This summer, I have the immense privilege of co-teaching with Dr. Philip Bustrum and Stephen Lewis at the Mekong Bible Institute in Thailand.
After four years of undergraduate Bible training and Two years of master’s work on the Old Testament, I really thought lesson preparation would be easier.
I am used to teaching in contexts where expectations are so low that as long as I give a devotional thought or reaffirm someone’s theological presuppositions I am “successful”. In Thailand, I will be ministering to pastors who have very little prior training, virtually no printed academic resources, and an unquenchable thirst for God’s Word.
I will admit that it is terribly frightening to think that I may offer the most ‘authoritative’ commentary on Amos (for example) that they have ever heard. They will take what they have learned in our classes and share that with their congregations from which will rise the future leaders of the Thai church. gulp.
In such a context, academic study of scripture becomes a bane and blessing. Lacking age and experience, my academic training is the sole basis for my ‘authority’ to teach (and partially my status as a Westerner). In college and seminary, I was trained to conduct historical and grammatical analysis of the biblical text. Hermeneutics 101, to know the Bible, you’d better know the historical context and the biblical language. Thailand 101, there are no Thai grammars for Hebrew or Greek and I think the Anchor Bible Dictionaries will be available in Thai in about never (for better or worse).
Fortunately, both college and seminary taught me the importance of literary analysis of Biblical text (and to a lesser degree, canonical readings of biblical text). For practical purposes, literary analysis requires less attention to historical contexts and can be conducted (less effectively) without access original languages. I have been urged by elder saints to preach/teach the Bible “clear and straight”. On the banks of the Mekong river, with naught but a Bible in hand, teaching the Bible “clear and straight” requires great attention to the text as text and a greater appreciation for the perspicuity of Scripture. Seminarians are taught to confess, but never practice such a concept.
Perhaps a concluding metaphor would be instructive. (This just came to me) When bowling, there is always the possibility of rolling the ball into the gutter. Once in the gutter, you will miss your target (except, I should note, that one time when a lucky [dare I say, providential] bounce gave me a strike on a gutter ball). Ideally though, you will roll it straight (unless you’re fancy) and hit the pins without going into the gutter. Historical and grammatical analysis of Biblical texts play an important role in keeping interpreters on the straight and narrow. They’re like bumpers, keeping you from getting off target, but they’re not the main point and not always necessary.
So… that said, I’m expecting a letter from Cornerstone revoking my degree. But who needs a degree in Bible anyway?