Friday, May 16, 2014

The Biblical Languages: Why I'm Tools-Based And Skills-Driven

I enjoyed the post by David Roach. The title is "The Decline of Biblical Languages." I'm especially thankful for the quotes by Augustine, Boyce, and Spurgeon. There are still schools requiring the biblical languages. My own Capital Seminary and Graduate School is among them. But no one is going to argue that there has been a decline. But why the decline? Is it because schools believed that Greek isn't really all that important? Is it because they really think a knowledge of Hebrew and a knowledge of Spanish are of equivalent need or utility in local church ministry? I'm not so sure that's the reason for those schools moving away from language requisites.

I actually think schools were hearing some of the chatter (pre-NSA, pre-9/11) from graduates saying that they never use "that stuff" in ministry. Instead of evaluating if a new approach could be beneficial, they threw the baby out with the bath water. Roach writes:
"Those who spend years studying for ministry yet avoid the languages need to rethink their educational priorities. Refusing to study a topic that helps them teach Scripture more effectively contributes to the ministry’s becoming what one author has called a “new order of sacred fools." 
I say, "Amen!" I want to echo what he says there. Students, don't run from the languages. They are valuable. They will deepen your ministries. They will. They've deepened mine. They've enriched my life. They've increased my love for the Word of God. They've made me a more efficient teacher and leader. I wouldn't take all of that invested time back for anything.

With that said, I think we have to issue another exhortation. Those who spend years teaching the languages yet avoid preparing students to use them in ministry need to rethink their educational priorities. Refusing to show how to use Hebrew and Greek in ministry hinders the very students you love and want to see successful in the ministries God's prepared for them. When you opt to never show students how to use it in ministry, you basically treat Greek like the little soaps and shampoos found in hotel rooms. Know what I mean? You stay in the hotel, and you use them while you're there. But when check-out time is approaching, you get all the things you need for the future and leave behind those little soaps and shampoos.

Here's one of my favorite Greek quotes. The quote is from none other than A. T. Robertson:
"Civilized man has triumphed over brutes largely by the use of tools. They do not make the man, but the man makes the tools. As man makes progress, he continually improves his tools and his use of them. This is true in war, railroads, agriculture, everything. The man who has the best tools, other things being equal, will do the best work. Efficiency is largely skill in the use of the right tools. The modern preacher in his study is a man with his tools. If he does not have the right tools upon his desk, he cannot produce rapid results and as high grade work as he otherwise may. A man of parts without tools may surpass a dunderhead with good implements for work. That is beside the point. The man of genius with the best tools will do far more and far better work than he can do without such implements of service. No preacher can be satisfied with less than the best that is in him. One can usually tell the quality of a preacher's work by looking at the books in his library."  (The Minister and His Greek New Testament, 23–24)
In the early 20th century, those tools were primarily books. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, transportation was marked by first-generation avionics and first-generation automobiles. Now I know there is number of nostalgic people out there who would love to go on back to the good ol' days. But I bet if you could have asked Orville and Wilbur Wright if they were content to fly on the sand dunes of Kitty Hawk, NC or if they would have preferred to go to the moon, I guarantee you they would have wanted to go to the moon. And you know what? Their "Flyer" wouldn't have flown high or far enough. I think they would have been mesmerized if people stopped with technological advances. What if we saw everyone around us using iPhones and iPads, but when we got on an airplane they weren't using computers or satellites. –"If you're using things like that, you're not really flying." I think it behooves us to leverage whatever technological advances are available to us for the sake of the gospel. If tools can help our students sustainably use the biblical languages in ministry, as opposed to the alternative (which seems to be just throwing all those credit hours in the trash), then I think we should show them how.

I think the tools-based, skills-driven approach is exactly what that "bivocational pastor who works 40 hours in a factory on top of shepherding a church and leading a family" is looking for. I think if we would tailor our Greek classes like this, he'd use Greek because it was more than just paradigms. If someone just showed him how, he'd be able to cultivate that skill for the rest of his life. Believe me, when you use it day in and day out, your knowledge of the grammar will go up. Using it in ministry benefits everyone. Being able to master those -μι verbs probably isn't going to help that bi-vocational pastor. After all, they can't be our students forever. We have to teach them the things that count in the limited amount of time we have them. -Μι verbs just aren't at the top of my list. Doing what I'm talking about here might just help him concentrate on those other very important responsibilities he has. And he won't even have to leave his Greek in the room when he checks out of Hotel Seminary.

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