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

A(n Unanswered) Prayer

(UPDATE: As I read old posts to transition to the new blog, I see pieces that are a snapshot of what we went through before and not where we are now.  So many of our prayers were answered in a way that we love, just on God’s timeline and in ways we couldn’t understand in the moment (or even now).  Everything I wrote is true – and I firmly believe that I am allowed to hate God’s timing, which I did and still do – but things are better and prayers were answered.  This piece is good, but I think context is important, and the context of this is very different than the context of now. – RB)

I’m frank but guarded about what is going on with me when I’m writing on this blog.  I strongly believe that we should all be more frank about ourselves and admit our weaknesses and struggles, but that is a far cry from the specifics of our dirty laundry and what is specifically going on in our lives.

Frank, but guarded.  That’s my motto, I guess.

So this is a vast departure from my normal policy of frank and open but vague descriptions.

Nora and I have a prayer that, at least in our broken eyes, has been unanswered for a few years: despite having skills and being a very hard worker, Nora cannot find work outside of retail.  Every year we pray that she will not have to go through another holiday shopping season as an underpaid, overworked, and miserable retail worker, and every year the answer from our prayers has been, “No.”  Or, “Wait,” as some commentators would have us believe.

This isn’t a new prayer – not even close – but driving home from Dubuque this afternoon we were discussing my sermon and I was trying to explain the direction I would go with it (it’s on James 5:13-20).  I was half-reading, half-expounding on the passage when I hit the bit about Ezekiel praying for the rain to stop and then the rain to start, and how he was just a man.

Nora looks at me – while driving, which is a bit scary, now that I think about it – and asks, “So does that mean that unanswered prayers are because we didn’t pray hard enough?  Or that we didn’t have enough faith?”

For all pastors whose significant others haven’t asked them the theodicy questions yet, especially when you know the prayers that haven’t been answered and those prayers being repeatedly answered with. “No,” have affected your life, your marriage, and the joy of the one whom you have dedicated your personal life to, the right seminary answers won’t come to you.

Part of the struggle I have is that even when things have gone vastly outside of my desires, my hindsight has shown me the path.  I know why God made me go through some things, made me struggle with things that are actually my strengths, and made my ministry path much…longer and more difficult than I thought it should be.

The path leading to this point for me makes sense.  The path, forward or backwards, from where Nora is blocked by the densest fog.

“If you have faith, you will receive whatever you pray for.” – Matthew 21:22 CEB

I will be completely honest, this question has given me debilitating pause this evening.  Scripture clearly says – very clearly, in multiple spots – that if we have faith and we ask, it will be given.  I don’t buy the idea that Jesus was speaking in hyperbole – it strikes me as a cop-out – and so I find myself asking the same question:

Are we just not praying hard enough?  Is our faith not strong enough?

I keep asking myself this, and I keep thinking the answer must be, “Yes,” and then I wonder how our faith is so weak that we can’t pray hard enough that someone who needs a hard worker in nearly any field won’t hire a hard worker with skills and a willingness to learn anything, or that we can’t at least see the reason why our prayer isn’t being answered with a “Yes” or “Okay, now you can go.”

The other option is that God is truly willing this to be what is going on, and it is God’s plan for her to not find different work.  Which wouldn’t be so damn hard to swallow if we could just see a little bit through the blinding fog.

So here is my prayer:

God, please give us direction or guidance or vision or a change to lift the struggles.  Something to make this easier.


– Robby

I Just Don’t Have Words

I am not quite sure how to address this.  Last week I wrote the piece that I wrote.  You know where I am on how people are responding.  But my comments where much more about the philosophical and political response, the words and practices of what is being done about church associations and a unified body of Christ.

So I want to make sure that I am absolutely clear.  The people that I responded to last week are not who I’m responding to today.

I woke up this morning to see that 4 churches were threatened with violence because of the decision that was made.  Literally, somebody threatened to burn the churches down in this area, not because the pastors were doing anything (or that they even can because it isn’t legal in Missouri) but because of the decision of the national church.  I have words, but they ring hollow.  I can write how this is antithetical to scripture, how it is antithetical to Jesus, how it makes no sense, but that is my desire to make sense of a senseless threat.All I can do is pray for peace in the hearts of those who send threats like this, safety for those who are threatened, and a sense of love and unity that transcends our Earthly desires.  I can’t make sense of it, as I shouldn’t.  I just pray for peace and love.

– Robby