Open Letter to New Testament Students

This is a repost of something I wrote a couple years ago. With a new academic year upon us, it seemed holy and righteous and good to trot it out again. If you’re taking a Bible class in college or seminary, this is for you

Dear NT Intro students,

Our quarter will be kicking off in a couple of weeks. I love the process of digging into the New Testament texts with students–you bring a passionate commitment to living out the Jesus story that is too often missing in the halls of the academy. You remind me why we study the Bible in the first place.

But there’s something you should know. Bible classes are often the hardest classes for seminary students. And I don’t mean that they’re the hardest academically. I mean that they’re often the hardest on students’ faith.

You’re coming to study a book that you love. You’re coming to delve into a book whose various verses and chapters have spoken directly to your heart–and transformed you. You’re coming to build on what you know and to enrich what you’ve already discovered.

But if I am doing my job, you are probably going to undergo a slow process of discovering that what you thought was a book is, in fact, a bunch of books; you’re going to find out that what you know is often incorrect; and what has spoken to you has been edifying, but that text may not ever be able to speak with that same voice again.

Bible professors are not the only ones whose classes hope to leave you with transformed knowledge. But rarely do you have as much invested in the assumptions that the professor is trying to deconstruct.

People lose their faith in Biblical studies courses, and grad school in particular, because they discover the pervasive extent to which the NT was written by humans and speaks differently from what they anticipated.

This can all sound terribly bleak. But I want you to enter the class with your eyes open.

And more than that, I am going to make you a promise.

Here is what I promise to do for you: I promise to leave you with a Jesus who is worth following, a Christian vocation that’s worth risking your life on, and a Bible that will guide you toward both.

In other words, I promise that I will not leave you empty-handed; I promise that my goal is to strengthen you as a faithful follower of Christ. I have not come to steal, kill, and destroy, but to help you better see the One who is the way of life, and how scripture is a witness to him.

So for my part, I promise to leave you with a faith worth believing.

For your part, I ask that you come to learn. Here, more than anywhere else, if you have come to have your prior understandings validated through high academic marks, you are likely to experience frustration. Hold loosely to what you’ve brought through the door, and learn what is coming from your reading, from our discussions, and from the lectures.

Learn what is really on offer, resist jumping to conclusions, press to find out how it all holds together. I promise that I am striving to be a faithful teacher, I need you to enter in with the goal of being a faithful learner.

At the end of the quarter, we will likely disagree about a few things. Or maybe we’ll disagree about almost everything. That’s fine. I won’t down-grade you for that. But I need to know that you’ve learned. And, I hope that in the process you have seen more clearly a Jesus who is worth following. I believe with all my heart that this is what I’m helping you discover.

So if you feel like things are falling apart or spinning out of control, let’s talk. That’s not the direction this should go, but it’s always part of the danger of discovering that the Bible isn’t what we thought it was–or that Jesus isn’t who we thought he was. But the fresh acts of faith that such discoveries engender can themselves be the stuff of newness of life.

I look forward to learning with you in the weeks ahead.

Peace,
jrdk

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