stocking the shed

'Don't focus on digging the garden of scripture for them. Give them the tools that can keep them digging the garden for themselves for the rest of their lives.'

This would be one of the first pieces of advice I'd give to theological educators today. Partly because it is what I appreciated so much in my training. Due to various factors, in the required subjects in the curriculum, I ended up having less than 3 hours in Romans. And this was at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School? Yes... Shock. Horror. But it didn't bother me because the focus was on learning the tools to enable me to study Romans for the rest of my life. Those who plan curriculum must not be seduced into stocking it only with survey courses. Give students the tools and set the assignments that enable them to become confident with those tools.

One of the tools I have grown to love is Colin Brown's The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (NIDNTT). It is a collection of word studies. Word studies done the right way, I might add. Currently I am marking essays in a Master's course where I designed an assignment with the hope of arranging a lifelong marriage between students and NIDNTT...

NIDNTT opens and closes with such a simple profundity.

1. The very first sentence in the Preface - before the beginning, as it were - is a quotation from Sir Edwyn Hoskins:
Bury yourself in a dictionary and come up in the presence of God.
YES! The disciplined reading of NIDNTT - researching two or three words as part of each sermon's preparation - was a primary means of growth for me as a young pastor. This serious study of theological words brought me into the presence of God, again and again. It just did.

2. Then in NIDNTT's Appendix - after the end, as it were - is contained Murray Harris' 'Prepositions and Theology in the Greek New Testament'. Thrilling pages, recently expanded into a full book (and contrary to some facebook chatter, the book is at least three times the size of the Appendix). Murray Harris' Appendix opened my eyes to the wonder of the preposition. Maybe I could express it like this:
Hide yourself in a preposition and find yourself in the presence of Christ.
YES! Prepositions helped orient me to 'the little words that mean so much' in the text which have so enriched my preaching. John Stott's Focus on Christ: a theology of prepositions (how it remains out-of-print amazes me) opened my life to the presence of Christ. Stott attaches 'through' and 'on' and 'in' and 'under' and 'with' and 'for' to Jesus, bringing a more complete picture of what it means to be a Christian - beyond merely the paradigm of  'following Jesus'. As a result, with my facebook profile, I describe myself as a prepositional Christian.

Many years ago a student asked me, "as a preacher, if you could only take ten books with you to some foreign land, what would they be?"

"Hmm, not sure - but I do know that three of them would be my NIDNTT."

Thankfully, in the intervening years, NIDNTT has become available on CD-ROM. And yes, there is an Old Testament equivalent as well. I suppose some scholars may consider that these volumes have been superceded by the newer and the fancier - but, a bit like the garden shed, I am content to keep using the tried and true.

nice chatting



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