In my final post of the Fall 2019 semester at Yale Divinity School, I reflect upon grades at Yale and the end of my first semester here. This content uses referral links.
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It’s been a few weeks since my first semester at Yale came to a close, and I still have another week before my second semester begins. I, therefore, wanted to take some time to reflect upon the previous semester and what it has meant for me.
Grades at Yale have been particularly important to me, as I hope to go on to do Ph.D. work after my time at YDS. This semester, however, has been more than a quest for good grades.
This short period has been one of meaningful growth. I feel like I finally have some clarity on the way forward in my life.
When I first got here, I was considering the possibility of someday entering the ministry in the ACNA—though admittedly likely not for some time. Consequently, I participated in the Berkeley program to complete all the academic preparations that would be necessary for the priesthood.
Over the course of the semester, however, I finally gained some clarity and decided to join the Catholic Church. This means ordained ministry is no longer an option, and I think that’s probably the appropriate path for me.
I briefly flirted with the idea of applying to the business school to enter the joint M.Div./M.B.A. program and potentially return to the business world. (Rejoining the Walmart Corporate Headquarters, for example, would get me back home to Northwest Arkansas.)
I abandoned that idea, however, and more fully committed to pursuing a Ph.D. after completing my M.Div. I am confident now that I want to pursue a Ph.D. in New Testament, though specialization is still a question mark.
Scholarship and Scripture
I feel at home here at Yale. I came here open to the progressive environment, open to learning and potentially being convinced.
In the course of my interactions with other students here and the curriculum, however, I find myself rejecting progressivism still, remaining conservative but moving in a different direction with it: away from evangelical Protestantism and into Catholicism.
With that has come a sense of calmness and peace.
At the same time, I have enjoyed learning about and engaging with the best scholarship available, scholarship that I may have once considered “liberal” and beyond the pale.
My views of the Bible, which were already evolving, have become more flexible. I accept its authority and some level of infallibility, but I don’t find that incompatible with most of the scholarship I have encountered.
An Evolving Worldview
My previous evangelical worldview would not allow for such flexibility—though I believe such views are compatible with some forms of evangelicalism—but Catholicism has allowed for a smooth acceptance of these points of view.
Still, it puts me in a situation where I would be considered “liberal” by my old circles—circles I still value and respect and intend to remain a part of the best that I can—but very conservative by progressives.
But scholarship is its own thing. In religious studies, one’s theological perspectives can—but does not necessarily have to—affect scholarship significantly.
While it is true that some conservative presuppositions may hinder scholastic ability—marking off areas as unworthy of exploration—progressive and secular self-delusion have their own hindrances as well. Unfortunately, however, progressives seem more hesitant to admit them, masking their biases with platitudes of rationalism.
I don’t have all the answers here. I simply accept that the Bible is authoritative and true, so whatever I find will be reconcilable with that. And, if it’s not, then I have to rethink my position.
I just don’t fear for the Bible. I believe its place is secure. Being here at Yale has only reinforced that belief.
Grades at Yale
Over the Christmas break, I received my final semester grades at Yale, and I’ve been reflecting on them and what they mean for my future.
There Is More Than Grades at Yale
When I initially started here, I hoped that I would get Hs in all my classes, not just this semester, but throughout my time in the program.
At the same time, however, I was determined to do the best that I could to see what happened. I wouldn’t do things just for grades at Yale, but I would instead pour myself into the coursework because I was genuinely interested in the subject matter and wanted to do well.
The studying, the research, is what I want to do with my life. It is not merely a necessary evil to get to the career goals that I have set for myself.
It is almost like an apprenticeship. I am working in the field, training to be a scholar by engaging in scholarship. I love it. And, generally, as with most people, if I enjoy what I’m doing, I’m motivated and will do it well.
Final Semester Grades at Yale
Still, when my grades at Yale came back, I was a bit disappointed. I received Hs in New Testament Interpretation, Intermediate Greek, and World Christianity. I did, however, receive an H- in History of Early Christianity, which was frustrating.
According to the YDS handbook, an H is supposed to be the equivalent of a strong A or an A+. An H- is supposed to equate to an A-. Still, each professor sets his or her own standard. The Early Christianity professor required a final grade of 97% to receive an H.
I finished with a 96.1%. So, I just barely missed it. We had only three assignments for a total of three-hundred possible points. If I had picked up just two more points along the way, I would have made it.
But it was not to be.
I guess it’s a little ridiculous to obsess over it. I did the best that I could and will try to do even better next time. And, the fact is, I loved the course.
The Importance of Grades at Yale
I’m still a bit confused over the importance and meaning of grades at Yale for purposes of my Ph.D. applications. That is, does having any H-s sink me? I doubt it, but I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out.
I also don’t know what typical grades at Yale Divinity are, so I can’t tell if I did well or perhaps just average. In law school, grades were on a curve and kind of all over the place, but the registrar told us our current class rank at the end of every semester. So, I knew how well I was doing relative to everyone else.
There were also graduation honors, so there was some kind of benchmark against which I could compare my grades to see at what level I was performing (summa cum laude, magna cum laude, and cum laude).
There’s none of that here. There are no class ranks, no calculated GPAs, and no graduation honors. So, I’m not sure what all this means, but I’m sure I’ll grow more accustomed to it as my time here progresses.
Nonetheless, grades at Yale are a bit hard to decipher.
Yale as Transition
As I reflect upon the past semester, I am having a difficult time coming up with any earth-shaking and paradigm-shifting thoughts. This semester has been a months-long sigh of relief, a welcomed transition.
It took months for me to feel like I was finally out of the military, like a new phase of my life had actually started. My experience in the military was less than pleasant, and to be here finally has been a great relief.
I have engaged with areas of my brain that I had left dormant for a long time. While I had always tried to read on my own to keep up with the latest in theological studies, to be able finally to focus on it, to do what I love full-time, has been a moving and wonderful experience.
I am so grateful to be here at Yale Divinity School. The academics represent more than the actual work. It’s more than that.
I feel at home here, and I am grateful for the admissions committee for giving me a chance, for the professors that invested in my education, for my classmates and the warm reception that they have provided, and for the United States Government for financing my education through the GI Bill.
I have nothing but gratitude right now, recognizing that I don’t deserve to be where I am, to be studying full-time at one of the world’s most elite universities. It’s been a long road to get here, and I didn’t think that I would ever make it.
But I did. I am finally here, and I cannot wait to see what is next.
What Is the Purpose of a Divinity School?
Yale is a bit of a strange place. I’m not quite sure what the mission of the Divinity School is, its mission statement notwithstanding.
I mean no criticism by that. I simply can’t tell what the Divinity School is trying to do and what it is trying to be.
It is an intellectual environment, but it is an environment where intellect runs freely in areas that seem odd to me, outside the traditional academic realm and into areas that seem at best tangentially related to the field of religious studies or theology.
It would seem to me that the traditional role of the Divinity School would be to prepare ministers for ministry, to prepare others to go on to further academic study, and to prepare some for both. That has been the realm of theological education for centuries, and it is present here as well.
There are traditional ministry-focused classes—preaching, for example—as well as conventional biblical and theological studies courses. Greek, Hebrew, and Latin are always offered—along with a myriad of different languages available downtown.
Some classes seem a bit untraditional but still in the same realm of thought. For example, I saw courses like “Grief and Emotions: Ancient Philosophy and Theology, Modern Conversations,” and “Theology and Medicine,” offered.
It’s easy to see how these classes may fit into the traditional mission of the school, even if the subject matters themselves may not have been deemed to merit courses of their own in this environment one-hundred years ago.
Other subject matters seem unique to the current wave of social consciousness prevalent within the modern academy. Classes such as “Work, Debt, and Christian Witness,” “Land, Ecology, and Religion in U.S. History,” and “Ecological Ethics and Environmental Justice,” litter the course offerings.
Now, I did not take any of these courses, and I am therefore not necessarily criticizing their availability. I am, however, pointing out that courses like this seem to consume a significant amount of the school’s limited resources.
This is particularly telling when YDS is offering no advanced Greek courses new semester—though there is a course that requires a preexisting reading knowledge of Greek.
I am, therefore, perhaps a little confused as to what Yale Divinity School is trying to be. It seems like it is attempting to expand beyond its traditional role, but I’m not sure where it intends to go.
The names of these courses obviously suggest a progressive bent. I very much doubt we would see a class called “Losing Ground in 2020: How Liberal Policies Have Failed the Poor.”
And that’s fine. Yale does not disguise its progressivism. And, as I have said in the past, I came to Yale on purpose.
Finding My Way
I wanted to come to a place where I would be challenged and forced to interact, not only with people with whom I disagree but also in an environment where those with differing viewpoints come from a position of greater power and influence than I do. As a conservative at Yale, I am in the minority here.
I also decry the tendency—particularly present among the undergraduates—to show up at a place and demand that it change. In a way, I am a guest here at Yale, and I am grateful to be here. The school is not obligated to conform itself to my point of view, and, if I didn’t like it here, I could leave.
But I love it. I nonetheless do wish that the school would pour more resources into the traditional academic fields. I feel that a place like Yale should not ever have a shortage of biblical language courses, for example.
This, however, appears to be the direction they are going. So, it is something to consider for those wanting a more traditional academic offering.
Personal and Spiritual Formation
I entered the program here fairly broken. I left the military, where I had served as a JAG officer. In that capacity, my duties revolved primarily around prosecuting sexual assault offenses in one capacity or another.
The stories I heard in that job and the victims with whom I interacted left me distraught and emotionally exhausted. In addition, the child pornography cases I prosecuted left me with vivid images of the rape and exploitation of children that remain ingrained in my mind.
I left the military discouraged about my spiritual state, and I felt lost with regard to my own spiritual direction.
Over the course of the semester, however, I have gone from wandering to finding a home in the Roman Catholic Church, and I am scheduled to be accepted into full communion with the Church at the upcoming Easter vigil.
This semester has, therefore, done much to help me find the right path and get moving in the right direction.
I am currently waiting for the next semester to get started, and I frankly cannot wait. I have enjoyed the break. It’s been a very long time since I had a vacation this long.
My goals have sharpened into pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament as my next step, and I look forward to pushing myself toward that goal as a new semester begins.
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Yale is an incredible place. As I reflect upon grades at Yale and the entirety of this past semester, I am becoming even more aware of how grateful I am to be here.
I love it here, and I encourage anyone interested in pursuing further theological education to apply to YDS.
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