 

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