the most important thing theological students have learned

March 8, 2008

We just had our “contact week” for final year theological studies, doing a bit of Old Testament, New Testament, and some preaching stuff. But a lot of the conversations were about our experience of congregational work. Yesterday afternoon we met with a German Baptist professor in New Testament. At one point he asked what the most important thing was that we have learned in five years of theological studies. The basically undisputed answer from the group was: Exegesis.

Exegesis is the art of understanding texts. In our studies, it means understanding what a certain author in the Bible wrote. Brian Mclaren write about studying English literature, which was where he majored in, that they did in a couple of years what others have learned as kids: to read. This defines the art of exegesis beautifully; it is doing what people of different religions are always doing, reading the scriptures of the religion. Hopefully the English majors learn something other that what I’ve learned in primary school, and hopefully we have learned more than what I learned in Sunday school about reading texts.

Well, I know that this is true. I had many conversations with Wynand in res about what we learned in theological studies. If someone were to ask me how I would approach some systematic problem, I would have little other than some background and a gut feel to go by. If you were to ask me to do some practical research, I’ll do it by logic with a little theory. If you throw me into a very sensitive pastoral situation, I’ll always wonder why I’m doing things the way I do, but if you give me a Biblical text, I’ll be able to tell you what I’ll do with it, how I’ll approach it, where I’ll get information on it.

And I’m not alone. As we are doing practical work, many students come back and tell the stories of people in ministry that think they must be stupid or just young because they still worry about opening a commentary, or a Computer program with the Greek or Hebrew on it when thinking about a sermon. Many others tell us we spend too much time on theological and background things that no one is interested in, and that kind of thing. I don’t know what caused this, I guess it’s a combination of the lecturers that we had. We had some awesome lecturers in Biblical studies, that really opened the world of the Bible, of Exegesis and Biblical theology, and historical studies and so much more, open to us.

Or maybe it’s just our yeargroup, that developed this importance through years of conversation together. I don’t know, but if you find someone in the 2008 Masters in Divinity final year class from the University of Pretoria, most probably exegesis will be of utmost importance to them. Hopefully this will still be the case five years from now.

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