Seminary method of study

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RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
I'm nearing the end of my first semester. How profitable it's been for me with just two classes!

Of course, I have tons that I need to read and know. If the Lord confirms I'm called, I want to make sure all my studies are not wasted.

So, I'm looking for a method of making sure everything retains, is on-hand when needed, and well thought-out to be useful. I'm interested in what others think is a good idea to make sure things don't just slip out of the head. I won't have time to read six big books on any topic once ministry begins, I am sure.

My own philosophy is to weave a web. All truths have a source, all truths are connected, and all truths are at an end; so for me, it's a matter of seeing the connections, as well as bringing it all to an end goal.

A few ideas I've had:
- Do nothing without seeking the highest and fullest obedience possible to Deuteronomy 6:5, which I think sums up the object of the Christian life, its practice, its motives, and its result.
- For any systematic topics, take notes from your reading and incorporate them into a Word document where ideas are recorded in a logical flow according to systematic loci, so you not only have the ideas, but their connections
- Keep a timeline of church history events in which name, a short description, and the location are recorded. Nothing exhaustive.
- End of semester, spend time reviewing not only the semester, but searching out new connections between current semester subjects and past ones as well.
- Always be in the original languages whenever looking up a passage, even if you don't understand it.
- Craft sermons out of the things learned.
- Write a short essay on either a topic learned, or one branching out of material learned.

Perhaps I'm making more work for myself, but then again, it's a lot of work to get it in once, and I hate reviewing things I've forgotten.

I want to know what ideas others have.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
Jake, your ideas are great, and I think you will find much profit in them. I would only caution you against one thing. From the way you are talking, you seem to be assuming that most of your education will happen at seminary, and then, in ministry, you put to work what you've learned. You do not want to think this way. Seminary education gives you the tools you need to become a life-long learner. Seminary is the beginning of your theological education. I shudder to think of what my sermons would look like if all I had was my seminary education on which to rely! What made me think you might be thinking in this direction is your statement "I won't have time to read six big books on any topic once ministry begins, I am sure." I would hope you would want to read at least six big commentaries on the book/passage on which you are preaching! Of course, how much time a pastor has for reading will vary greatly depending on the church he serves. But you will have to carve out time for reading for your sermons at least. And it is quite foolish to limit your reading in the ministry only to the passage on which you preach.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
Jake, your ideas are great, and I think you will find much profit in them. I would only caution you against one thing. From the way you are talking, you seem to be assuming that most of your education will happen at seminary, and then, in ministry, you put to work what you've learned. You do not want to think this way. Seminary education gives you the tools you need to become a life-long learner. Seminary is the beginning of your theological education. I shudder to think of what my sermons would look like if all I had was my seminary education on which to rely! What made me think you might be thinking in this direction is your statement "I won't have time to read six big books on any topic once ministry begins, I am sure." I would hope you would want to read at least six big commentaries on the book/passage on which you are preaching! Of course, how much time a pastor has for reading will vary greatly depending on the church he serves. But you will have to carve out time for reading for your sermons at least. And it is quite foolish to limit your reading in the ministry only to the passage on which you preach.

Thank you for this caveat. I put as an absolute something that was meant relatively, considering the unusual opportunity given to just think and digest and grow that seminary offers.

Perhaps better said, solidifying my education so I'm not running the same ground over needlessly; help everything snowball, rather than let the snowball melt.

Rest assured I'll be using that book allowance profitably and joyfully :)
 

D.L. Arter

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm going to be a little blunt, but I can assure you that you're going to forget quite a bit of what you'll learn in seminary (that is the reality of living with fallible human minds in a sin-cursed world). Your ideas could be useful just as long as you can handle the extra work that it'll add to your already hectic seminary and church schedule.

I second what Lane says here:
Jake, your ideas are great, and I think you will find much profit in them. I would only caution you against one thing. From the way you are talking, you seem to be assuming that most of your education will happen at seminary, and then, in ministry, you put to work what you've learned. You do not want to think this way. Seminary education gives you the tools you need to become a life-long learner. Seminary is the beginning of your theological education. I shudder to think of what my sermons would look like if all I had was my seminary education on which to rely! What made me think you might be thinking in this direction is your statement "I won't have time to read six big books on any topic once ministry begins, I am sure." I would hope you would want to read at least six big commentaries on the book/passage on which you are preaching! Of course, how much time a pastor has for reading will vary greatly depending on the church he serves. But you will have to carve out time for reading for your sermons at least. And it is quite foolish to limit your reading in the ministry only to the passage on which you preach.
Seminary isn't meant to be exhaustive. You shouldn't walk away from seminary thinking that you've learned everything that you need to learn, in fact, you should graduate from seminary recognizing that you simply cannot and will not know everything. Seminary is meant to give you the tools for a lifelong pursuit of learning and serving. I'll also point out, that a large part of the master's level of any graduate program (seminary or not) is simply equipping you and getting you caught up with thousands of years of scholarly writing. Or in other words, scholars have spent centuries working on what you're trying to learn in a brief few years, don't expect to remember it all.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
In terms of reading, read the best authors in a field. That lets you get an idea of who and what to study and what are the key issues. This is what I did on Patristics. I made a running list. I learned more on Christology this way than in the week long course I had.

I need to update that list.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Graduate
In terms of mere study habits, the most helpful piece of advice I got was in my Greek Refresher course with the OPC under Dr. David Noe. He advised us all to follow Calvin’s method of study. In general, spend about twice the time reviewing what you would normally spend learning something new. So, for instance, if you have three hours of study time blocked off, spend two hours reviewing old material and then one hour learning something new. The amount you learn day-to-day will be less, but the retention will be astronomically better. This is playing the long game. That’s why I don’t recommend people doing their MDiv in two years.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
Utilize Google docs to keep track of book reviews, analyses, etc. That's what my blog is for. I almost never engage current issues on my blog. I just post the results of my studies.
 

Osnah

Puritan Board Freshman
- For any systematic topics, take notes from your reading and incorporate them into a Word document where ideas are recorded in a logical flow according to systematic loci, so you not only have the ideas, but their connections


Might I suggest that instead of using MS Word for keeping notes, try OneNote. I have been using it for several years now. If you set it up and organize it properly up front, it will be a great asset to help organize all sorts of information. You can copy and paste articles/info into it. You can also use the web-browser extension "Clip to OneNote", which allows you to take a whole webpage, article, video, etc. into the appropriate section. You can insert you class handouts (if you have any) into a section as well.

It's not perfect but I find it very useful for capturing ideas and info that I can go back to later and study up on.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
I'm going to be a little blunt, but I can assure you that you're going to forget quite a bit of what you'll learn in seminary (that is the reality of living with fallible human minds in a sin-cursed world). Your ideas could be useful just as long as you can handle the extra work that it'll add to your already hectic seminary and church schedule.

I second what Lane says here:

Seminary isn't meant to be exhaustive. You shouldn't walk away from seminary thinking that you've learned everything that you need to learn, in fact, you should graduate from seminary recognizing that you simply cannot and will not know everything. Seminary is meant to give you the tools for a lifelong pursuit of learning and serving. I'll also point out, that a large part of the master's level of any graduate program (seminary or not) is simply equipping you and getting you caught up with thousands of years of scholarly writing. Or in other words, scholars have spent centuries working on what you're trying to learn in a brief few years, don't expect to remember it all.

This makes sense. I have a degree in accounting, but all I've learned in work since then has dwarfed what I learned at university. The same should be expected of pastoring then.

Thanks especially for the bold part. Glad to have the education framed better.
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
In terms of mere study habits, the most helpful piece of advice I got was in my Greek Refresher course with the OPC under Dr. David Noe. He advised us all to follow Calvin’s method of study. In general, spend about twice the time reviewing what you would normally spend learning something new. So, for instance, if you have three hours of study time blocked off, spend two hours reviewing old material and then one hour learning something new. The amount you learn day-to-day will be less, but the retention will be astronomically better. This is playing the long game. That’s why I don’t recommend people doing their MDiv in two years.

I like the idea, and I think it's sound. However, I'm guessing you also need skill at determining what is essential, and what you can (hate to put it this way) afford to forget, or just know generally, somewhat superficially. You can't possibly do that kind of review with the 1,000-2,000 pages of reading you may need to do for a class.

Thinking out loud to help myself... Information should probably be grouped into concentric circles. In the middle-most circle are the very essentials of a subject, and you must know them, whatever else you learn. The best cue for this is what will show up on an exam, or be the subject of a required paper. Just beyond that are things closely connected to the core items; although not as important, you should be familiar as to enhance the understanding of the core. As you get further out from the central circle you get things that are related, and important in their own time and place, but retainage is not important at this point.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
I like the idea, and I think it's sound. However, I'm guessing you also need skill at determining what is essential, and what you can (hate to put it this way) afford to forget, or just know generally, somewhat superficially. You can't possibly do that kind of review with the 1,000-2,000 pages of reading you may need to do for a class.

You get that knowledge by finding out the leading books in a field and reading the best ones. Good peer-reviewed books will tell you what the leading authors say about a topic, the types of argumentation you can expect, and the best bibliographies.

Even though my field is Patristic studies, I can illustrate it by NT commentaries.

If you get Fee's commentary on Philippians, he will interact with the leading arguments by O'Brien. That means you don't need to get both. It also means you probably don't need to get the Tyndale editions, since they never approach the depth and analysis of the larger volumes (except for Wenham on Numbers).

JP Moreland's Love Your God With Your Mind explains how to do that.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
If you get Fee's commentary on Philippians, he will interact with the leading arguments by O'Brien. That means you don't need to get both. It also means you probably don't need to get the Tyndale editions, since they never approach the depth and analysis of the larger volumes (except for Wenham on Numbers).
I'm afraid I have to demur here. Fee is outstanding, but he will not see in O'Brien what I might see in O'Brien. A comment Fee thinks is not worth passing on in O'Brien is one I might think is the key to the whole passage. If you are fundamentally correct, then one only needs the latest commentary and none others. This would be a lamentable state. I have found the shorter Tyndale volumes to be less valuable than the larger ones, true. However, there are many larger ones on offer which are well worth having: Hubbard on Hosea, anything by Kidner, Hill on Haggai-Malachi, Timmer (my Doctorvater) on Obadiah/Jonah/Micah, Long on Samuel, and others.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
I'm afraid I have to demur here. Fee is outstanding, but he will not see in O'Brien what I might see in O'Brien. A comment Fee thinks is not worth passing on in O'Brien is one I might think is the key to the whole passage. If you are fundamentally correct, then one only needs the latest commentary and none others. This would be a lamentable state. I have found the shorter Tyndale volumes to be less valuable than the larger ones, true. However, there are many larger ones on offer which are well worth having: Hubbard on Hosea, anything by Kidner, Hill on Haggai-Malachi, Timmer (my Doctorvater) on Obadiah/Jonah/Micah, Long on Samuel, and others.

I get that. My larger point was that if you have the top academic commentary running around 1200 pages, then you don't need to get a mid level popular commentary that runs around 200 pages.

Or to say it another way: If you have Beale's larger commentary on Revelation, you don't need his smaller one.

The bottom line is this: I am assuming that one is limited in time and money
 

RPEphesian

Puritan Board Junior
I do appreciate the advice, and I'm going to keep it in regards to my own study life.

I do have a time restraint though. At this point I am only doing two classes, because my work life is going to demand full time for the time being. On top of family duties and church duties. So for reading, I'm providentially constrained, for the most part, to what my professors require.

So, I'd love to read Beale's 1200 page commentary; but unless it is required reading in my courses, I'll likely have to shelf that until post-graduation, and stick mainly with the 1,000-2,000 the professors require.

Perhaps this advice can be tailored in regards to required reading?
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
So, I'd love to read Beale's 1200 page commentary; but unless it is required reading in my courses, I'll likely have to shelf that until post-graduation, and stick mainly with the 1,000-2,000 the professors require.

Also keep in mind that a book like Beale might take a year or so to finish. I read 400 pages a month ago, but I might not pick it up again for a few months.
 

greenbaggins

Administrator
Staff member
I get that. My larger point was that if you have the top academic commentary running around 1200 pages, then you don't need to get a mid level popular commentary that runs around 200 pages.

Or to say it another way: If you have Beale's larger commentary on Revelation, you don't need his smaller one.

The bottom line is this: I am assuming that one is limited in time and money
I would certainly agree with you if the commentator has written more than one commentary. I didn't pick up Beale's shorter commentary, since his mammoth one is quite sufficient (and is one of the very best commentaries written on any book, in my opinion). But you also make an example of someone quoting a different author, thus making the different author superfluous, and I don't think the analogy holds. One only needs one of the two Motyer commentaries on Isaiah, agreed. But just because Motyer will quote Calvin doesn't mean I shouldn't also read Calvin.
 

RamistThomist

Puritanboard Clerk
To echo Prof Duguid's remarks, when I said use google drive, I meant in personal study, not in a classroom. Since I can type faster than people can speak, I can zone out and take down all the words and have no idea what was just said. I actually train my students on how to take notes short hand. And it is also annoying when you are listening to a lecture and hear people typing.

I do store my notes in google drive, though.
 
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