The Light Unto My Path
To encounter God through the Word of God is both powerful and transforming. This is what I experienced as both student and Adjunct Instructor at Ashland Theological Seminary-Detroit. Though this may sound as if it is the logical thing to happen to a seminarian, I must say I do not believe it is. We can engage intensely in study while at seminary only to come out of the experience sometimes further away from God than we believe possible. When we are not rooted and grounded in Scripture, we run the risk of being disconnected and irrelevant in our work of ministry. Therefore, I believe that our education must be built and centered on Scripture. Our seminary education must be well-established in the Word of God, the Life of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.
At Ashland Theological Seminary I have found that Scripture comes alive and we are able to experience what the Psalmist experienced when he wrote, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119: 105). One of the core values at the seminary as it relates to Scripture is the belief that God’s saving revelation is made in Jesus Christ, and at Ashland Theological seminary we are committed to both the Old and New Testaments as God’s infallible message for church and world.
Having Scripture as a core value at the center of our theological education invites us to view Scripture as the Word of God which illuminates, illustrates, and liberates.
I came to Ashland Theological Seminary with a strong foundation in Christian Education. Third New Hope Baptist Church strongly believes in studying the Word of God as a way of life. My goal was to engage in Scripture, to mature, grow closer to God, and then be able to share what I gained by imparting this knowledge to others.
Every course at Ashland Theological seminary is steeped in the Word of God. Scripture is made plain or it is clarified so that it is easily understood. Each instructor demonstrates that Scripture is a core value in their personal life. I can remember being in a spiritual formation class in which Dr. Jerry Flora was the professor. Dr. Flora would read aloud the Scriptures and then read to us from spiritual writers such as Teresa of Avila, Evelyn Underhill, and Jonathan Edwards, to help illuminate for us through these writers what God requires of us. With teary eyes he would challenge us to read and fall in love with the Scriptures so that we can live out the mandates of God in our lives and fall more deeply in love with God.
So now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 10:12 NRSV).
How is it possible for a student who is in the presence of professors with such passion for the Scripture to not desire to have the same type of passion? The light of the professor passes on to his students, a thirst begins to form, and a desire for deeper ways to know God is birthed. This is the Ashland Theological Seminary process. I was shown that this is much more than seminary lessons. I was embarking upon life lessons that were heart shaping, and I had a lamp to guide me through life and study. This lamp was the Word of God.
When theological institutions have Scripture as a core value, they not only demonstrate for their students how the Word illuminates a life, but also how Scripture can illustrate how to stay connected to God throughout life. Reality will tell you that life is tough. When life takes us to that tough place, we need an example of one who has experienced what we are encountering. We need those who have not only experienced the tough life but have come through it with a testimony for us. It is through Scripture and the lives of people around us that we meet those who illustrate for us that no matter where our journey takes us, God is present with us and God is for us.
The life of Nelson Mandela exemplifies the presence of God on our journey. Iva E. Carruthers, in the book Crazy Faith: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives, speaks on the issue of faith in times of difficulty. The author says that “the problem comes in how we define God’s ‘faithfulness.’ Too often our definition of God being faithful to us means God gives us what we want, with a minimum of angst on our part.” In speaking of Nelson Mandela, the author says that even in the midst of twenty-seven years in prison, he never lost his faith. Mandela himself wrote in 1975, “In my lifetime I shall step out into the sunshine, walk with firm feet.”
There will come times when you will feel alone on the journey to your destination. Not only what you have learned about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit during your studies, but sometimes the personal testimonies of your classmates will be your strength. When the core value of Scripture takes root in your life as it will at Ashland Theological Seminary, you will be able to discern the needs of those you encounter along your journey. Even in the process of studying the scripture, it can come alive for you. One of my classes had studied John 14:12, where Jesus tells his disciples they would do greater works because He would ascend to the Father. One of the students expressed that she was in a state of stress, but rather than allow her to leave the classroom with these feelings, another student acted. In a corner in the classroom she illustrated the greater works by praying for this student, believing for her healing and helping her to bear her burden.
Scripture is the living word of God and Dr. Terry Wardle describes it as such in his book, Helping Others on the Journey. He states his conviction about the Word of God, "But I am convinced that the Bible is the Living Word of God with a purpose far greater than dispensing information and standards for Christian living. Scripture is inspired with the presence of the Holy Spirit and the deepest truth of any text is only revealed when the Holy Spirit reveals it. The person who submits to the presence of God in His Word is forever changed by the encounter (Wardle 70, 2004)."
At seminary, this transformative process took place in my personal life. I entered seeking to become a better Christian educator, but I left a better woman of and for God. As an instructor I have an opportunity to share in the transformation of those who I meet in the classroom. The Word became a light unto my path that led me back to share in the life of others in my community.
I am thoroughly convinced that it is Scripture that sets us on the path of liberation, which in turn gives us the freedom to become influencers to others. I have been set free to live out the mandates we find in the Scriptures. My eyes are opened to see those who live out the power of the Word in their lives. As I received from Ashland Theological Seminary, it is refreshing to go back into my faith community and be allowed to impart the knowledge I received to others. Pastor Edward L. Branch and the Third New Hope Church family strongly embrace the gifts of the people of God. We are admonished to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. Not only are we encouraged to grow in grace but to grow in the knowledge of the Lord.
Finally I want to encourage those on the path of liberation to continue to grow in knowledge. “Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18 NIV). Ripen in the knowledge of Him as instructed by Charles Spurgeon, "Oh, that we may know more of him in His divine nature and in His human relationship to us. Oh, that we may know more of Him in His finished work, in His death, in His resurrection, His present glorious intercession, and in His future royal advent (Spurgeon 51,1998)."
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, 1979)
Carruthers, Iva J. 2009, Crazy Faith: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives. Valley Forge, PA, Judson Press.
Book of Common Prayer according to the use of The Episcopal Church.
Foster, Richard J. 1993, Devotional Classics. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Spurgeon, Charles. 1998, The Joy of the Lord. New Kensington, PA, Whitaker House.
Wardle, Terry. 2004, Helping Others on the Journey: A Guide For Those Who Seek to Mentor Others to Maturity in Christ. Kent, TN: Sovereign World Ltd.
Unless otherwise indicated all Bible references in this article are to The New International Version Bible (NIV) (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973).