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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Seminary Essay

I'm thankful to a couple of you who read my seminary application essay and gave me feedback. I've heard from a few more who said they wanted to read it. So, here it is. Very long, but if you have some spare reading time and want to know more about who I am and what drives me, then have at it. Only one step left to complete the application process.




My interest in attending Covenant Theological Seminary to pursue a Master’s degree in Christianity and the Contemporary Culture began in the early 1990s. It was at that time that I had truly embraced the Christian faith of my culture as my own—a living, abiding, active, transformational relationship with a sovereign Creator God who raises the dead. And with my conversion to Christ, I immediately felt an immense desire to live honestly, intentionally, submitting every aspect of life to his Lordship.
The importance of Christian worldview thinking and the recognition that God in his sovereignty and perfect plan chose with intention to call me to himself after placing me in this very point in history, in this very culture that we do live in, infiltrated my thinking. It continues today to hold a primary position in my own awareness as I attempt to “seek first the kingdom of God” in all things. God put me here, now, for his purpose.
I was a senior in college at Clemson University pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Design when I first came in contact with Reformed theology. I had been raised in a Southern Baptist culture in the midlands of South Carolina. My grandmother was a believer. I would have to say I believe my mother was a believer, but how that worked out for her was very private. She taught me the existence of God, but she didn’t speak about how that knowledge informed her life’s decisions or goals. My father is a good man, hardworking and caring. He wanted my brothers and me to have our needs met and to climb the ladder of social and professional success. He taught us personal responsibility, work ethic, and self-sufficiency. He believed in community and both my parents held to an open-door policy to our home. But my father never taught or modeled a Christ-centered purpose to our human existence.
So when I met Reformed theology in 1991, my understanding literally exploded. I had always known I believed in God. I believed in Jesus—a real, historical man who was born from a virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit. I believed he was God in the flesh, walking among men. I believed he lived a perfect life and died for some general and vague concept called “sin” which infected all of us somehow. I believed that he was bodily resurrected. Then, once I had gotten all that believing established, I went back to my daily life: what I was going to do, what I was going to study, whom I was going to spend time with. Jesus had nothing to do with me. I was busy and on a path of setting up my own future. That included finishing college but staying in the area in order to wait out another year until my fiancĂ© graduated.
I took a job that was below the level of my education but adequate to support me after graduation while I waited on my future to begin. And it was there, in that job, that God began to work on me. I still had a few months left until graduation, but I was thinking of myself as a full-fledged adult. I needed to begin to do “adult things.” In my mind, one of those adult things was to start attending church. It is what “good people” did, after all, in our Southern culture, and in accordance with the morality of outward appearances I had grown up with, I certainly wanted to be perceived as “good people.”
I visited a few churches that were within walking distance and found reasons with each to reject it immediately. It was at the First Baptist Church—which I had saved until last because of how common and traditional it was to me—that I found a church to call home for a time. During the worship service on my first visit, the pastor, Mike Massar, seemed to look me in the eye directly when he said, “If you’re looking for a church home, I hope you know that none of us here are perfect. That’s exactly why we need a Savior, just like you do. So I trust you will give us more than one shot before you make up your mind to leave.” It hit like an arrow through my heart. I wasn’t looking for a church to belong to. I was looking for a reason NOT to be there. I stayed for the next three years. A Vietnam veteran and converted atheist named Michael van Strien taught a Sunday school class for post-college aged adults and young professionals and the very small group of us spent a significant amount of study time absorbed in the scriptures, devouring both their prophetic and symbolic meanings as well as real-life, practical applications. Michael was a literature professor, and he saw God as a great artist and author. I was a Design major, concentrating in humanities. Michael spoke my language. The meta-narrative of scripture began to unfold before me, and I knew it was true. It was too well ordered, well developed, self-supporting on too grand a scale to be written by even one human, much less by dozens over the course of many centuries, without Spiritual inspiration. I began to develop a sense of awe at this Creator/Designer/Author/Story-telling God.
A few months after those seeds had been planted, a new employee arrived in my office. She was also a Clemson student who was working up until her graduation the following year. We shared the same name, phonetically. She spelled hers Rebekah, while mine is Rebecca. I came in to work one day after a long weekend and found her sitting at my desk. While my first response was a combination of intrigue with no small amount of jealous intimidation—I mean, was she taking my place or what?—we quickly became great friends. And though I was aware that I had experienced an eye-opening about God, it was Rebekah who showed me Christ. It was Rebekah who had such a comfortable, personal, non-defensive, and joy-filled relationship with her Savior—in no way judgmental or overbearing, demanding or insistent—that I often found myself thinking, “I want what she has.” She made Christ so appealing, simply by living all of her life in his presence, in submission to his will, in trusting him to be for her good, that I saw him through her and wanted to know the person of Christ.
While I was quick to invite others to come to church with me for worship and Sunday school, Rebekah invited me to come to a Reformed University Fellowship small group Bible study. It was on the book of Hebrews, but the intern, well prepared by the RUF leader David Sinclair, led us through all of scripture as we looked into that New Testament book. It was during that Bible study that I began to see how Reformed theology could take all the little bits of truth I had known and begin to put them together like the pieces of a cosmic jigsaw puzzle. It all made sense. It all fit. Scripture interpreted scripture, and I was hooked.
From that point I knew that I had to study Reformed theology. I began to attend the Reformed University Fellowship large group meetings. I asked for books to read. I got a copy of the Westminster Confession of Faith and went through it, line by line, checking every scripture reference. I realized that if Christ was who scripture said he was, there was no turning back. He was what I needed. He was the union between that amazing Designer/Artist God and me. It was all or nothing, and I was in. I could literally feel the presence of the Holy Spirit blooming in the midst of me, and I fell so totally head over heels in love with this amazing, sacrificial, gracious, revelatory, humble, powerful, majestic, meek, PERSONAL God that my whole external appearance and outlook on everything changed. I had not yet learned about Abraham Kuyper at the time. But I had gained my own sense of understanding along the lines of Kuyper:  If Christ was over all and in all and through all, that meant every aspect of my own life as well as the very culture I had been specifically placed in at that moment in the whole of history was also fully his. I had found meaning and purpose in existence—it was all about God and his grace and his work and the spread of his kingdom!
About that time, I picked up two more important connections. First, I took a sample copy of WORLD Magazine from an RUF gathering, and second, I started listening every time someone mentioned Covenant Theological Seminary. I hungered to learn more and I felt almost certain then that God was calling me there to study. I knew I wanted to teach. I wanted to tell young people—teens in particular—what I had not learned in my own adolescence and young adulthood. I wanted to help open eyes to the fullness of God’s involvement in the world. I wanted to develop worldviews and to prepare immature believers about to enter the world with a foundation of certainty and apologetics to stand confidently, but not defensively in a negative sense, before and within their culture. I wanted to equip others to go boldly and full of joy and love into the world’s arena, putting Christ on display before the nations and going as workers into the harvest whether they were teachers, musicians, actors, architects, infantrymen, nurses, cashiers, computer programmers, mechanics, writers, or anything else God had called them to. My understanding of God working in all of life was ripe for application, and I saw the vast potential for the growth of his kingdom through the placement of prepared believers in every vocation.
But I couldn’t get there. I couldn’t get to CTS at that time. I had graduated from Clemson with no college debt but no savings either. My parents were finished with financial support. They needed me to work and provide for myself. They could not fund graduate school. And I was a young female with no contacts in St. Louis. So even though I spoke a number of times in the early 1990s with admissions representatives, and I had those white cassette tapes of Jerram Barrs’ lectures mailed to me often, I never made an application to attend. I kept the dream, but I backburnered it. Another big event also changed my course. I became acutely aware that the man I was engaged to marry was not the one God intended for me. As I had been drawn first to the church and then to Christ himself, he was being drawn more and more into the world and away from anything he considered old-fashioned or traditional. He outright rejected God, and I ended our engagement.
I spent the next year in Clemson, working and enjoying being single, even though I am an exuberant extrovert and all my college peers had moved on. I was loving the time I had to immerse myself in my new relationship with the Lord and I grew rapidly, all the while feeling as if he was working to prepare me for something. I knew I would never be satisfied with purely secular work. I needed a ministry or mission focus. I found it in December 1993. My friend Rebekah had moved from Clemson earlier that year to Asheville, North Carolina. She went to be close to her aging parents, who lived in Asheville then. While there, she had taken an editorial assistant position with God’s World Publications—the publisher of WORLD Magazine and God’s World News, and the parent company of the WORLD Journalism Institute and the now-defunct God’s World Book Club. But Rebekah had become engaged to her now-husband Stephen Speaks (a CTS alumnus), and she was going to leave her job at God’s World after their wedding.
I had the equivalent of a minor in humanities, a passion for literature, and an even bigger passion for impacting the thinking of young people for Christ. I applied for the open position, and began work in March 1994 with God’s World Book Club. I met my husband Bill later that year at Arden Presbyterian Church, where he had come to faith, and it became clear that Asheville was my new home. Within five years, I was managing the Book Club division. Our mission was to select the best of the best reading material for homeschool and Christian school students—a broad range of books from both Christian and secular publishers—which represented the “all of life” worldview that the Reformed faith taught. It was a dream job. I have been with the same company ever since—except for a few breaks here and there when some of our children were born. My position has changed much over the years. I have seen most of the company from the inside.
Currently, I am the editor of the children’s magazines, God’s World News. I love my job, as we write today’s current events for young readers, ranging from Preschool to 9th grade, presenting the news with a specifically biblical perspective. My job gives me opportunity to speak biblical truth into the specific instances of noteworthy events occurring in our culture. It lets me challenge our readership to apply their own evaluation through a scriptural lens, and our goal is to encourage them to incorporate biblical thinking and putting Christ on display in all areas of their own lives, for God’s glory and their future impact on the culture they live in.
Bill and I have been blessed with four unique and outrageously amazing daughters. Our youngest will begin first grade in the fall. Modern technology and a flexible, willing-to-be-cutting-edge workplace has allowed me to continue to work while never having to put any of our children into daycare. I have even been able to do some homeschooling over the years, though we have found the environment and opportunities at the Christian school to be the best option for preparing our children for all that God might have in store for them as they seek to walk in his will for their own futures. And so, with the little one going to school in the fall of 2013, I find myself now freed up some, with some time to return again to that dream of graduate school at CTS which I could never quite close the door on in the last two decades.
In late October, Bill and I made the road trip to St. Louis to visit the campus of the seminary for the first time. I needed to know that the gilded image I held in my mind of Covenant was real and had held up to the vision I had so cherished all this time. I was prepared to find that CTS indeed did not meet my long-held expectations, but quite the opposite was true. I have to say it exceeded all that I had built it up to be in my memory and mind. The visit was nothing except affirming. It was clear that technology has come to the point of allowing me to do most or perhaps even all of my degree work through distance learning, while managing a level of interaction that is satisfactory if not absolutely ideal. But a move to St. Louis for our entire family is not feasible at this point. I do hope to be able to take advantage of some low-residency, intensive classes on site, perhaps once per year, but for the most part, I will be working from our home in Asheville.
It is my hope that the Master’s of Arts in Theological Studies in Christianity and the Contemporary Culture will further equip me to do the work I am already doing as editor of God’s World News, writing for children and teens and helping to build both their scriptural knowledge as well as their biblical worldview integration and application. But in addition to continuing the job I currently have—perhaps with just a larger or more full “toolbox” to work from—I also hope to travel for God’s World, speaking to parents, teachers, journalism students, and young people about integrating their faith into all of life, engaging and relating to the culture in which God has placed them, and finding the common ground of humanity that needs a Savior, so that God’s kingdom may grow and flourish through them in all areas of life. Additionally, I am interested in taking the courses on educational foundations for teaching teens and young adults. I have a passion for the place in life that high schoolers and college students find themselves, because that is where I was when God claimed me and brought me to himself. It is a time of great potential being realized and focused, and thinking and owning one’s own thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. It is a time in which optimism about life’s opportunities, when powered by a real and confident faith in an omnipotent God, can, if fanned into flame, change a culture—a generation on the brink of adulthood. I would love to teach Bible and Christian worldview, particularly in regard to living actively and intentionally for Christ in this culture, to high schoolers, college students, and even on the institute level if God were to lead that way.
For the last two years, this idea of seeking seminary has been in discussion again between Bill and me. We’ve prayed and wondered, inquired once before and then withdrawn that inquiry. We believe God has led and developed, pushed the pause button on my dreams at times, but now is opening the doors through timing, technology, the age of our children, and even the transformation of this particular degree to the distance program to make it possible for me to finally get started. That same God looks over the universe and lays claim to every single inch of it. There are still details to be met, and I may not be able to see how he is going to do it all yet, but I am confident that he will. It is an approach he keeps teaching me as hardship and trial come—and they have. I stand ready claiming only this much. If it is of the Lord, he will provide all that is needed. He has given me enough to step out in faith and begin the program. And like Abraham, I will go until he tells me to stop.

8 comments:

Jane Pruden said...

Rebecca,

Thank you for the opportunity to read the 'contents of your head'. You were clear and concise and I feel I have a greater understanding of who you are. I wish all of us could so understandably express ourselves. I realize how little I know about you and so many who are my sisters and brothers in Christ. I feel challenged to know you and others better. And, that said, I missed Bill and you this evening at prayer. I really did!
Jane

--Rebecca said...

Thank you for reading, Jane, and taking time to comment. We will see you soon.

Jane Whitman said...

DEAR Rebecca,

All this time I have known you but have not known your whole story. Whew! You truly are gifted. The Lord has given you an extraordinary IQ, a gift of words, an empathetic heart, a calling to speak to this culture, tremendous energy, and as we used to write in the Book Club, so much more.
I have been praying and will continue to pray that the Lord will lead you and your whole family in the way that he would have you to go.
My first memory of you is that long ago day when I was out with you looking for an apartment. And you found that " tree top" one to be your first home in Asheville. Working with you, Rebekkah, and Katrina was special.
I love you and Bill very much,
Jane

--Rebecca said...

It was special, Jane. I agree. And I remember that apartment hunting trip! I think we found the best one. Wow--there were some terribly unlivable apartments being offered for rent in Asheville back in those days. Thank you for your encouraging words.
Everything is in. My admissions rep has handed the folder over to her "BOSS," as she refers to him. I should hear back something in about a week. She says she's as excited as I am--she feels like she's the one applying! (And she's already enrolled. )

Jeremy Jones said...

I really enjoyed reading all of this together, even though you've told me most of it before in segments. It was really cool to see it all together. :D Thanks for sharing the contents of your head.

--Rebecca said...

Thanks for taking the time to read it, even though you did already know most of it, because we've had just about "every conversation in the world, about what is right and what has all gone bad."
:)

I should hear back something official this week, they say.

CreativeSheep said...

Thank you for this! I am working on my admissions essay to Covenant right now! I was desperate for examples. Thank you for sharing!!!

--Rebecca said...

I'm so thankful it was helpful to you. Bet to you as you apply!
May I ask what you plan to study there? It's a unique place, and if you need a contact or two, I still know a couple of people in the area.