Seminary in Narnia

What, you may ask, is taking all of Kate’s time, such that she rarely blogs any more? Friends, I am all in on William Tennent School of Theology, blogging for them, editing, planning and preparing. This week, all of the hard work is paying off, as we have welcomed the first group for the first two-week residency! And what does that look like? Here’s my journal from the past few days:

10/25/2020, 7:00 a.m., Woodland Park, CO

Today the students will arrive. Last night we worked until 10:15, arranging welcome baskets, setting up the classroom. The staff kids, teenagers, were perhaps wary at first, but by the end of the night were laughing, playing ping-pong, running out into the cold together and scurrying back into the warm lodge. This is how it will be as families slowly join us—the shift from strangers to friends as quick as a few good jokes.

11:00 a.m.

Snow is falling, and our people are eying the forecast (and the highways) with trepidation. Getting everyone here is the first hurdle—from a pandemic to a snowstorm. Once we are all tucked in, it will be bliss. Already there are books piled high, itching to be discussed. The students’ rooms are waiting—fresh-baked cookies, coffee, and cider ready to go. The snow drifts past banks of windows; it is like seminary in Narnia.

We have had our first COVID-related calamity: Alex, our Old Testament expert, is stranded in England. Spiking numbers of virus cases in his area have colluded against us, and he is unable to be here in person. Of course, we knew this was a real possibility in the throes of a pandemic, but it is still disappointing. What is amazing is how everyone pulled together to respond. Our team spent many months collaborating to integrate the curriculum across four disciplines, and have from the start taken a team approach to mentoring the students. Now that approach is really paying off. We’ll pipe Alex in via Zoom, but the students (live and in-person) will still have other professors on hand to lead discussions and streamline the class.

8:30 p.m.

Almost everyone has arrived, with just a few stragglers braving the roads to get here later on, despite the weather. Families and students called us, one by one, to ask whether they were on the right road. (“I’ve been driving a long time since the turn-off—am I lost?”) Eventually they pulled up, road-weary and loaded down with duffel bags. Throughout the afternoon, people wandered into the “Fireside Room” to chat and get to know one another. We hosted chapel at 7:00 in a rustic log building, the pulpit flanked by matching fireplaces, and sang together. 

Should nothing of our efforts stand, no legacy survive
Unless the Lord does raise the house, in vain the builders strive.

This group, so long-awaited, so beloved, singing in chorus this echo of Psalm 127 (which could well be a theme verse for this endeavor), all gathered in a firelit room against the wintery night, was the embodied answer to a thousand prayers. Glory.

10/26/2020, 9:00 p.m.

The first day of class has concluded. By this morning the storm had blown away, leaving every tree frosted—sugared evergreens as far as the eye can see. Across the valley, Pikes Peak emerged where only clouds were visible yesterday, the original “purple mountain majesties” our classroom backdrop. 

Historical Theology began in the Psalms: “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them” (Ps. 111:2). Why do we study this material? To cultivate humility, reverence, and grace, to expose our blind spots, encourage us in the valley, root us in truth, and lift our eyes to Jesus. It was a rousing beginning.

We also took a look at the integration of the four core disciplines. How creation, fall, redemption, and restoration are woven through not only the Old and New Testament classes, but Historical and Applied Theology as well. After Michael walked us through the progression of thought for the whole program, we saw it play out in Alex’s Old Testament class and Jay’s Applied Theology.

Alex peered into Genesis 1, taking note of the repetition: God said, God made, God saw… God, he pointed out, is the main event, and he is good, as opposed to the capricious and sometimes malevolent gods of other creation narratives. Our faith, aimed at worship, is grounded in the character of this Creator God.

Jay then talked of “gospel fluency.” The whole gospel, from creation right through our rebellion, redemption, renewal, and ultimate glory, is the how and why of ministry: bringing an awareness of God’s good creative intention in any circumstance, the ways our brokenness impacts the situation, and how good can still come from everything in the end. He brought the heady world of ideas into the streets of practice, showing how the big story bears on relationships, ministry paradigms, and hurting individuals.

10/27/2020, 2:00 p.m.

It being Colorado, the sun is out in full force today. To be honest, it is a little blinding, and at least one student sometimes wears sunglasses in class. Our Greek tutor and his family just arrived, and we have given them the nickel tour. “This place is amazing! It’s so beautiful!” they keep exclaiming. 

It’s hard to find time even to jot down a few thoughts because I don’t want to miss anything. Classes use up their full allotted time, but at an hour and a half, they aren’t too long. Breaks are boisterous and friendly. Alex is teaching Old Testament as I write—the Torah. He framed the course yesterday with God descending to the mountain to meet Moses, referring also to Hebrews 12: 

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempestand the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them… Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe,for our God is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:18-19, 28-29). 

Michael hit a similar note in Historical Theology: 

To fail to worship is to undercut the truth we claim to understand…. But all too often in our day and age, and in many, many seminary classrooms, the study of theology, which should kindle all of our affections for Jesus, is instead nothing more than a regurgitation of some collection of well-reasoned arguments concerning God. But theology is for doxology… let us come to the subject at hand with the proper respect and awe and whole-hearted devotion that it deserves. 

We pray that all of us leave here not just with full minds, but full hearts—worshiping, rejoicing, stretched and amazed. “All glory be to Christ our King, all glory be to Christ; His rule and reign we’ll ever sing, all glory be to Christ.”

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