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Sunday, August 31, 2008

The other local option

The demonstration of a working knowledge of Greek and/or Hebrew will no longer be a requirement in order to complete the examination successfully. When exams are graded, the readers will comment on the language facility which is demonstrated in the paper. Such comments will be offered as guidance for Committees on Preparation for Ministry in determining readiness for ministry.


Don't quite have the conhones to send this via the postal service, but I thought i would share with the 3 readers of this blog (ps--I am also in a very sarcastic, exhausted and frustrated mood, so it is also smart not to mail ((or blog for that matter)) in these states). New Exegesis Grading

Dear PCCEC,

I just came across the grading change for the PC(USA)’s Biblical Exegesis exam. I am greatly bothered by this change and wanted to express that to the PCCEC. I believe you all should reconsider the change:
The demonstration of a working knowledge of Greek and/or Hebrew will no longer be a requirement in order to complete the examination successfully.


As Princeton Theological Seminary student who had taken Ancient Greek courses in undergrad and having received As in my Summer Greek, Exegesis of Luke and other original language courses, I felt I was well prepared to write my exegesis exam on Jesus’ Temptation in Luke during the Fall of 2006. Unfortunately and to my surprise, I received a failing grade due to my failure to show working knowledge of the original language.

I share this to say that through the process of failing and having to retake the exam, not only did my academic ability to adequately exegete a passage, and articulate it in such a manner to show proficiency increase but also my understanding of faith and ordination. While having to wait 6 months to retake the exam provided temporary stress and frustration in my family as we sought our first call, I was greatly challenged as to what it means to be called into ordained ministry.

Certainly, I would commend some change, such as having only Ministers of Word and Sacrament or qualified elders, who have knowledge of the original language, be graders, but by diluting the examination process of candidates and expecting a local CPM to assess the working knowledge of a candidate diminishes our responsibility and call to ministry.

Ordination is not a right; it is something that challenges, that sends us into uncomfortable and strange environments (my failing a language exam was unknown territory for me), and at times seems “unfair.”

The third question on the PC(USA) website shows the essential problem with this grading change. Of course it is reasonable to expect a qualified candidate to retain—or at the very least relearn—the basics of translation and exegesis. If they have not maintained a working knowledge of the language, should they not be told to retake an exam once they have undertaken adequate retraining and study?

Are we so concerned about the lack of qualified ministers, preachers and pastors in our denomination that we are willing to lower our standards with regard to an examination about a fundamental aspect of Presbyterianism?

This exam addresses a central piece of Reformed Theology, namely the Word. As Ministers of the Word and Sacrament we must ordain ministers who are able to engage and exegete scriptural passages from their original language and the examination process is a part of that responsibility. It should not be solely left to the CPMs. For example, the biblical examination question I received at CPM—having failed my initial exegesis exam—was, “which book of the Bible do you wish was not included?” Is that suffeceint mark of my readiness for preaching?

We are people who gather around and are sent by the Word, and to pass inquirers and candidates who are not prepared or proficient in interpreting Scripture from its original language only further diminishes our denomination's ability to article God’s message to the world.

I ask that the PCCEC seriously reconsider its role in the examination and ordination process rather than sending that responsibility to the local CPMs.

Sincerely,
Rev. Wesley Barry
2007 PTS Graduate
2006 Failure of Exegesis Exam

8 comments:

WTM said...

Send it.

thehbs said...

Upon first reading, I actually think that your letter is pretty compelling. Why not let the letter sit for a few days, edit it, and sent it?

thehbs said...

Well written my friend.
Actually what made me go WTF the most (pardon my web swearing) was the biblical examination question from your CPM. Arrrrrghhhhh!
-Jess

Don said...

Wes - one thing in defense of the committee... I agree that that examination, ANY written examination, does not properly allow one to accurately ascertain a student's ability to demonstrate a working knowledge of the original language (Greek/Hebrew). My "working knowledge" of either is minimal. But I said the right things, quoted the Hebrew text, used the tools, answered the question, and I passed. If we truly want to ascertain the working knowledge of a language, an oral examination either in CPM or on the floor of presbytery is the best thing to do.

But, after talking to graders, I think the "working knowledge of the language" was an impossible task to ask of them. Not that we shouldn't require ordinants to know Greek & Hebrew (although I defy you to find me 5 good pastors who knows both well) - but that those tests don't do a good job of determining. And the proof is in the pudding.

wes said...

We have 2 good pastors in this office that excel at Hebrew and Greek…both over 60…3rd and 6th generation pastors…I think about the state of our seminaries, ordination, and call of people into ministry.

Also, speaking with another associate who is the chair of our CPM…she had not heard a peep of this grading change. So if the ownness was to fall on CPM, I would think that it should have been expressed to the local CPMs at some point.

Certainly written examinations should not be on the only bench mark, but they should not be totally discarded either.

For me, this move goes along with a broader conversation I have had here at FPC regarding the subtle (and blatant) anti-clericalism that is occurring in our denomination and the broader church as well.

Church in the Hills said...

I strongly encourage you to send this letter, Wes. I'm 100% behind you and I wasn't initially. I've sat with this for a while before finally giving an affirmative to your response.

I'd like to know: what EXACTLY prompted this change?

Andrew Pomerville

jlee said...

Send the letter to them but write it out in GREEK and HEBREW... that will show them!!!

David Hallgren said...

Dude, I agree. Send the letter. Why do we bother to take the languages in the first place? Because it opens the Word to us in a new and more informed way. It isn't a secret club, but a discipline of faith of which our calling demands proficiency. We need to be held to that even after we have passed our exams. I say this, especially after browsing the local christian bookstore. I found a "Sermon Outlines" book series on the shelf next to the commentaries and was annoyed that there is the potential that some folks go to the store, buy an outline and preach something they have not studied with faith, sensitivity, and hard exegesis. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I will totally bring it up in our Presbytery.

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