The Bible Trivia Exam came up again…

(UPDATE: So I wrote this post a while ago.  Since then, this happened.  I’m leaving this up for posterity, but I can say correct decisions are starting to be made on the topic.  Hurray! – RB)

Okay, I’m so done with the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCC) and how ridiculous they have become.  I should try to be more diplomatic and pastoral with this, but I’m just done.

The Bible Trivia Content Exam is a 100 question multiple choice test you take after your first year of seminary.  Does it actually show anything about your giftedness for ministry?  No, not a thing.  Does it actually help show what your weaknesses in scriptural knowledge are?  Maybe, but probably not.  Is it full in inane questions that requires you to know the random minutia of scripture that you will likely never use again?  Yes, yes it is.

Did having the old tests available to I knew what to study help me pass the test?  Yes.

Did having the old tests reduce my Biblical knowledge and prepare me less for ministry?  No.

Did having the old tests increase my Biblical knowledge?  Yes, a lot.

So the PCC has got a lot of criticism – and loud criticism – about the change in the BCE and the PCC basically said, “Yup, we hear you, but we know better than you and we’re responding without actually addressing your concerns.”

So, here’s how testing has changed in the PC(USA).  The BCE has become harder and impossible to prepare for short of memorizing all of scripture, while the senior ordination exams – you know, the actual professional exams that test your true readiness for ministry – have become easier with the removal of proctoring, the removal of any closed-book questions, and recently the removal of any time limits.  So basically, you have to know trivia like the back of your hands, but the actual meat of ministry you can rely on time and resources?

So you know, I’ve got a solution.  Make the BCE a senior ordination exam.  If this exam is supposed to “assess competency in core areas of knowledge within [ministry],” why exactly are you assessing it before the education that you are supposed to learn about these things is completed?  You are asking people entering into seminary to have a full seminary education’s worth of knowledge – including a bunch of first-career pastors – of the minutia of scripture before actually completing seminary, and then you are surprised that less and less students pass the exam.

The test is supposed to “…assess one’s knowledge of stories, themes and pertinent passages in the Old and New Testaments,” and you know, you learn those things in seminary.  Because if you come in knowing all the answers, you don’t learn and you aren’t challenged.  So if we are going to make the BCE more difficult to prepare for and more difficult than the senior ordination exams, then maybe, just maybe, it needs to be a senior exam.

OR, maybe just maybe, the PCC can stop being stuck in a “memorization is the only way” mentality with the BCE when you certainly don’t need memorization for the actual professional exams.

OH, and I was curious about something because Tim mentioned pathology in that condescending letter.  I called my nurse sister about her boards and you know what?  They didn’t randomly get a test before their education was completed that tested knowledge that they haven’t gained that they will gain in their education.  So their boards where tough, timed, and to make sure they don’t kill someone – like our ords are designed to make sure we aren’t heretics and don’t turn people away from Christ – and guess what?  They release to previous years exams to practice on.

This is just stupid, and most people outside of the PCC see it.  But those who think that we all know nothing about scripture and somehow this trivia exam weeds out those who don’t know enough are also in charge of the PCC, and it pisses me off.

Pastors, remember the bull crap you went through when you were going through ordination, and fight to make it better.  It doesn’t need to be easier, but it can be fair.


– Robby

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