In a little over a week, I’m going to start my second year of my master’s program in Biblical Studies. This summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I learned over the first year, and I’d like to share some of my experiences.
The first question is: why did I begin this program in the first place? Before I started graduate school, I lived for a while in Taipei. One thing I did there was leading Bible studies for ESL students. The Bible study, which was called Friday Night Live, brought in a lot of non-Christian students who just wanted to practice English, as well as many Christian students.
At first teaching a Bible study was frankly terrifying. I have a tendency to impose ridiculous expectations on myself and to imagine worst-case scenarios: “If I don’t do a good job teaching this Bible study, our new non-Christian students won’t come back. They won’t have another opportunity to hear the gospel and they’ll die and go to hell, and it will all be my fault!” But one day I was having a conversation with a counselor I was going to, and I confessed some of my fears to her.
She said, “What is the goal of the Bible study?”
I said, “Well, people come to learn English, but our goal is to help them come to know God, or for the Christians to know Him better.”
“Right. And whose responsibility is that?”
Not mine. From that point on, I tried to turn to God when I felt worried about the Bible study and ask for help. And every single time, He came through. Often, the weeks when I went into the Bible study feeling the most exhausted and unprepared were the weeks that went the best. The Holy Spirit just took over, and I spoke far better than I normally would have. After a few years, Friday Night Live was my favorite part of the job.
I think while I was at Bible study, I must have had a flashing neon sign above my head that said, “Ask me the hard questions.” I got questions like, “What’s the difference between socialism and communism?” “Does the kingdom of God include Hell?” and “If God wants us to ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ why did He create gay people?” I did my best to answer these questions, but I also got very comfortable saying “I don’t know” or “Let’s talk about that after class.” I also tried to look up answers for some of them. I actually really enjoyed talking about the hard issues and had some amazing moments when answers came to me that I hadn’t known before. It was thrilling to see God working so clearly, and this convinced me that I wanted to do more teaching, maybe even full-time. And for that, I needed graduate school.
The next question was which sub-field of theology I should focus on. I decided on Biblical studies, also because of my experience overseas. I observed that even the most poetic Chinese songs didn’t work nearly as well in English, even when they were translated accurately. It occurred to me that the Bible also might lose something in translation, even when those translations were made by very competent people. So I resolved to learn Greek and Hebrew, and the most efficient way to do that was to do Notre Dame’s program in Biblical Studies. What I found when I started the program will have to wait for my next post.