I started seminary classes today (for the third year). Preaching Lab and chapel in the morning, and Ordination Prep in the afternoon.
Ordination Prep is meant to prepare us for the process of pastoral ordination, especially in terms of Bible knowledge. Ordination, especially at Grace Community Church, is rigorous, comprehensive, and intimidating. And it should be. The qualifications for being a leader in God’s church are stringent. The testing ought to be nothing less. Dr. Mayhue teaches the class, and with his Navy background and ministry experience, he likes a good challenge and is willing to challenge his students. I like that.
Today at the beginning of class (on “syllabus day,” no less), he gave us a pop quiz. We had four minutes to write down all sixty-six books of the Bible in the right order and with correct spelling. This was to test our general Bible knowledge, to test how ingrained that knowledge is (with only four minutes, there’s no time for deliberation–either you know it cold or you don’t), and to test it under pressure.
At the end of the quiz, we reviewed our work. Out of about sixty guys, only two wrote down all sixty-six books in the right order with the correct spelling in the allotted time (I wasn’t one of them). This doesn’t mean that fifty-eight guys didn’t know their books of the Bible. But it does mean that fifty-eight of us mispelled one book or more or didn’t get some books in the right order or left some books out or wrote too slowly or thought too slowly or wrote quickly enough but got stuck in a few places and ran out of time.
I wrote down sixty-two out of the sixty-six books in the allotted time and in the correct order. I don’t have problems with spelling, so I didn’t misspell anything. I do write a bit slow, but that wasn’t my ultimate problem. My problem was that I had to leave a blank between the first four Minor Prophets and the last four (where Jonah, Micah, Nahum, and Habukkuk go). I knew that I would need a bit of time for those four books to come back to me, so I skipped to the New Testament. Time was racing. I ended up running out of time before I could decide conclusively what books I was missing. Right after time was up, it came to me. But it wasn’t ingrained enough in my mind that I could do it on the fly under pressure. And it should have been. It absolutely should have been.
One of the most precipitous dangers of education today is that we do not often face these kinds of real-life (or classroom) challenges. We are rarely (if ever) forced to actually prove that we have the knowledge that we think we have, and to prove it under fire. It is so easy to be deceived about how much I know and especially how well I know it. Testing is the only true way to be approved. The problem is that we’ve lowered the idea of testing to the concept of a written exam or a paper, with the only immediate consequence being a grade. But for most people, getting a perfect grade isn’t that important. Therefore, learning the material isn’t that important (because we naturally equate the consequences for not doing something with the value of doing it). And if the material isn’t learned, it won’t be practiced. Moreover, if the material isn’t practiced, we’re all hypocrites.
Quite frankly, most students I know cram for exams and do their papers the night before they’re due. I’ve done more than my fair share of this in the past, and continue to wrestle against the temptation in the present. But when you do these rush jobs, there is no permeation, no saturation, and no meditation. And therefore, there is no life change. It’s like swallowing raw steak for lunch and dinner everyday and not exercising. The mental and spiritual effects are disastrous. We actually do more harm than good. And because we avoid the exposing challenge of being truly tested, we also exempt ourselves from those necessary and staggering realizations that we’re not as smart or as godly or as prepared for life as we think we are.
So, a word of encouragement to myself and to you: If you don’t find yourself being challenged and exposed and truly educated in the classroom, challenge yourself. And in life as a whole, do at least one thing every day that challenges you. No matter how great or how small, pursue something that frightens you. Get out of your comfort zone at least once a day. Challenge your inhibitions and your fears. Take yourself to your limit and a bit beyond.
Run another quarter mile. Run your normal distance but do it faster. Begin to read two more chapters of Scripture than usual. Ask someone you respect to read your research paper and critique it before you turn it in. Have the needed conversation with the person that you’re intimidated by. Sign up for that class whose workload you’re afraid of but that you know will be really profitable. Push yourself. Challenge yourself. Expose yourself to your weaknesses, resolve to strengthen them, and push forward.
Today, I was challenged. And I’m glad I was. I’m inspired to lean on the Lord more, to work harder, and to never be complacent. I want to pursue true education and true testing. Because if I didn’t know the books of the Bible cold and under pressure, what else don’t I know? What else don’t I do? Now, let me go find a good spiritual hill to run. I need a test…