Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

9/22 2017

The Master of Divinity Will Challenge You

master of divinity (mdiv) degree studentGetting my Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is a lot like the video for Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”.

No, really, stay with me here.

If you’ve not seen the video, it features Talking Heads’ lead singer, David Byrne, wearing an ill-fitting suit with a bowtie and a pair of horn-rimmed glasses that would make George McFly jealous. He is visibly uncomfortable, sweating, seemingly out of breath, engaging in what could charitably be called dancing against a wavy turquoise background. Byrne spasms arrhythmically, epileptically, twitching and lurching like a marionette trying to avoid enemy fire, all the while talk-singing in a cadence reminiscent of a televangelist. The third verse is the one that always sticks with me long after the song itself has faded:
“And you may ask yourself, ‘What is that beautiful house?’

And you may ask yourself, ‘Where does that highway go to?’

And you may ask yourself, ‘Am I right? Am I wrong?’

And you may say to yourself, ‘My God! What have I done?’”

Insecurity in Answering Your Call

Offhand, that probably doesn’t seem like a ringing endorsement of the seminary experience. It’s fraught with imagery of the unknown and the ambiguous, vacillation and doubt, strangers and the strange. Those are hardly the creature comforts we seek out.

In this I am heartened by just how few of our biblical role models seemed to have any idea what they were doing when they answered their call. Abraham leaves his country and kindred and father’s house on a wing and a prayer, trusting in a vague promise in which God doesn’t even specify where Abraham and Lot will end up (Gen 12:1-5). He even laughs when God promises he and Sarah a child, a true heir, in their advanced age (Gen 17:15-18). Yet through all this turbulence, Abraham plows forward and believes, “and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6).

Moses, of course, doesn’t see himself fit to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He asks God what he shall tell the Israelites when they ask for the name of the God who sent him, and God replies, “‘I Am who I Am’”—which to me has always sounded remarkably like, “Mind your own business, Moses.” (Ex 3:14) It’s not hard to empathize with the uncertainty Moses must have carried with him, and yet, though he considers himself “slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Ex 4:10), he leaves the lap of luxury to liberate his people into the unknown.

That’s not even to mention the prophets. Before Isaiah says, “‘Here I am; send me!’” (Isa 6:8) he proclaims, “‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (6:5). Jeremiah protests, “‘Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy’” (Jer 1:6). Gideon opines, “‘My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judg 6:15). The young Samuel receives a vision from God but is afraid to tell it to Eli. (1 Sam 3:15) Jonah, of course, lets his boots and boat speak for him. All of them are filled with insecurity and doubt that would make David Byrne dash his bowtie to the ground and slink off in defeat. Nevertheless, in the midst of their reservations, they struggle to their feet and deliver God’s word.

Seminary Will Challenge You

See, here’s the thing. Even though “Once in a Lifetime” conjures up all these uncomfortable, even jarring existential questions, it sticks in your head. The sum total of those troublesome parts is much less than the effect of its magnificent whole. That’s been my experience in the Master of Divinity program at Pittsburgh Seminary. I make no bones about this when talking to prospective students. You will be stretched. You will be challenged. You will hurt. And when you somehow garner the briefest moment of spare time, you will realize that, even though our seminary education might call us into indifferent or hostile parts of the world; even though we might be asked to go down unfamiliar highways into twisted alleyways and sneering cul-de-sacs; even though we might encounter new traditions and ideas and ways of seeing God that force us to reevaluate what we once pigeonholed as right and wrong; even though we might well, in the course of ministry to a world that increasingly needs and yet does not want ministry, whisper to ourselves, “My God, what have I done?”—that very same God is there with us through trial and travail. It is only when we occasionally step back from our dimly-lit mirrors that we can see the grace of God transforming our uncertainties into something beautiful, something marvelous, something glorious.

Same as it ever was.

Michael Ondrick is a second-year Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, originally from Belmont, Ohio. He is currently discerning a call to international mission, specifically that dealing with the addicted and mentally ill. A graduate of The Ohio State University, his hobbies include performing and writing improv and sketch comedy, professional wrestling, music both worshipful and secular, and cryptozoology. His favorite parts of the Bible are the weird parts.

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3/18 2015

Theological Significance of Biblical Languages

theological significance of biblical languagesI am a lover of words. I enjoy the cacophony of sound as each syllable is poured from my lips and building bridges from each word like bricks. Being a word smith has led me on many adventures through the tumultuous shifting waters of linguistics. Yet, even with all the joy I procure from unearthing lyrical discoveries in peeling back layers of semantics, I have been no stranger to the question, as I’m staring at the Greek or Hebrew text before me, of

“For what exactly do I need this again?”

Many an argument can and has been made that languages should be cut from the curriculum of those preparing for ministry. How is parsing Greek participle phrases going to help me balance the church budget? How are Hebrew paradigms going to help me fill the church on Sunday morning? How is muddling my way through these ancient languages going to help my congregation embody justice and peace in this world?

Those and many others like them are valid questions. What does a seemingly obscure scholastic endeavor have to do with the practicality of church?

To answer this quandary, I turn to Acts 6: 1-7. In this portion of the narrative, widows, a vulnerable people group, were being neglected. When the complaint is brought before the 12, the 12 gather the entire community and say, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”[1]

Now this can be seen as the 12 shirking hard labor, refusing to roll up their sleeves and get to the real nitty gritty. However, that is not the case. What the 12 saw as the cause for the brokenness in their community was the lack of the gospel. This is the same dilemma the Church faces today.

And how can we fully understand the gospel without being able to hold hands with the language in which the gospel was first understood? As reformer and theologian Martin Luther puts it,

“…we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained….If through our neglect we let the languages go (which God forbid!), we shall not only lose the gospel, but the time will come when we shall be unable either to speak or write a correct Latin or German.”[2]

The theological significance then of learning biblical languages is nestled in deep partnership with the mission and ministry of the Church – sharing the good news of great joy to all.

[1] Acts 6: 2-4, NRSV.

[2] Martin Luther, “The Importance of Biblical Languages”, To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools, (1524). http://faculty.tfc.edu/juncker/GRK453LutherOnLanguages.pdf

Rebecca Dix is a senior MDiv student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. After graduating this summer, she plans to return to PTS for her master of theology degree and feels called to pastoral ministry and the arts.

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6/12 2014

Improving Ministry: What can we learn from Superheroes?

Whether you live in Washington D.C. or Washington PA, there are cultural concerns that impact you. Superheroes find a way to reflect that. Don’t believe me? Consider this:

  • Feel like the rapid pace of technology has passed you by? Talk to Captain America.
  • What do we fear about the division between the 99% and the 1%? Watch The Dark Knight Rises.
  • Does the legacy of WWII still impact our society? The X-Men would love to tell you.
  • How are we recovering from the terror of an attack on New York City? Check out Iron Man 3.

The movies, games, and stories that captivate us provide a cultural mirror reflecting the concerns shaping our society. Right or wrong, these are the concerns people bring with them when they worship, read their Bibles or pray. These concerns may not be apparent from individual conversations; sometimes, we don’t even realize that they exist.

To discover the concerns in your congregation, ask someone with a cape.

Even if you’ve received a Master of Divinity, you can still learn from Superman. The Guardians of the Galaxy can be your informants. The Avengers want to be your stool pigeons. They send signals to pastors, youth ministry leaders and theologians about the issues shaping our culture.

Next time you’re wondering about the issues your congregation faces every day, start by praying and reading scripture. Engage in your spiritual disciplines. Then go read a comic book.

Written by the Rev. Derek Davenport ’05, director of enrollment and program co-director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Derek is also an alumnus of the Master of Divinity (MDiv) Program.

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