Thursday, October 29, 2009

The scales tip toward Fort Wayne again

As I continue looking at the different seminaries and communities, the scales are tipping back toward Fort Wayne.  This is one of those decisions that is not based on scholarship, quality of the seminary, or anything like that.  Call me unspiritual, but here's what I'm seeing.

The St. Louis area is relatively expensive for living, particularly housing.  Though there are married student apartments on the seminary campus, and those are a good deal, there are some problems inherent in living there.  First and foremost, it requires selling our current house at just the right time.  That's a pretty risky endeavor in the best of times, and especially risky when the real estate market is not precisely a seller's market.

I also see that the tuition in St. Louis can add up to about three thousand dollars a year more than in Fort Wayne.  If I knew a substantial difference in the quality of training in St. Louis as opposed to Fort Wayne, this would be a pretty minor factor.  Yet my strong suspicion is that the difference is primarily related to the cost of living, how much the different seminaries have to pay their faculty and staff, and the size of the endowment funds.  Both faculties seem to be outstanding.

While we were interested in an agrarian type of property, maybe it isn't time yet.  So we're back to looking at and thinking about a house that we can afford to purchase in Fort Wayne.  Are we open to St. Louis as well?  Yes, but in Fort Wayne we can find a house we can afford probably within a 10-15 minute drive of the seminary.  We are even likely to find a place with a big enough yard we can have more of a garden than we have in Huntington.  A step in the right long-term direction.  I just don't expect that to happen in St. Louis.  I've seen the area where the seminary is located.  I've sat in the traffic near the seminary.

Keep praying for us and encouraging us.  We're in need, that's for sure.

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

Sunday, October 25, 2009

So, Seminary you say?

Log entry - I'm not cool enough to have a Stardate or anything like that.

As I've been looking around on this voyage, trying to chart a good course, I come back again and again to a desire to serve Christ in pastoral ministry.   

Why pastoral ministry?  Pastors are in short supply.  They are also critical to the life of the Church.  A well-trained pastor, called by God and recognized by the local church, serves in ways others simply can't.  This is the person who is particularly prepared to help people see their lives and struggles in light of Christ's finished work on the cross.  He is preparing the saints to carry tis understanding of their lives in light of Christ to the rest of the world.  I said that pastors are in short supply.  That may seem incorrect, at least in this particular corner of the Bible Belt.  So let me tweak the statement by observing that genuine deeply confessional Christian pastors are few and far between.  We've got plenty of people who want the Church to be engineered in a way that seems wise to modern man.  We don't have so many people who want the Church to stand in stark contrast to our world's ideas of success, as it did two thousand years ago.  This situation will get worse, I think.  America's political climate seems increasingly hostile to the historic Christian faith.  We are becoming a progressive and liberal society, whatever that is.  As we pattern ourselves after more socialistic countries we seem to be moving toward a mindset which has little toleration for the exclusive claims of Christianity.  As that trend continues we will see fewer and fewer of those deeply confessional Christian pastors in our churches and communities.

So why me?  Why should I end up in pastoral ministry?  There is need, yes, but there's need for all sorts of other people as well, including in the field I've engaged in for the past fifteen years.  Is it a good idea to try to teach an old dog like me any new tricks?  Is this some sort of new desire?  The fact is, I have had a desire to participate in pastoral ministry since about 1983.  I've put that desire away again and again over the years.  In the past several years I've found that I have an increasing desire and vigor when I am teaching my advanced Greek classes which use the New Testament texts.  I see situations where believing, church-going students don't seem to be very grounded in their faith.  This concerns me.  My desire is to bring them the answers they need, to feed them with the power of the Gospel for the challenges they will face.  That seems a lot more important to me at many times than helping students know what tense a verb is.  But back to that thing about teaching an old dog new tricks.  Should someone of my age think about a second career?  I think I'm still young enough to have another career.  After all, who retires any more?  If I'm ordained by about age 50, I may have up to 25-30 years of active, productive ministry.  People of all ages need pastoral care.  And it's not like the pastor isn't doing something that I've been doing all along.  He is working with the words of Scripture and with people.  That's awfully similar to teaching foreign languages to people.

So what's it going to take for me to do this?  Of course, this is an ongoing voyage, so there will be more details later.  I'm working on some of the nitty gritty now, but find that seminary offices aren't open 24/7.  But here's some of what it will take to do this.  First, lots of people praying and encouraging.  Drop notes and responses on the blog or off it.  While you're praying for me, pray for your own pastor and people you know from your church who might someday serve in pastoral ministry as well.  Second, this will take four years or more of really hard work.  I'm not afraid of hard work, though I seem to work more slowly than I did some years ago.  But maybe I work smarter than I used to.  But hitting the books while working will be a challenge, no doubt.  Third, this will take some serious changes in circumstances.  I think of three "d" words.  We'll be departing from where we are now living.  There's no seminary within commuting distance.  We'll be downsizing.  It looks like there may be some good options for affordable on-campus housing at one of the two seminaries I'm considering.  But they are cramped quarters.  So is whatever we can afford to live in cheaply anywhere.  The third "d" is "deprivation."  There will be things we are used to having that we can't afford.  There will be times when I can't do things that I've been accustomed to doing because of financial and time constraints.  I don't picture this as being a huge factor in our lives.  We don't have a lavish lifestyle now, but I know there will be some of it going on.  The last thing it's going to take to do this is quite frankly finances.  As I've become an old dog I have learned some things, especially that indebtedness is a really difficult thing to get over.  We do not wish to have student loans.  It's simply something which is off the table for our discussions about how to do seminary.  I won't be able to work as much as I do now.  While we will be cutting some living expenses, we'll be adding tuition and fees, meaning we'll need as much money or maybe more than we use now.  So we'll be searching for all the scholarships, grants, and discounts we can find.  I'll also probably ask people to help out financially if they can and if they wish to.  This is not something I'll look forward to doing.  Yet I know there are times when we appreciate the opportunity to have a hand in enabling someone to do something for the good of the Church and our society.  So I'll be naming dollar amounts needed at some point in the future.

So when do we depart?  Where are we going?  The two questions are actually in reverse order.  We need to figure out for certain where we are going first.  The two seminaries I'm looking at are both called Concordia Theological Seminary.  One is in Fort Wayne, Indiana, while the other is in Saint Louis, Missouri.  The Saint Louis seminary is a little more expensive but has on-campus housing which would be very inexpensive and convenient, probably making up all the cost differential.  But both are in the running.  When does this happen?  I'm not sure just now if we are looking at the summer of 2010 or summer of 2011.  It depends on how admissions details sort out.

Meanwhile, we've continued to keep our eyes open for a dream property to move to, but it seems those dream properties don't respond well when we open our eyes to look at them.  We're up in the air for now, but will keep you posted on the charting of our voyage.

From the Ohio River valley in Huntington, WV, logging out for now.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Seminary Thoughts

As I look at long-term goals, it seems best at present to pursue any seminary training I'll ever get before pushing toward a more agrarian lifestyle which depends on the cash economy less.  Seminaries have a way of eating up a lot of your time and making you move to do little things like vicarage assignments.

I've been thinking more seriously about Concordia in St. Louis as opposed to Concordia in Fort Wayne.  St. Louis has an on-campus housing option for married students.  That may be the way to go.  Then again, maybe not.  Prayers are welcome, as always.

Either seminary will expect me to have a knowledge base in Old Testament, New Testament, basic theology, Greek, and Hebrew before they would admit me as a full seminarian.  I can deal with all but Hebrew.  Time to get cracking, I guess.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Ship's School - Readin', Writin', Rowin'

I recently read an article about President Roosevelt - no, not the one responsible for the New Deal, the one who was the Real Deal.  Apparently Roosevelt was a voracious reader, often reading multiple books in a single day.  He was known and appreciated by many of the dignitaries of other countries for his in-depth understanding of such a wide variety of topics.  It made me think about the fact that I used to speed-read quite well myself.  Not that I have aspirations to the presidency or anything like that, but I'd like to put some of those skills I slaved away learning to more use.

I realize that one of my weaknesses in reading has always been that I forget what I have read.  It doesn't seem to matter if I comprehend it well.  I then don't remember what I comprehended so it doesn't seem to do much good.  As I practice my reading more rigorously I think I'll work on making brief organized outline-type notes of what I read.  Then writing up a more understandable but brief summary will serve to help me seal content into my mind.

What's the goal?  Maybe I can communicate more and better about what I learn.  Maybe I can also have more time for other activities if I don't have quite as many books calling me and making me feel guilty.  So I'll try to speed up my reading a bit, organize my writing more, and have time left over to go rowing (if I want).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sacrament vs. Sacrifice

I participated in a brief and (I hope) gentle discussion on a forum about different views of baptism.  Then this morning I saw a quote from the Apology of the Augsburg Confession XXIV(XII) 17-19 in Treasury of Daily Prayer.  Here we go.

"Theologians are rightly familiar with distinguishing between a Sacrament and a sacrifice.  Therefore, let them be subdivided into either a ceremony or a sacred work.  A Sacrament is a ceremony or work in which God presents to us what the promise of the ceremony offers.  Baptism is not a work that we offer to God.  It is a work in which God baptizes us.  In other words, a minister baptizes us on God's behalf.  God here offers and presents the forgiveness of sins, and so forth, according to the promise "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved" (Mark 16:16).  A sacrifice, on the contrary, is a ceremony or work that we give to God in order to provide Him honor.
"Furthermore, there are two kinds of sacrifice and no more.  One is the atoning sacrifice, that is, a work that makes satisfaction for guilt and punishment.  It reconciles God, or reconciles His wrath and merits the forgiveness of sins for others.  The other kind is the eucharistic sacrifice, which does not merit the forgiveness of sins or reconciliation.  It is practiced by those who have been reconciled, so that we may give thanks or return gratitude for the forgiveness of sins that has been received, or for other benefits received."

So here, baptism is God's work and actually delivers something.  None of us can fully understand how God can do that.  It's yet another of those things we have to accept by faith.

If I were to make an assertion like what I just typed above I would be mocked by many people.  "What do you mean, baptism is God's work?  Obviously it's man's work."  Does it work better when someone from the 16th century says it?

Dave Spotts
blogging at and

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Vaguely Confessional Musings

I had an encounter today with some building materials I've got stored in the garage.  There were some pieces of lumber, scraps of pipe and pipe wrap, and a variety of other items which had become disorganized.  As I was shifting them here and there, trying to make some order out of chaos, I started thinking about what it means to be a confessional Christian.  And since it seems there's at least some modicum of order made in the chaos of my garage, at least for now, I thought I'd write down some of those thoughts.

When we look at our lives we see that we have no stability and hope in ourselves.  Yet we would like to have that stability and hope.  We would like to have everything assembled and orderly.  This is what the confessions do.  They gather the biblical thoughts, the emotions, the desires we have to serve our Lord, and they gather them into a coherent building.  My life without a confessional framework is like the pieces of lumber and the nails and screws stored in my garage.  It's got a good deal of potential.  But it isn't assembled in an orderly way.  A view of Christianity that is orderly, confessional, historical, takes those building materials and assembles them into something that makes sense, that will stand the weather, that provides shelter, that will last.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Time for Graduate School?

Last time I was in graduate school I managed to get a Christmas present I have cherished for quite a while. Faced with those cold days and nights in the library, it seemed the right thing to have would be a nice cardigan sweater that could be comfortable, not show dirt too much, and could hang out with me in the library.  Oddly enough, especially in the summer it's nice to have a library sweater. 

Something amazing has happened.  My blue cardigan sweater, which I wore through my MA in Greek and have used through 14 years of teaching classes is actually starting to show wear!  It's only in its 19th year.  But the collar band is starting to come loose.  It's frayed in a few places.  There's a missing button which I haven't been able to find.  

I guess I need to find a way to go to graduate school before this sweater is reduced to rags.  It just seems appropriate, doesn't it?  You go to graduate school, you get a sweater.  Right. In the meantime I'll keep wearing the sweater but I might not wear it out of the office as much as I used to.  Then again, maybe I'll keep wearing it everywhere.  After all, there's a recession on.  I wonder  if I can find another at the Goodwill store?

Dave Spotts
blogging at and