Welcome to Graduate School

Welcome to everyone.  I will probably write another post telling a little more about myself, but right now I want to talk about the difference between graduate school and undergraduate.

1.  Graduate Students take more responsibility for their own learning.

It is assumed that you have a background, desire to learn, and interest in the subject.  You want to know as much as you can about the general field and maybe about special topics within it.  You don’t waste much time asking questions like, “Will this be on the test?” or “Is this required?’  or “Do we have to read all of the textbook.”

My motto is “High Expectations, Low Anxiety.”  What I mean is this: I want to challenge you to learn all you can, to follow special interests or questions that challenge you, to read more than is required, and to think about the subject.  But I don’t want you to worry about your grade.  I will try to make the graded requirements clear enough.  There are definite assignments in the syllabus, and your grade will be based on those.  But don’t let the assignments limit you.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be throwing out some challenges or “assignments,” and I expect some of you to respond here with comments or new posts.  These will not be graded as such–although there is a grade for writing posts of your own, so it will count as part of that.  But I am more interested in getting you started thinking about issues that will come up again in later writing assignments, class discussions, and maybe examinations.

2.  Graduate study involves critical thinking.

Critical thinking doesn’t mean rejecting your faith or naively following the latest fads.  It does mean you think through important issues and consider all relevant evidence.  You don’t have to doubt that God is Holy, Righteous, and True, but it might be helpful to examine some of your assumptions about the will and word of God.

One subject we will consider in this class is the human element in the Bible.  The books of the Bible have human authors.  There are important implications in that fact.  We will consider some of the human factors in the composition, preservation, and translation of the Bible.  If you have never thought about these aspects of the Bible, it may be somewhat unsettling at first.

3.  Some things will prove relevant more in the long run than the short term.

In other words, not everything we talk about in this class will help you with next Sunday’s sermon or Sunday School lesson.  For the past thirty-some years I have had an interest in textual criticism and the history of biblical manuscripts.  I seldom talk about the subject in preaching or counseling–in that sense, it is not very relevant or practical.  Yet, in the last few years a number of people have written books attacking the truth of Christianity and the reliability of the Bible–and they base these attacks on questions about manuscripts and textual criticism.  I am now in a position to speak intelligently on these questions; I can see the fallacies, ignorance, and dishonest arguments in these attacks.

An interest in things that seem theoretical now, may pay off down the road.

4.  This class will have some practical application!

I don’t want to give you the impression that it is all theoretical.  I believe there are some important truths, values, and perspectives in the Old Testament that we deeply need in our Christian life and witness.  This class is an intensive introduction to three areas: Historical Introduction to the Old Testament, Research tools and methods, and Biblical Theology.  The last part is the “application” part.

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