B Minus

Evidently, I actually still care about grades. I used to be pretty over-fastidious about the studying thing and find it kind of upsetting to get anything lower than an A minus, but now that I’m older and more relaxed (if you didn’t know me in college, you will find it hard to believe I am more relaxed, but it’s true, I promise), and have more procrastinatory study habits, I didn’t think I cared that much anymore.

Then I got my Christian Ethics midterm back and it had a B minus on it. A B minus?! That’s practically a C! That’s the lowest grade I’ve gotten since . . . well, probably since I stopped getting grades, but definitely since I took that miserable Philosophy 101 exam my junior year and only escaped an F because my essay about how I had no idea what I was talking about, was articulate and funny. (Unlike this paragraph.)

I discovered this B minus in the mail the night I returned from the Bro-Fam’s, and so it was pretty much midnight and I was tired (although grateful that, unlike my last return trip, all my flights left at their scheduled times) and I could not really read all the critical remarks in the margins. The whole thing gave me this ancient, long-forgotten but familiar feeling of unfinishedness and outrage and embarrassment and queasiness in the stomach. The problem with my two-point-five hours worth of essays was, evidently (as far as I could read), that I had not cited enough Old Testament and New Testament reasons for arguing the things that I did, and that where I did use such examples, I did not cite chapter and verse.

I had known the chapter and verse thing was going to be a problem. I had not known it was going to be a problem that would put me at the brink of a C. You may remember I recently found myself cramming a half a semester into my head in a week and a half, and since my brain retains numbers (any kind of numbers) like . . . well, I don’t know like what, because it doesn’t . . . I dispensed with memorising the references in favour of getting a pretty good handle on different ethics and points of view.

And I’m still not sure how I feel about the justice of this grade. I am a seminary student. At this seminary, it is believed that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I myself also believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I agree that, as a Christian who believes this, it is important for me to have a biblical basis for my ethical beliefs. Although I haven’t been very disciplined about this activity since probably London, I acknowledge the value of memorising Scripture passages and can recognise that remembering exactly where they are in the book can be very helpful.

However (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), I’m rather inclined to think that when it comes to ethical decisions and lifestyle, it’s better to have absorbed the biblical ideas so that they flow naturally out of your life than it is to be able to cite chapter and verse. The Matchmaker keeps referring to himself as the devil quoting Scripture, and while I disagree that that describes him, I do agree that it’s possible to be able to cite chapter and verse, as well as the content of chapter and verse, and not have a relationship with God at all, just as it is possible to have a vibrant one and have no clue where in the New Testament that bit about our adoption into God’s family is.

What do you think? Is it important for a seminary student, taking biblically based courses, to engage in rote memorisation, or not? (And is that a loaded question?)

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5 thoughts on “B Minus

  1. I don’t think the issue is memorization as much as it is proof texting. I make my students proof text all the time. It just shows that they vaguely know what they’re talking about and can justify it with Scripture.

  2. You know, it is maddening but the teacher decides what is important and what not. You somehow have to go with the system, even if you don’t agree with it. When I was studying Semitic Languages we had this course about the Hebrew Bible as literature, we read the articles we had to read for the oral exam, and then one of the first questions the professor asked all of us was: when was this article written and who wrote it. We were totally unprepared for questions like that. It seemed very unfair to have your grade lowered cause you didn’t notice the year of the article… In the big scheme of things though, we learned that that can be an important aspect of an article (different fashions in science etc.). I agree with you that knowing to cite bible texts by chapter and verse isn’t what you would need for your own faith, but depending on your studies it might be what you need when you prepare a sermon or so? Don’t let it worry you too much, just learn from it!

  3. I don’t know if this will make you feel better or worse, but the average mark in a top ten american university is an .. A minus.

    Cue the Garrison Keillor quote about a town where all the children are above average.

  4. If you have the Biblical ideas, but can’t articulate how they come from the Bible, that is a problem. And scripture memorization–which I haven’t done nearly enough of–any of–since I stopped being up all night with Boy–is really important. I don’t think the chapter and verse is important. If you need to know exactly where in the Bible it is, you need to have a Bible you are carrying around with you, and if you’ve got it anyway, just make a bookmark or something with the most useful references… or if you’re using a bible app on a phone or something, just search for it (easy if you really have memorized the verse. Knowing the actual words of scripture is really important, Often I have looked up Scriptures because it mattered whether it says “with” or “for” or somesuch. Jesus is pretty into these grammatical details, but you won’t read about him citing chapter and verse. (Yeah, so they didn’t have them and everyone he was talking to had the Torah memorized…)

    If it were a closed-book test, I would have been lenient on the exact references, and even exact wording, but if the course is about using the Bible as the base of ethics, then everything should relate back to the Bible. Paraphrases and general references are fine, but there has to be something. Or at least that’s what I’d say if I were the professor. (and one could make the argument that seminary students should already be applying Biblical principles to their lives and philosophy…)

    • I do agree that it’s important to know one’s way around the Bible. If we had been allowed to have one to hand while taking the exam, I could have found any of the passages I needed to back up my arguments, I believe. But we weren’t, and I just didn’t have the chapters and verses in me.

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