I had an interesting seminary experience on Wednesday.
For those of you who are counting, I have one class on Wednesday – Introduction to Christian History. The class is in the afternoon and is 3 and one-half hours long. Basically, on Wednesdays, I eat lunch, go to class, and then go to dinner. I am never hungry at dinner time but the food is sometimes bad enough, I wouldn’t have eaten it anyways. It’s fun when the the world meshes like that.
Anyways, for the last three weeks, Dr. Timothy Wengert was the lecturer in my History class. Who is Dr. Wengert? Well, when it comes to Lutheran Academia, he’s pretty much THE GUY in the United States. His list of books is impressive, his track record being involved in ecumenical documents between the ELCA and other church bodies (including some future documents that will come out between the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church in 2017), involve him to some degree. And he’s the co-editor of the latest edition of the Book of Concord. He’s kind of a big deal and his specialty is with the Reformers, specifically Philip Melancthon (he’s the guy who wrote the founding confessional document for the Lutheran church, the Augsburg Confession). And so for his last lecture with the class, he asked us to write a paper for him. The topic was Martin Luther’s The Freedom of a Christian and we were asked to analyze what Martin Luther meant by freedom and compare that with either Calvin or the Council of Trent. And he’ll be grading the paper. I’m not gonna lie – I was a little intimated by this assignment.
So, after staying up way too late and spending Wednesday morning revising my paper, I printed it out in the Brossman center, stapled it in the library, and brought it, stains and all, to class on Wednesday. I tossed it on the pile of papers at the front of the room, sat down, pulled up my laptop, and tried to prepare for lecture (I was also heavily caffeinated because diet soda is my friend). I opened up the outline for the day’s lecture and noticed that it was only half a page long. This outline was too short for an expected 2.5 hour lecture. Inside, I panicked a little. Was I missing something? Were we going to have to play Jeopardy in class again (which I kicked butt in, tyvm)? Would I not be able to actually spend the entire time reading blogs? The questions seminarians can have prior to lecture knows no bounds. I failed to actually guess the right answer to my query. At the very start of class, Dr. Wengert stood in the front of the class, and after showing us a facsimile of an original copy of the German version of Freedom of a Christian, he took out his copy of the book, looked at the class and asked “So who started reading the translation from the very beginning? Raise your hand. It’s okay to admit it – your grades are sunk already so feel free to be honest. ” Dr. Wengert has a very academic sense of humor and, after a few people raise their hands, he shared “well, that was wrong. So who started at the translator’s introduction? Hands?” I rose my hand when we got to the part of the text that included Martin Luther’s letter to Leo X. That wasn’t right either and the first quote in my paper was from that section of the text. Le sigh.
For the next hour, the class watched (and participated) as Dr. Wengert did an extremely detailed walk through of Freedom of a Christian. I didn’t answer many of his questions because I was too busy keeping a running checklist in my head of the things I didn’t include (or got wrong) in the paper. Luckily, I did touch on a few big topics (I talked about the commands and promises of the Bible but forgot to actually use the phrase law and gospel) and I also made the mistake of not fully understanding what Martin Luther meant by his use of splitting the person into spiritual/new and worldly/old realms. If I had, it would have made my analysis of Calvin’s view of Christian freedom in Chapter 19 of his Institutes of Christian Religion a tad easier.
It was fascinating to see Dr. Wengert’s mind work and to see, and hear, how his reading of the text has evolved during the last thirty years that he has taught this text. But, after the discussion, I was left a little out of sorts and feeling just a tad weird about what just happened. I uess that this is part of the bootcamp aspect of Seminary. “You just spent a week analyzing these source documents and you think you know something? Here’s how you really do it.” And then BOOM BOOM BOOM! You are left in a daze as a brilliant mind illuminates the text, and shows HOW to illuminate the text. It’s breathtaking, fascinating, intimidating, and a little obnoxious all at the same time.
I’m looking forward to Lutheran Confessions with him next semester. This is going to be body building, Lutheran style. I should start bicep curling Lutheran Hymnals, bench pressing the Book of Concord, and taking performance enhancing versions of the sacraments now to get ready. Watch out world! I’m gonna get huge.