Biblical Studies & The Contexts of Students

This semester (my last of grad. school) has got me wondering: "If there ever comes a day in time when I get to teach biblical studies, what type of professor will I be?" I've been thinking about this because this has been an incredibly (and particularly) hard semester for me. I have two master's degrees (MDiv & MABS), a tremendous GPA and am a dedicated student. For the last 5 years, I have not taken 1 semester, summer or winter off from class; I've had no break. Honestly, I am a good student and I enjoy studying.

This semester, though, I've had my fair share of stessors: Full-time job, full-time school, newborn baby, very ill grandma (whom I've not been able to see nearly as much as I want), I've found out that I'm going to have to have surgery on my hand, a very close family member has seemingly gone off the deep end, etc. Needless to say, this semester I have not been able to be as good of a student as usual (and that does bother me). I know of other students who have had their own struggles and stresses to work through this semester too. I heard of a fellow student who said, "My son told me last night, 'You're becoming a mean dad; any time I ask you to play or sit with me, you get angry and tell me you have to do school work.'" God forbid that day should ever come to me because if it does, I think I will crumble and quit school altogether.

And that is where the line gets really blurry for me. Yes, students should have requirements to meet and I think that all students should strive to be excellent and exceptional. But what about those times when they cannot? What about the times when they struggle and just cannot make the grade(s)? Anyone wanting to do doctoral work knows of the pressure to have good grades. But what if that one semester of struggles just tarnishes your GPA?

What I am getting at is this: Doesn't there come a time when the professor needs to be pastor too? I'm not saying that this is true in every field of study (though it may be), however, I do think that in biblical studies it should be a given, a reality. It is quite contradictory, I think, for the professor to constantly preach to his/her students about the importance of the "context" of the Bible and "being aware of its context" so that one can faithfully "interpret" and "apply" it, yet, all the while, never acknowledging the importance of the context of his/her students. Yes, all people and all students have their struggles and I'm not suggesting that professors grow lax or lenient. What I am suggesting, though, is that Christian professors who harp on context need to take note of the contexts of their students. If we, as Christians and Bible scholars are constantly trying to create a "culture of exegesis," where we are exegeting not only texts but all of life, then this is a must. (Besides, students are practically forced into understanding the context of the professor when a crises comes up in his or her life; the student is expected to "understand" their plight, to "empathize" with them and to "cut them some slack.")

I have decided that if there ever comes a day when I am behind the lectern as a professor, I want to practice what I preach/teach in this respect. Surely there have been many outstanding students who have been denied entry into the greatest doctoral programs because some of their previous professors failed to acknowledge their context and were simply interested in giving them a grade--a grade that, while important, did not reflect the student's hard work or constrained schedule. Surely there have been many great exegetes whose influence has been hindered because of a few bad grades, bad grades that were the result of a strained context, bad grades that ultimately, ruined their academic careers. Surely there have been many great Christian thinkers whose potential has been stifled because a professor or two issued them low marks, marks that prevented or discouraged them from going on.

I think that too many professors do not realize the importance of issuing grades (thus, the over-reliance on student graders); grades really can make or break a person's future. If my day ever comes, I want to be a generous professor but I also want to have high standards. That said, my high standards will not only apply to my students but to myself as well. If I am truly going to call myself an exegete (operating out of a relational, Trinitarian-based theology and hermeneutic), then I must apply that to all areas of life, even grading. Besides, sometimes the best standards are not the 16-squared grading rubrics but the test of character, the recognition of context and even second or third chances.


  1. It's always nice to get a glimpse into the real life of the people whose blogs we read. From reading your blog in the past I had no idea that you were as young as (I think) you are. You definitely write like a seasoned vet.

    First things first... my prayers are with you and your grandma.

    I think that you raise a poignant issue with suggesting that professors should understand the context of their students. My sister is in the process of getting her Master's right now. A few weeks ago she had a paper due that she just couldn't complete because of work and her infant son and upon learning of this her professor said, 'I didn't know you worked full time and had a baby -- just turn the paper in by the end of the semester.' I think that this is the type of attitude you are looking for.

    I would agree that such an attitude is good and desirable but in my mind I can already hear the rejoinders to such an idea. I can see some arguing that the student shouldn't overload themself with more than they can handle at the time. They would suggest that taking time off to handle personal affairs would be the way to go.

    It's a tough situation from either angle. I'd love to find out first hand one day but it doesn't look like there will be any seminary in my near future :(

    Good post though, thanks for sharing your plight.

  2. Nick,
    Thanks for the prayers and the compliments.

    I'm 27 (younger or older than you thought?).

    Yes, the situation that your sister found herself in, that is to some degree, how I envision myself (if I ever get in such a position).

    I also can hear the responses of prof's as well. As far as overloading, that does happen. But even when it does, shouldn't the prof be there to help the person realize it and guide them and help them through it? That's a pastoral prof.

    And sometimes you simply cannot plan for the things that will happen. Profs need to be pastoral here too.

    I hope you get to school someday. Keep studying though; sounds like you're on to some good stuff.

    As for writing like a seasoned vet, well, that's a nice compliment. Especially given the fact that I've only been blogging for 5 months.

  3. TMWH,

    After reading the interview with Lord Tilling I originally thought you were at least in your mid to late 30s. But after seeing the GodTube videos I figured you were around my age (I'm 26).

    I wonder, do you think this pastoral care should translate into secular and non-confessional schools as well? (BTW, my sister is doing her MA in a secular university)

  4. Nick,

    I'm 27; interesting though that you thought I was almost 40.

    As for pastoral care and secular schools, I do not necesarrily think the two must converge, let me qualify that statement however. When the professor is a Christian, I do think they need to have that attitude and mindset. In a secular school, this might be the greatest light one has to shine for Christ!

    If I'm ever in that situation, that'll be my stance. How does it look when a non-Christian prof considers context but a Bible/Christian prof does not? Not good.

    My main contention w/bible profs, especially ones that are always talking about context and creating and maintaining a "culture of exegesis" is that they do not practice such mottos as profs.