Ok, so I know there is no such word as glermeneutics, but that’s what my brain feels like as I finish the second of two 200+ page books on hermeneutics in two weeks’ time.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining! They were both excellent and I wish I could go back, right now, and slowly re-read them both, solidifying all of the things I’ve learned from them. But I write this to give you a sense of what Mark’s students at the seminary do for pretty much every course they take.
It has been a few years since the seminary did courses over the span of a semester, week in and week out. Economic and other reasons made it necessary to offer all of the seminary’s classes in a modular format. Until recently that meant that students would come in and study for two weeks at a time, taking one course in the morning and one course in the afternoon. Now, believe it or not, the norm will soon be one class in one week; still two courses over two weeks, but only one at a time.
I won’t get into the various reasons why that was decided on – lots of pros as well as cons – but as a student at the seminary myself, I am getting an incredible view of what Mark has been involved in these last 15 years.
Most courses will have what is called ‘pre-assignments’ and ‘post-assignments’, as well assignments done during the duration of the one or two weeks. Most often, those pre-assignments are various readings that need to be done before the session starts. Hence the reading on hermeneutics, the subject of a class that will start on the 14th. (Just in case your wondering, hermeneutics is the study of biblical interpretation, that is, the process of how to arrive at a good understanding of what the text presents.)
In one course recently, a professor had the students read some books as pre-assignments, but also assigned seven articles on specific topics related to the course material. After reading the articles, each student needed to answer a question posed at the end of the reading, posting the answer on a class-wide forum. Each student needed to read everyone else’s posts and make comments on at least three posts. It was a creative way to get the kind of discussion that usually happens in a semester-long presentation in a more compacted format. By the time we all arrived for the start of the course, we had interacted with the material somewhat, had to wrestle with some of the issues pertinent to the topic at hand, and were basically prepped to engage with the professor’s presentation – not a bad approach, if you ask me.
The assignments during a session vary from course to course and from professor to professor. Some classes have the student memorizing passages or other material, or doing frequent quizzes on the assigned reading. A couple of times now I’ve worked with a smaller group of students in the class to do a group presentation on a particular topic. To my horror, I found out later that someone had recorded them and posted them on You-Tube; yes, it is obvious who is the public speaker in the family and who is not ;-).
As for post-assignments, in my classes so far that has consisted of writing a paper (or two) on an assigned topic. The students who just completed Mark’s Genesis class have two papers to write, one comparing and contrasting different views on the image of God, and the other on the finer points of Genesis chapter one… yikes! These are always due one month after the last day of the course, with appropriate reductions in the grade if turned in late.
Although I, personally, still have a good number of things on my plate that keep me busy between (and during!) classes, every student in those classes with me is usually involved in some full-time ministry, many of them are married and have families, and some work as their ministries are not paying jobs.
I have a greater and greater appreciation for the students who are doing the hard work of getting a sound foundation for ministry, and for the professors like Mark who are investing in these students. What an awesome thing to be a part of, from both sides of the lectern!