by Dylan Pahman, ‘12
I have a number of recommendations that I found helpful in my studies in the M.T.S. program at CTS. To save space, I will simply list and explain:
Test out of as many classes as you can. Chances are, if you are in the M.T.S. program you have already spent some time studying the Bible and theology in undergrad. There is no need to take Bible survey, for example, if you already have a very basic familiarity with the books of the Bible. Study hard for a week, take the test, and save yourself some time and money.
This program is what you make of it. It can be easy to criticize as an M.T.S. student. The courses are not primarily designed for your program; they can’t be. It is a simple matter of efficiency. All the professors that I had did a great job of trying to provide alternative and appropriate assignments, but at the end of the day some of the content was clearly not designed for M.T.S. students. Instead of complaining, however, I highly encourage you to take full advantage of your electives. Hopefully you will have a little more space for them if you test out of a few classes. Be proactive with those credits. Propose independent studies. Request to take Th.M. or Ph.D. courses. In many cases, even if you are not allowed to take them for credit, you may still be able to audit them or sit in to augment your studies.
Take your languages seriously. One of the most valuable aspects of your studies at CTS is biblical languages. I also had the option of taking a year of Latin through the college, which I highly recommend as well. Language learning takes daily discipline, but it is very worthwhile. The texts that you study come alive in new ways when you are able to read them in their original languages. Some things simply cannot be adequately translated. There is a Romanian expression: “He who speaks two tongues has four eyes.” Learning anybody’s first language helps you see things from their perspective just a little bit better. Biblical and classical languages are no exception. On a related note….
Stay away from Logos in your language classes. Logos can be a valuable tool for more easily studying texts in their original languages. However, in my experience, there is no more effective way to learn a language than the tedious work of writing out and reviewing note cards. I found that, while I started my studies at CTS with a minor in biblical Greek, my Hebrew definitely suffered due to over-reliance on Logos to do my assignments. Logos was great for my Greek exegesis because I had already done all the hard work to learn it properly, but it was bad for a language that I was yet to truly learn.
Make good friendships. One of the most helpful things during my time at CTS was to take time, usually once a week, to go out and get a beer or two (or three or four) with some other students. Most of them were also in the M.T.S. program, but not all of them. It was a great time to reflect upon the content of my courses among a diverse group of viewpoints as well as to voice an occasional complaint and discover that I wasn’t the only one who really needed to talk it over with someone else.
Be open minded. According to the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “if a man would pursue Philosophy, his first task is to throw away conceit. For it is impossible for a man to begin to learn what he has a conceit that he already knows” (Golden Sayings 72). If you find yourself upset often over how much you disagree with your professors or fellow classmates, keep in mind that the purpose of going to school is to learn things that you don’t already know. You may, in fact, be very right most of the time and already know most of the material (though I doubt it). But if you enter your studies only looking for your own understanding to be affirmed, you will undoubtedly miss all kinds of opportunities to learn something more, sometimes in the most unlikely places and from the most unlikely people. Indeed, arrogance is a surefire sign that you are failing to “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
Take your “rhythm of life” seriously. Since the very beginning of the Church, Christians have found that walking in the Spirit down the straight and narrow way is impossible without spiritual discipline. This is not to say that you don’t need God’s grace, but rather that sometimes “you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2–3). If we are too caught up in everyday pleasures to set aside a little regular time to meditate on the Scriptures, pray, fast, or (as much as possible as a poor seminarian) give alms, we are like soldiers standing with our guard down, vulnerable to every attack of the enemy. You are at seminary because you want to serve the Church of Jesus Christ in some capacity, whether writing, teaching, or otherwise. Imagine that you have just volunteered to be on the front line in a battle, would you feel safe going in without your helmet or Kevlar or gun? Well, spiritually speaking, that’s sort of what is happening. If you wouldn’t enter a physical battle without proper protection for your body, how much more so ought you not to enter a spiritual battle without proper protection for your soul?
That’s just a brief list of some of the most helpful tips that I can offer. Some of it might seem like common sense, but sometimes common sense is far too uncommon in practice. Better to take some time to reflect upon the obvious than to overlook something vital to making the most out of your time in the M.T.S. program at CTS.