Study Sabbatical in South Africa
After living in the Middle East for 17 years we were excited about the prospect of living in Cape Town for a year. For good reason Cape Town is known as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and Elaine and I were looking forward to introducing the girls, who have grown up in the inner city of Istanbul, to the mountains, beaches and parks. While enjoying Cape Town I also wanted to do some academic study and utilize the many theological resources available.
Back in the Library
Over the past year I worked on a Masters degree in New Testament Studies. It was a very enriching experience and I developed a new respect and appreciation for the Bible as God’s Word. It has been many years since I completeted my seminary studies in the 90′s and at first it felt strange to be back in a classroom listening to a lecturer again. I had to do an enormous amount of reading and studying and it demanded discipline to sit still and work for many hours at a time. It wasn’t long before I started to miss the action of ministry and church work but I realized that this was to be a different season for me – a time to be still, study and contemplate God’s Word. This happened in three different ways:
1. Amos is still relevant
After reading through Amos several times, doing a detailed exegesis of most of the chapters, listening to hours of lectures, reading many articles, books and commentaries, and writing several papers – I started to get a feel of this unique man and his message to Israel in 762BC. I was struck again by the Holy God who demands justice and righteousness in human relations on earth. I discovered that the problems Amos addressed are still part of our world today and was comforted by God’s care for the oppressed and warned by His judgment of the oppressor. I was challenged to be more compassionate and concerned about the plight of the oppressed and poor, and was deeply moved to see how God condemned outward religion and longed for the people to truly seek Him. The book of Amos, in its own way, serves to prepare the world for the coming of Christ and many of the themes in Amos find their fullest expression in the life and teaching of Jesus.
2. The Teaching of Paul
Soon after completing the course on Amos I started a course on the modern study of Pauline theology. It’s a jump from 800 BC Israel to C1 AD Greco Roman cities. It was fascinating to see how God spoke now through the Apostle Paul who wrote his letters to individual churches and persons. He would never have imagined that they would become part of the Word of God in years to come. His letters addressed different situations in different cities and together they give us an integrated perspective of God’s truth and the life He longs us to live. His writings, as a whole, are finely balanced and nuanced. Just think of how he dealt with issues like law and grace! His writings, together with the gospels, protected the church from a too simplistic understanding of God’s great truths, from fundamentalism, from radicalism and over confidence of a ‘we understand all about God’ attitude. It creates in us a humble attitude as we approach God’s Word knowing that we are dealing with something that supersedes mere intellectual understanding in order to experience the full force of this revelation of God. We, as Paul, need the Spirit of God Himself to lead and guide us.
3. The socio-historic context of I Peter
Finally, in writing my dissertation on the concept of witness in the socio-historic context of 1 Peter, I spent many hours writing one section which focused on only one verse and wrote almost 12,000 words to explain the meaning of a single word in 1 Peter 2:9! In this process I had to analyse the word in the context of the Old and New Testaments. I was blown away by the dynamic relationship between the Old and New Testaments, by the amazing way in which Peter accounted for the socio-historic context of his hearers and how he encouraged and instructed them to be responsible witnesses of God’s great deeds in Christ. As I studied this verse and its theological implications, I became aware that it was much more than the writings of a simple fisherman or of any other human being, for that matter, and I was grateful again for the amazing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Peter and his silent work in bringing us God’s word.
I am grateful that I had the opportunity to take this time out to be still and to study and reflect. I am back into the action of ministry again and realize, perhaps more than ever, that for ministry to be effective it needs to be guided by the Word of God and the power of the Spirit.