It’s not done, and it never will be. When God created Adam, he was perfect, but perfect is not a singular and unchangeable state as some may think. Even in perfection, Adam had much to learn! Learning is one thing that is never complete for us. Not now, not ever. Our goal in life is to see, know, and delight in God. He is an infinite delight, a deep pool of truth and joy. So, to pursue him, we must learn.
But what did Adam need to learn? There are many things, but let me examine one key lesson with a striking introduction: “It is not good for man to be alone.” Really?! There are many reasons this sentence shocks us. First, God’s sevenfold declaration of “Good!” is still echoing around the heavens and earth. Stranger still, why does God say that to be alone is “not good”? Certainly, some common Christian wisdom would say that God was enough for Adam. If God was enough, how could God say that being alone was not good? Because God had more planned than just God and Adam; Adam had something to learn. Adam, like so many young men, did not realize his need for a woman. So, after a long afternoon of naming animals (or perhaps a bit longer), he suddenly discovered, “The dog is not man’s best friend!” In this context, could we say that God led Adam to discover frustration? A strange thing, to be frustrated in perfection! Let’s call this “holy frustration.” You see, Adam was quite content before God interrupted with “Not good.” Adam did not understand. But after he named all the animals, the Bible declares the result: “But for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him.” Perhaps learning required a bit of “holy frustration.” And now Adam understood what God understood. Now he was ready for God’s next move: a woman made just for (and from) him. And God created a marriage. Then Adam declared this woman and his marriage to be good, and so did God (2:25). Now, notice this: Adam, perfect in his initial creation, had learned by way of “holy frustration” that he needed more. He was changed, but still perfect. Learning and delighting in God’s ways is what we were created for!
It’s not done, and it never will be. This is not just for Adam in the garden. Nor is it only true for us as we await Christ’s return. This will even be true when we get to heaven. Then, like Adam, we will be perfect; but more than that, we will also be perfectly conformed to our risen and glorious savior (Romans 8:20–28). And then, without sin, and without even the possibility of sin, we will have an eternity to know God and delight in him forever. C.S. Lewis called this “Further up and further in!” Forever, without sin, we will learn in love. With love there is no competition to be first to publish, nor worry about being the smartest in the class, nor wondering what others think about us. There will be no impediments to knowing God, which is true learning. It will be an eternity of discovery! Every time a physicist (chemist, botanist, or any student of nature) in heaven announces a new discovery, he will say, “That’s who He is!” or “That’s how He did it!” And when musicians (and all artists) perform, they will declare, Solo Dei Gloria when they see his beauty more clearly in the dance! Some already do. Then all of us will.
It’s not done, and it never will be. But until then, learning is still challenged by my own sin (slothfulness, distraction, and pseudo-business) and my less-than-fully faithful dedication to knowing God. For that I need the church: friends who call back and forth to each other on the front lines, urging each other to attend to Word and Spirit in our work of seeing, knowing, and delighting in God—so we may know him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. And one aspect of that—just one, but an important one—is formal education. For me, that has been a significant part of my ongoing learning. Might it be so for you this fall?
At Bethlehem College and Seminary, we offer two kinds of non-traditional (evening) degrees, each with a Certificate option: a Bachelor of Theology (a degree completion option for those who started college somewhere else and want to finish with us) and a Master’s of Exegesis and Theology. Here are some reasons you may be interested in seeing, knowing, and delighting in God with us in one of these programs:
- Complete your college degree. Our non-traditional bachelor’s program is designed to allow students who have started college to achieve their degree (DCP, Degree Completion Program). Students need to transfer 56 hours (or achieve them as CLEP hours); we provide 64 hours for a total of 120 credit hours needed for a bachelor’s degree (BTh).
- Focus your study on Bethlehem’s theology and exegesis. Bethlehem’s theology is historically Reformed, but also a bit distinct. Many people love the theology exposited by Chancellor John Piper in his preaching, teaching, and books. That theology is taught in both our master’s and bachelor’s degrees, along with the tools of Greek language study and biblical exegesis.
- Continue working while in school. Most of our students are working full-time jobs or are engaged in full-time ministry in the church or at home. Non-traditional programs allow students to achieve their bachelor’s or master’s degrees while working. Both degrees require five semesters (two years, plus the intervening summer semester), and students can expect to spend 4 hours in class one night a week and 16 hours studying during the week.
- Prepare to serve God better in your current role. Both degrees are offered with the expectation that many students will continue working in their current roles rather than preparing for full-time ministry (as would be the normal case for someone pursuing an MDiv degree). This includes moms and dads, writers, people working in business, volunteer church leaders, and all others who want to know God’s Word and theology better in order to see, know, love, and serve God better. This is the case for about half of our students.
- Prepare to serve God in a current or new ministry role. Both degrees are also offered with the expectation that some students are already in ministry and want to be better qualified, or they plan to transition into ministry. For many, this non-traditional approach (one evening a week) is a better fit for their schedule. This includes lead pastors who cannot pursue an in-person MDiv, worship or youth pastors, missionaries (perhaps while on home-assignment), and those seeking these roles.
- Study in a personal context. Bethlehem’s commitment is to be small, personal, and discipleship-based. That means we are committed to in-person learning. We will always be small. We will always be focused on discipleship. Therefore, students have access to professors, not only as teachers, but as mentors.
- Avoid debt while getting a degree. The price of education has inflated much faster than the economy, and debt works against ministry (and perhaps against God’s expectations). We work hard to minimize the cost to students. Both programs cost about $15,000 for the degree option.
It’s not done and it never will be. Our opportunity to see, know, and delight in God is never-ending. We are only getting started. For all of us, that means studying God’s Word, by his Spirit, with the Church. For some, that includes a season of formal education. If that is the case for you, perhaps you want to apply at Bethlehem. Applications are still being accepted for Fall 2022.
Richard A. Shenk, PhD
Associate Professor of Theology & Director of Non-Traditional Programs
Please pray for Bethlehem with us:
- Pray for God to knit together the men and women of our new 2022–23 cohorts in each of our degree programs (undergrad and traditional MA, MDiv, BTh, and MA), and also those on our other campuses: Hawaii, Cameroon, Memphis, and Rochester. The people in each cohort are a critical part of our learning.
- Pray for the family lives and spiritual health of our faculty and staff.
- Pray for wisdom, grace, and refreshment for our leaders at Bethlehem as they navigate the school through challenging times with regard to world politics, financial decisions, and spiritual health.
- Pray for all of our current students, who have only weeks left in this semester. This is always a challenging time for them with term papers, finals, and summer plans.
- Pray for our 2022 graduates who are now making plans which include interviews, new jobs, moving, and adapting to life after completing their degree.
- Pray for the funding of the remaining 90 Serious Joy Scholarships needed by June 30.