An Observation

I’ve been reading a lot of books. Specifically, I’ve been reading a lot of youth ministry books. As I’ve been reading books on student leadership, relational youth ministry, how to disciple students, and a host of other topics, I noticed something: we always want to agree.

Let me elaborate. In pretty much any other area where I do extensive reading (biblical studies, linguistics, Hebrew language, phonology and morphology, ancient near eastern studies, second temple, even adolescent psychology) when someone disagrees with something, they aren’t afraid to say so. More importantly, in those fields you’re expected to interact with the latest research. That means you can’t simply not address how your view on topic X differs from Professor Y’s view on topic X if Professor Y has recently published a monograph on said topic. Youth ministry books are different. I’ll allow that books on youth ministry aren’t meant to be scholarly monographs. Even so, it is frustrating when an author doesn’t interact with other youth ministry authors.

By and large, the youth ministry world is fairly small. If someone has managed to publish anything larger than an article in Youthworker, Group or Immerse that person probably knows and is known by a plurality of the other voices in youth ministry. So, we want to be kind. We want to embody love. I get that. But sometimes it would just be really helpful if an author would say, “I suggest doing such and such. You might note that this is different than what B suggests in her recent book. B is a great person, but I think she’s wrong here. Let me explain why…”

Maybe publishers don’t want to deal with that. Maybe authors just want to be nice. But every year I read a number of youth ministry books. Some of which have wildly differing ideas on ministry, or even a single aspect of ministry. That’s good! We need different perspectives. But sometimes I feel like either A) these authors aren’t reading one another or B) I’m completely misinterpreting what every one of them is saying. I know A can’t be true, and I’d like to believe that B isn’t any more likely. Therefore, there must be another reason. Regardless of what that reason is, I’d like to say: it’s OK to disagree. It’s OK to say you disagree. One of the things that makes scholarship so helpful is the back and forth that goes on between scholars. We need more of that–in published form–between youth workers who respect one another, but have legitimate disagreements over aspects of youth ministry philosophy and praxis.

I’m not saying this never happens in youth ministry. After all, Mark Oestreicher sometimes mentions minor disagreements with Kurt Johnston. But on the whole, we try to stay away from this and just applaud one another. On the one hand, that’s a good thing. We are all on the same team. On the other hand, I think doing so limits our interactions on important topics because youth ministry authors aren’t interacting with one another in sustained ways via books and articles. Perhaps that is happening on a personal level, but that doesn’t benefit the wider youth ministry world.

Advertisements

Voices

Paul Martin has been working through an excellent series of posts on the individuals he sees as the voices in the coming (currently happening?) revolution in youth ministry. This week he mentions theological voices.

I find the inclusion of an entire post devoted to those who are thinking about youth ministry from a theological perspective to be extremely refreshing. Perhaps more refreshing still is that most of these individuals have theological background. They could write a paper for an academic journal. Ten years ago, when I was in college, I remember being disappointed that there were not more voices from theological and biblical studies that were speaking into youth ministry. In hindsight there were voices, I just wasn’t aware of them yet (Kenda Creasy Dean, for instance). But there has certainly been an increase in recent years.

I still find it disappointing that we don’t have biblical studies people speaking into youth ministry. I realize that some will say that biblical studies is an extremely specialized field, whereas practical theology necessarily recommends itself to these kinds of interactions. However, without biblical studies speaking into youth ministry our curriculum will continue to be less than it might otherwise be. We will continue to be comfortable with whatever gets us by in terms of our knowledge of the Bible, instead of challenging ourselves to go the distance. In the 90s no one would have believed that youth ministry would experience a theological renewal, and itself be pushing other ministries of the church to think theologically and have greater depth, but that is exactly what is happening. Maybe youth ministry can be the place where we start engaging Scripture in much more depth than we typically do. In another fifteen years, maybe youth ministry will be leading the charge and encouraging pastoral staff to use the tools they learned in seminary. Maybe youth ministry can be a place where Christians are challenged to acknowledge Scripture for what it is, really wrestle with the difficulties this presents, own it as our story, and allow it to form our lives.

Hebrew Word Order

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of Hebrew (to me) is the current discussion–or lack thereof–regarding whether ancient Hebrew is a verb-subject language or a subject-verb language. The dominant opinion held by most scholars is that Hebrew is a verb-subject language. Robert Holmstedt (who, as I mentioned on Friday, is right about this stuff) argues that Hebrew is actually a subject-verb language. To be fair, Holmstedt isn’t the only one, though he does appear to be the most vocal.

I worked extensively with Holmstedt’s research on word order in my MA program at Gordon-Conwell. It demonstrated great explanatory power over any passage I threw at it. That is to say, no matter what passage I tested Holmstedt’s explanation of SV word order against, it always made more sense to understand that passage as exhibiting a basic word order of Subject-Verb than vice-versa. That makes this one of those little esoteric areas of interest that guarantee people will look at me strangely. In fact, to be fair, even biblical studies scholars look at those of us interested in word order theory strangely. We’re an odd bunch.

Over at Ancient Hebrew Grammar, Holmstedt recently posted on this topic, linking to a PDF of his new article in JHS. I feel Holmstedt’s frustration over this issue not being seriously addressed by many scholars. One senior scholar once told me that, although he was excited that I was interested in Hebrew poetry, linguistics and word order, such things weren’t likely to land me a job one day. In fairness, that critique can be leveled against most of ancient near eastern studies. Even so, frustration over the general lack of serious consideration of anything other than a VS explanation of ancient Hebrew is entirely warranted.

For those interested in word order, I highly recommend Holmstedt’s article. For those who think this is all a silly discussion (and if that’s your thought, really, why have you read this far?), keep in mind that this discussion has sizable repercussions for how we understand Hebrew narrative and the ever (un)helpful term “emphasis.”

As an aside–JHS (Journal of Hebrew Scriptures) is one of my favorites. Their open access policy is masterful, and they consistently publish fine articles on a variety of topics touching upon the study of Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible.

Favorites

Although it has been ages since I’ve blogged, I’ve kept up a regular schedule of reading blogs. I keep up with blogs that fall into two main categories, the first are youth ministry blogs. I follow them because, in cast it isn’t obvious, I’m passionate about youth ministry and have been for some time. The second are biblical studies blogs–or, as they are sometimes called, biblioblogs–in case it isn’t obvious, I’m also extremely interested in biblical studies. Even if plans for a PhD have changed at present, I still hope to pursue one at some point. So, a couple of my favorites:

Youth Ministry
Rethinking Youth Ministry – Brian and Jacob consistently deliver an interesting take on various issues related to youth ministry. Since Brian has begun writing a regular article on Patheos I’ve found him to be even more generous towards the philosophy of youth ministry when he is rethinking. The guys are almost always worth reading, and you really should have them in your feed reader.

Why Is Marko – Mark Oestreicher (whose last name, by the way, I can now spell without assistance) is nothing if not a youth ministry luminary. Not only was he part of Youth Specialties, he has also continued to volunteer in his own church’s youth ministry. Perhaps what find most helpful about Marko’s blog is that, although he often disagrees with and challenges prevailing assumptions about youth ministry he does so with grace. It also helps that I often find myself nodding in agreement with what he writes.

Kenda Creasy Dean – Kenda is my favorite youth ministry author and thinker. She has been writing about a way of doing youth ministry that takes students and their spirituality seriously, and she’s been doing it for years. Her blog isn’t updated with great regularity, but for her books alone she deserves to be on everyone’s list of must read youth ministry blogs. In fact, if you don’t own Almost Christian, Practicing Passion or The Godbearing Life you need to stop reading, go to Amazon and buy them. Now. Kenda’s books and thoughts have been some of the main influencers on my own philosophy of youth ministry in the past two years.

Biblical Studies
Ancient Hebrew Poetry – John Hobbins, in addition to being a fine writer, fastidious scholar and caring pastor is also a downright likable guy. He always has something interesting to say on his blog and if you watch the comments you’re likely to find some of the finest minds in Hebrew language studies interacting with one another.

Ancient Hebrew Grammar – John Cook and Robert Holmstedt’s blog isn’t the most regularly updated biblioblog, but these two scholars are simply fantastic. I did a great amount of work with their research as part of my final year of study at Gordon-Conwell. Nothing would make me happier than one day having the opportunity to study under one of them. Perhaps the most engaging element of their research into Hebrew linguistics is this: they’re right.

There are several more biblioblogs I could mention, all of them excellent, but that’s what a blog roll is for.

The End of Another Semester

This is my obligatory end of semester post. I realize every student blogger out there is posting something similar, and it pains me to be part of the herd (flock?) of lemmings in this case, but I like reflecting on a semester after it has concluded.

In this case, the semester isn’t quite over yet. I have two finals next week (Aramaic and Greek) and a take-home final (Theology of the Pentatuech) that I need to sit down and actually complete at some point. Either way, classes are over and that’s good enough for me.

Greek II – I have completed my first year of Greek–for the second time. I can’t express how happy I am that I decided to not attempt to test out of Greek I and II. Retaking the first year of Greek was certainly what I needed. I feel like I actually have a good chance of retaining the information this time. I’m looking forward to Intermediate Greek this summer. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve enjoyed the experience and as a result I’ll have a much easier time reviewing and keeping up with my Greek.

Aramaic – The first half of the semester was not my idea of fun. It actually wasn’t my idea of learning a language either (learning paradigms != learning a language). However, the second half of the semester, in which we simply translated Biblical Aramaic and even got into a different pointing system and some unpointed Imperial Aramaic was much, much better. In fact, I really enjoyed the second portion of the course, and I learned a ton. It is somewhat odd; I’m the least anxious for this final. I think this is primarily because the final involves parsing and translation. I know I can do this. There are no paradigms to reproduce, which means all I need to do is show that I know the language as well as any first year Aramaic student could be expected to know it.

Spiritual Formation for Ministry – I took this class as a Semlink, and I’m glad I did. I still have several months to finish it, but I’m hoping to complete it by June (earlier, if I can manage it). This is a course that could be extremely helpful and useful, but has proven to be neither. The lectures have been mediocre, and the readings are the same. I’m glad I took it as a Semlink.

Theology of the Pentateuch – This was the most disappointing course this semester. Actually, it is currently running neck and neck with my Systematic Theology courses from undergrad as the most unhelpful course I have ever taken. I don’t want to have this post descend into negativity at the end, so I will content myself with saying that it would have made a decent Biblical theology course. As a Theology of the Pentateuch course it was unfruitful at best. The problems generally revolve around using categories from systematic theology (instead of simply working through the text) and in having as our corpus the entirety of the Christian Bible (yes, including the NT) instead of restricting our searching to the Pentateuch (or even the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament).

So, two classes where I learned a ton, one that was mediocre, and one that was a complete disappointment. I suppose it could have been worse. All in all though, this semester has not been the worst I’ve ever had, and Greek and Aramaic thoroughly redeem it. So, onward to next Wednesday and my Greek and Aramaic finals.

More Thoughts on the PhD thing

If you are just now joining my maddeningly wandering thoughts on this issue, please see here and here.

You’ll recall that my most recent post on this topic left off with me as confused and uncertain as I was at the beginning of the post. I’ve had more time to think about things over the past few weeks. I’ve talked to a number of people. Everyone affirms what they have been affirming for the past several months, I have talents and passions that lie very much in the realm of professorial pursuits. I’ve talked to God about my hesitance to move with all my abilities towards getting a PhD. I also took the time yesterday to talk to one of my professors here at GCTS about his journey towards a PhD. He and his wife took a similar path to what Mandy and I are looking at (both graduated from GCTS with two MAs, both did PhD work at the same time, at the same school). His counsel was simple: he recommended that I not worry about things down the road too much. Plan for them, yes. In his view, if we (Mandy and I) feel that God wants us to become professors, God will take care of the details. He also recommended that I go in with my eyes wide open expecting pain, suffering, hardship, and difficulty. But at the same time trusting in God to provide and help Mandy and I get through those difficulties. For him, the key word was trust.

I’m not always the best with trust. Mandy is a bit better with it than I. It should be an adventure. So, where am I at now? I’m past the point of hoping for writing on the wall. I have all the information, advice, and guidance I need to make a decision. At this point I’m going to begin pursuing the PhD thing. Over the next semester or two I’m going to behave as if, and take all the classes I would if, I were in an MA program and planning on going on for PhD work. All of those classes will slot well into either requirements or electives for my M.Div. It’ll give me a chance to work at a high level (Harvard) and feel things out a little. In reality this is probably me being overly cautious.

So, onward towards a PhD.

The Other in Second Temple Judaism

This weekend Mandy and I will be attending a conference with Adam and his wife. The conference in question is titled, “The Other in Second Temple Judaism: A Conference in Honor of John J. Collins.” It is being held at Amherst College. I’ve been looking forward to this conference for some time now.

Carol Newsom, of Emory University/Candler School of Theology is giving the keynote entitled “God’s Other: The Intractable Problem of the Gentile King in Israelite and Early Jewish Literature.” I’ve read a few articles by Dr. Newsom on the wisdom literature, and I’m looking forward to hearing her lecture.

I’m also looking forward to hearing Samuel Adams of Union Theological Seminary in Richmond discuss “Poverty and ‘Otherness’ in Second Temple Instructions.” Dr. Adams recently had a book published on Second Temple Instructions, which I’d love to acquire, but won’t be purchasing any time soon.

I’m not sure what panels I’ll be attending for the second morning session, or the afternoon session. Several sound fascinating, but I will have to pick two. If I’m able to find an internet connection at Amherst I may post my thoughts throughout the day, we shall see.