Campus Visit

i just got back from a wonderful and energizing campus visit at Denver Seminary. Along with a tour and a chat with an admissions counselor, i was able to attend part of a class and have lunch with a professor, and those two items on this morning’s agenda have left me more eager than ever to start school this fall.

DenSem

The class i was able to attend was the first semester of Biblical Hebrew. It went a mile a minute and was conducted in a mixture of English and Hebrew, and i think i was grinning ear to ear the entire time. Yes, languages are going to be a new challenge for me, and i was a bit apprehensive about the three and a half years of language study i’ll have to do, but—the class was fun. Despite the disorientation and quick pace, the class was relaxed and the professor, and by extension the students, were having a good time. For the first time, i thought, i can do this. i even learned a few things while in the class—i was able to puzzle out two of the Hebrew names across the room from us, and learned a little something about—what else?—the grammar of Hebrew storytelling. (Start with perfect tense; continue in narrative preterite.)

The admissions ninjas (seriously, that’s what they call themselves) over at DenSem paired me up with the best OT professor they could have picked. Dr. M. Daniel Carrol R. is one of three full-time Old Testament professors, and over lunch we discovered a lot of common ground. He was raised Catholic and now attends an evangelical Anglican congregation (i have at times called myself “half Catholic” and often wonder how long it’ll take me to end up in a liturgical church of some sort). He studied English in college, and has a deep love of literature and Dickens in particular (i am a bibliophage and librarian who plans to pursue an English or literature degree after this OT degree, and i love A Tale of Two Cities). Dr. Carroll teaches OT classes from a narrative rather than historical background focus (being a writer and a narrative-lover who wants to study the OT in order to undergird my fiction-writing, this makes my heart leap!). He’s active in immigration reform (i am very concerned about the issue of human trafficking and plan to focus on immigration next year in the library, as those two issues go hand-in-hand), and, being from Guatemala, is very focused on 2/3 world culture and social ethics (one of my favourite classes during my undergrad involved reading William T. Cavanaugh’s Torture and Eucharist, about the disappearings in Chile; this was formative in developing my understanding that we Western Christians should not consider our perspective normative in Scripture interpretation).

One of the things i wanted to talk about during this visit was whether OT or Theology would be a more appropriate major for me, and while i was leaning toward OT, i was not 100% certain of that decision. i am now. Meeting Dr. Carroll was certainly the highlight of this trip. Jonathan has read his most recent book (Christians at the Border), and based on what he has told me i was already very eager to meet him, but i was surprised at how much we have in common. The other OT professors (one who focuses on Hebrew language studies and Messianic Judaism, and one who is primarily interested in Ancient Near East subjects) both will be wonderful, but i think i’ve found “my professor.” When i told him how i love the OT and the way G-d reveals Himself there, he said he hoped to see more students with that perspective. And when we met up with my admissions counselor after lunch, Dr. Carroll said he’d found a kindred spirit regarding the literary mindset. So i think we are simpatico. 🙂

Other things i was able to discuss with my admissions counselor included how i’d go about doing a double major (in case i want to add a lot of theology on top of my OT degree) and how i might be able to swap out some of the basic doctrinal surveys or other classes with more specific theology courses. (i’ve taken a lot of theology, and i do have a ton of Bible courses under my belt, so testing out or just plain swapping courses might give me a bit more wiggle room to take more electives. And i do love electives.) Unfortunately, i misread the course sequence for the OT major and didn’t realize that Anthropology and Soteriology, the elective i’m most interested in, is a theology class rather than an OT class, so it won’t qualify for my one elective slot. But i think i can work it in anyway—i really want to take that one. Dr. Carroll also mentioned that a hamartiology (theology of sin) class might be doable, and that sounds like something that would be very helpful given the questions i have about how to answer the problem of sin in a pre-Christian setting. Actually—having my elective slot open again means i might be able to take both semesters of Akkadian, and get to do a study of Gilgamesh. That would be awesome—but i probably ought to look the course catalog over again and see how Hebrew takes before deciding anything. Although i’d love to study Gilgamesh in the original Akkadian. (Wow, i’m a nerd.)

Now what remains is to follow up with one outstanding reference, and fill out my application for major (i’d been putting that off until after talking with someone in more depth).

i love this. i can’t wait.

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Inquiry to admissions department at Denver Seminary

In looking over the degree options available to me at Denver Seminary, it seemed best to begin the process by sending an email to admissions prior to filling out the application. Here’s the email.
 
Hello,
 
For some time I have been considering returning to school, and lately it seems that the time has arrived to begin the process. My inclination is that I will end up pursuing an MA in Old Testament, but aside from my love of the Old Testament and a desire to study theology, I have some specific reasons for wanting to engage the Old Testament, and I wonder if you would be so kind as to hear those reasons and help me gauge whether or not I am on the right track.
 
I am a fiction writer. My primary genre is fantasy (although I am developing a science-fiction setting as well), and while all the writing I do is in one or another pre-Christian culture, I am increasingly finding myself needing to know how to address the problem of sin with my characters. For the development of themes, I look primarily to J.R.R. Tolkien, who sought to create a world and stories therein which were orthodox, yet pre-Christian. But Tolkien did not address sin as such; his world and stories discuss different themes, and where sin arises the answer seems to be a type of common grace, where one is justified by repentance, but the sin nature is not addressed.
 
As far as that goes, I am comfortable taking a similar tack. I want my stories to have a wide appeal, to slip past those “watchful dragons” and be instrumental in reshaping my readers’ imaginations and affections so as to prepare the way for the Gospel, rather than to preach it in the narrative; a clear Christ-figure is not what I am trying to write. My strong sense is that in our postmodern culture, a subtle approach will be the best beginning for those who love narrative but are antagonistic toward authoritarian presentations of truth. With two of my characters, however, I am at a point where they recognize their own depravity, and they are unable to get past their inability to walk away from their sin nature (not merely their sins), no matter how badly they want to be good and righteous. I have a strong sense that one of them, in particular, is calling out to me, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” It distresses me that in committing to a pre-Christian world, I have no answer for her, yet I believe I am called to tell such stories—that the pre-Christian setting as well as the themes of sin, brokenness, and redemption are specific to my own gift and calling.
 
This may seem backwards, as a Christian, to look for ways to answer this question without Christ rather than simply introducing Him, and I realize that without the incarnation and sacrificial atonement of Christ, there can be no final answer for sin. I would like, however, to give my characters hope, much like G-d gave Abraham hope, that an answer is coming, and in the meanwhile, discover what the Old Testament and common grace can tell me about what G-d’s answer was before Christ. My fictional worlds do not currently have a sacrificial system for expiation of sins, although that may be part of the answer (yet it does not come close to addressing the problem of the sin nature).
 
So my inclination is to study the Old Testament for clues as to how this might work. My long-term goal is to follow this degree with one in literature, so as to continue deepening my understanding of how to develop themes in my writing, but I don’t want to move forward in that without first having the strong undergirding of Scripture and theology to direct those studies.
 
In looking over the MA/Old Testament course path, I notice that there are several classes included in that degree that I am very interested in, but only one slot for an elective. Looking at the Theology and Christian Studies concentrations as well, I see that either would offer me more elective slots, but do not contain the language studies (which greatly interest me), and the OT track’s thesis option would give me some leeway to develop a particular area of interest outside of electives. Meanwhile, I have identified about twenty classes I’d love to take, all of which would have to be taken as electives (although many are only of personal interest and I might simply audit them after graduation).
 
Sorry to have gone on at such length, and I appreciate you hearing me out. Is there any guidance you can provide as to whether an OT degree is the correct path for me, considering my specific concerns?
 
Thank you very much,
Laure Hittle