Someone sent me this link today by Dr. Rod Decker of Clarks Summit: Can you skip 1st year Greek and start with 2d year?  Dr. Decker proceeds to bash the “Learn to Use Greek and Hebrew” product produced by Logos Bible Software, of which I had a part in producing (and we plan to produce a 2.0 version in 2013).

Once again, a critic has managed to misunderstand the marketing claims for the product. The marketing copy reads as follows (just read it again today):

Learn to Use Biblical Greek and Hebrew with Logos Bible Software teaches you how to interpret Scripture with the original languages in a simple, straightforward manner. This is a complete introduction to using the original languages for interpretation from the Greek and Hebrew scholars of Logos Bible Software.

Notice the use of the word “interpret” in the above as I answer Dr. Decker’s question. I’ll try and keep this simple.

To answer Dr. Decker’s question “Can you skip first year Greek and start with second?”:

No – if your goal is to produce translators.

Yes – If you goal it not to produce translators, but instead to teach people the grammatical terminology and associated concepts so they can intelligently read things like commentaries and journal articles.

I thought that was pretty clear when we created the product. I guess it wasn’t. We’ll keep trying.

Since Dr. Decker felt free to insult the product (and me, by extension, along with the company I work for), I’d like to enter a dialogue with him.

Question: What discipline in the world embraces a 90% failure rate and calls it a success and the right course to follow?

Year after year thousands of students take Greek and Hebrew to learn to be translators – to reproduce (crudely) what they could buy in any given bookstore, or get free from the Gideons. In schools that require only one year of Greek and Hebrew, the student never gets to exegesis. Many seminaries fall into that category. So what does the student take away?  However, a good number of schools do require a second year (albeit a smaller number than 20 years ago). So, of those students that get through the second year, how many graduate and use their Greek and Hebrew *regularly* (week to week) in sermons? If the number was high, I’d expect that we’d see congregations across the United States where people are being fed solid meat from the pulpit. Pardon my skepticism in that regard. Sure, there are such places, but an abundance? What do we have to show for the thousands of students who take two years of Greek and Hebrew?  The reality is that of the students who survive two years of each language, most don’t use it. Why? reasons vary. The realities of ministry simply don’t allow most pastors to review their languages to maintain the memorization levels needed to be translators. Another is that a second year course is often inadequate (who does Dr. Decker trust more in handling the text — his two year students or his doctoral students?). Second year Greek often is just category memorization, not exegesis.  Second year usually constitutes a short review of forms and vocab, then on to memorizing syntactical categories for exams and perhaps producing an exegetical paper. If someone is lucky, the professor actually situates all that memorization into an exegetical method. But that is rare. Personally, I took Greek syntax three times at three different schools (I got an A each time; it was just a quirk of my educational path that required me to keep taking it). I never learned an exegetical method. I also never had to produce an exegetical paper. I had to wait until I got to graduate school in Hebrew studies to get anything that looked like that.

Other realities work against the success of traditional language teaching. Another reality is that a fair number of those students will go into youth ministry, where exegesis is the last thing they’re doing. Some will never go into the ministry at all. A few will move into graduate school for more intense language training and perhaps doctoral work in a language field. I was one of those, and loved it. But I’m a geek. Most seminary students aren’t me, or Dr. Decker. Most seminary students and graduates don’t use their Greek and Hebrew on a weekly basis to feed either themselves and their congregations. They don’t have the time and are often left groping for what the payoff is supposed to be. By the pulpit’s fruit we know it. And when they do use their languages, what they’re doing is the sort of thing we try to teach people in Learn to Use Greek and Hebrew, since our goal is not to produce translators.  Our goal is to motivate people to inform their sermon content with biblical language insights from serious (not devotional or homiletical) commentaries. Our goal is to assist pastors and other interested people in discovering how Greek and Hebrew can help them be better interpreters (see the above quotation). We think that would help raise the content bar in the pulpit. But I suppose Dr. Decker would disagree. Which brings me back to my question for him.

What discipline in the world embraces a 90% failure rate and calls it a success and the right course to follow?  Swimming instruction? (90% drown, but at least somebody’s using that skill). Explosives training? Emergency medicine?  Construction engineers? Good guesses, but the answer is: seminary language training. I’m sure Dr. Decker will disagree. So if he can empirically demonstrate to me that more than 10 % of the graduates of his seminary use their Greek and Hebrew on a weekly basis in their pulpit ministry, I’ll buy him dinner at next year’s ETS meeting. (Trust me, since I love the languages like he does, I’d be thrilled to see proof to the contrary). If not, my suggestion is that he stop whining about our product and raise the percentage. We’re trying to improve what happens in the pulpit; to fix the failure in some small way. We don’t think the strategy of trying to turn people into translators can provide evidence that it’s actually working for the mass of seminary graduates. It seems to only be working for the people who emerge as doctoral students (people like me). While I’m thrilled that people like me emerge from the process (and I certainly have no regrets; I still memorize vocab and rehearse forms, even in Ugaritic and Egyptian), the Church would be better served if more people could understand the important work of scholars in commentaries and other works. Our efforts at Logos are no more complicated than that. We have no interest that people who come to love the languages stop memorizing and studying them at a deep level, regardless of how that fits a vocation or doesn’t. Our concern is with the great majority of *seminary graduates* who just don’t use what they were taught in their language classes. We think perhaps a tool-based approach that front-loads the payoff will work better. At the very least we could try it instead of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.