Sunday, October 07, 2012

Remembering My Formal Education

I was actually writing another blog post when I began to recall a few things from my time at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. My friend Brian Sanders and I both liked to buck convention. We weren't afraid of challenging professors when we thought they were leading students astray. Fortunately, NOBTS never fell into the depths of theological liberalism as much as other schools, but it did have a few professors who would wade their toes in it.

One of those professors was J. Terry Young. I liked Dr. Young--it was hard not to. He seemed to be a fine gentleman. However, he was firmly in the "moderate" camp of the Southern Baptist Convention. (This is back when territorial battles were being waged.) Theologically, I would classify a few of his beliefs as neo-orthodox.

Dr. Young parroted his mentor, Dr. Fisher Humphreys, when it came to the atonement. Young always resisted accepting (or at least promoting) the penal-substitutionary view of the atonement (which says that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins as our substitute). He said that it made God seem angry about sin. Young preferred to say that the Bible uses many analogies to describe what Jesus did on the cross. It was almost as if it were left to us to pick and choose which one(s) we preferred. While it is true that the New Testament uses various analogies for the atonement, I think it would be foolish to deny the penal-substitutionary view. Although Dr. Young's classes were large, it didn't take long for him to get to know me by name since I would politely challenge him.

One day, Dr. Young was arguing against inerrancy--the view that the Bible, in its original manuscripts, is without error. He said that he didn't like the term "inerrant" because it was so difficult to define. Inerrantist theologians had written volumes about the idea. In order to counter arguments to the contrary, these theologians described both what inerrancy was and what it wasn't in detail. "If," Dr. Young said, "you can't describe a term simply, then it would be best not to use the term."

Many students in the classroom may have been persuaded by Dr. Young's logic, but I saw it for what it was: an attempt to discourage students from even entertaining the idea. So I raised my hand.

"Yes, David?" Dr. Young sighed.

I answered, "Dr. Young, I'm hoping you can help me. I don't like the term 'love' because it is so difficult to define. "Loving" theologians have written volumes about the idea. These theologians describe both what love is and what it isn't in detail. Since I can't describe the term 'love' simply, then it would be best not to use the term. Can you help me talk about this concept?"

Dr. Young smirked and said, "Thank you, David. Point made."

One of my favorite encounters with Dr. Young was with my friend Brian Sanders. In this class, Young was talking about God and the nature of evil. To the best of my recollection, Young said, "Hell is a part of God's plan. Hell was created by God. Hell is God's hell. There is a sense that God is in the idea of hell." (If that sounds confusing to you, be comforted that it was confusing to us. I'm still not sure what Young meant by that.) Later in that same class, Young warned us against teaching that God was behind natural disasters such as tornadoes. Brian raised his hand and asked, "Why are you willing to put God in hell but not in a tornado?"

Dr. Young answered, "That's a good question." But he gave no further response.

When I was a freshman at Baylor University, I took a required Old Testament Survey class taught by Dr. James Kennedy (not the late Presbyterian minister). Kennedy was pretty quick to call attention to the Bible's "errors." Like most liberal professors, he did not like being challenged, especially by a freshman in front of a few hundred students. However, my contention is that if you are a Bible professor at a Baptist university, you should encourage faith in God, not discourage it. If you can't believe the Bible, take a job at a secular school instead of weakening the faith of future pastors who will be serving the same congregations that provide a portion of your salary.

When Dr. Kennedy got to the subject of the date of the Exodus, I knew that he would teach a late date (c. 1290 B.C.) instead of an earlier date (c. 1445 B.C.). I raised my hand and asked him, "What about 1 Kings 6:1, which teaches that the 4th year of King Solomon's reign was 480 years after the Exodus, thus requiring the earlier date?"

He replied, "Well, 480 years is 12 Jewish generations of 40 years each. Today, a generation is more like 25 years. When you multiply 12 times 25, you get a more acceptable date ranger close to 1290 B.C."

I said, "You can't arbitrary read a modern generation into an ancient Jewish text in order to make it fit your chronology."

He said, "Well, I guess you'll just have to come to the conclusion that the Bible is wrong."

I replied, "Or perhaps you're wrong." There was a mixture of applause and "Ooooooh's" from my classmates. I wasn't trying to be rude, but I was simply amazed that he couldn't even consider the idea that he might be wrong.

The moral of these stories is this: Seminary and college professors aren't always right. Neither are pastors. Neither am I. And neither are you. The only sure revelation of God we have on earth today is his Word, the Bible. Check everything you are taught against it. If a teacher holds himself above God's Word, do not listen to him. All true teachers of God submit to Scripture.

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