Some of you may know that I was a graduate student at Calvin Theological Seminary. From 2000 to 2002, I was a student in residence for the Master of Theology degree, in the field of philosophical theology under the supervision of Professor John Cooper.
My time at the Seminary was a great time. John Suk, then director of The Banner, the official periodical of the Christian Reformed Church of North America (the denomination of Calvin Seminary), said: “When I was in seminary I had the time of my life”; and I wholeheartedly concur with that. My time at the Seminary is something filled with joy, and a cherished memory that I hope to never forget.
But it was also a challenge. I simply lacked the habits and proper discipline required of a full-time graduate student. The workload was an enormous undertaking, becoming a full-time student after being a part-time student (as it is the norm in Latin America). To complicate things further, Calvin Seminary had its academic activity organized not in semesters, but in quarters. Any subject had to be taught in a crash course format, and when you thought you were settled on it, it was time to submit the term paper. (Calvin Seminary moved to a semester system afterwards.) Nevertheless I had academic success, but at the price of a lot of emotional and physical effort.
Things got to the point that the only requirement remaining for my graduation was writing a small master’s thesis. Since my field of study was philosophical theology, I wanted to write on the philosophical theology of Spanish philosopher Xavier Zubiri (1898-1983). Concretely, I wanted to do a study of his work to prove that Zubiri was a panentheist on his theology. (Panentheism is a doctrine that maintains that while God and the world are different, they remain ontologically linked to the point that God is in the world and the world is in God. It is usually an offshoot of Neoplatonism. Well known panentheists are Philip Clayton and Jürgen Moltmann.)
But I never got around to write that thesis. I faced several constraints. I had to read all of Zubiri’s relevant work on the subject and there was no single book of Zubiri in the campus library, so I had to request them on inter-library loan. And then, funding from my country all but dried up; while I was in the States, Paraguay had to face one of its worst economic crises. And I was tired and homesick. So, I took the decision to leave and see if I could finish the degree from my country.
When I arrived here, things were very different from two years before. I remember the many “For Sale” signs in front of houses. People were migrating to Spain and Argentina. I was unemployed for seven months and then, the only job I got was as an English teacher in a day school; and teaching youngsters is something very difficult to me. The thing is, writing my thesis was something definitely put in the back burner.
By the grace of God, I slowly began to recover. I got married, some years later I got certified as a translator, and shortly afterwards I entered law school and graduated as a lawyer. One day, while I was finishing the procedures and paperwork for being a registered lawyer in my country (the equivalent to being admitted to the bar), my sister asked me out of the blue: “Why don’t you consider getting your seminary degree now”? And it really seemed a great idea.
I wrote to the seminary. It turned out that my graduation was certainly possible. I had so much credit accumulated that I could graduate with a major research paper instead of with a thesis. Thus I wrote the paper on Zubiri’s transcendental panentheism, the same subject of the original thesis; but this time I restricted the scope to only two representative Zubiri works: Nature, History, God and Man and God. The term paper was accepted (with an A, mind you) by Dr. Cooper, and I got my degree on Commencement Day, May 24, 2014. (I graduated in absentia.)
It was nice to be able to focus once again on philosophical theology, a discipline that I really love. For a number of months I was absorbed in the way only a graduate student knows. Every single available second of my time was devoted to research, reading and writing. That’s one of the reasons I blogged so little this year, despited having the desire to do so. Now you know the reason 😉
So, after 14 years of first setting foot on the Seminary, I was able to finish it. I am so grateful to God, to my family, to my beloved wife, to Calvin Seminary faculty, staff and former classmaates, to friends from the States and here for their support. It was quite a ride!