The World of Acts Alive

Seminary trip to Greece 2014
A collaboration among North Park Theological Seminary and partner international schools visited ancient Greek sites in January, including the Greek amphitheater in Epidaurus.

North Park Theological Seminary in Greece

CHICAGO (February 4, 2014) — There are three ideal spots onstage at the Greek amphitheater in Epidaurus. It is one of the best-preserved theaters, built in the fourth century B.C., and its pitch-perfect acoustics have not been able to be replicated with modern technology.

A group of North Park Theological Seminary students and faculty traveled to the amphitheater last month and spread out in the audience around circular stone bench seats.

The tour guide asked if anyone wanted to sing, hoping to show off the acoustics of the theater. The class immediately volunteered three people, including Nilwona Nowlin, a North Park Seminary dual-degree student who will earn her master of arts in Christian formation and master of nonprofit administration in May. Nilwona hesitated as she had a cold, but finally gave in, and stepped to one of the three perfect spots and sang a rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

“Normally when you sing on a stage you have to think about projecting and all of the muscles that go into it,” Nilwona said, “but I didn’t have to force anything and people all the way in the back could hear clearly.”

One of the people in the back was Nilwona’s teacher, Dr. Max Lee, associate professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary. “We were stunned about how advanced they were back then in terms of technology and it made the ancient world that much more real. It made the world of Acts come alive.”

From January 3 through 11, Nilwona and Dr. Lee journeyed to Greece along with 15 students and two additional faculty members from the Seminary for a Greece and Early Christianity course. It was collaboration with IFFEC, the International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches. Joining North Park were 16 international participants from IFFEEC schools in Sweden, Norway, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, China, and Brazil.

“We got to converse with our sister churches, and hear what’s happening in their ministry,” Dr. Lee said. The group gathered at night for worship and prayer led by North Park’s Dr. Carol Noren, Wesley Nelson Professor of Homiletics. “We heard the challenges the churches are having, and had a renewed sense of communion among the diverse group.” 

Students prepared for the trip with a series of readings on Greco-Roman history, religion, and culture, as well as study of Acts and Paul's letters to the Corinthians. The Greek Bible Institute in Athens hosted the group, who stayed in dorms and spent the first day in seminars preparing for the week.

But most of the trip was reserved for traveling around to significant sites in early Christianity, including the Roman Forum in Athens, the Parthenon and Acropolis, Epidaurus, Naflplion, Delphi, and Corinth. 

One of the first sites the group visited was Areopagus, known to many as Mars Hill, the site where Paul delivered a sermon to the Stoics and Epicureans recorded in Acts 17. Dr. Klyne Snodgrass, North Park’s Paul W. Brandel Professor of New Testament Studies, had a student read the sermon aloud. They heard the words of Paul, “The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands.” In the background stood the Parthenon, the impressive Greek temple and center of Athenian worship. 

“It was a really great moment for all of us when we could see the Parthenon,” Dr. Lee said. “We could see the temple of Nike, and here we could see with our mind's eye Paul pointing directly to the temple and saying: 'God does not live in shrines made by human hands.'”

Seminary Greece Trip
“Now when I approach the Bible, I have this culture and these sites in mind,” said Nilwona Nowlin, who with the class visited sites including the Roman Forum in Athens, the Parthenon and Acropolis, Corinth, and Erechtheion, a Greek temple (above).

Nilwona added, “Now when I approach the Bible, I have this culture and these sites in mind.” She talked about visiting locations of athletic competitions, and being reminded of Paul’s words of “running the race” and “finishing the course.” Paul used that language to speak directly to the people and their culture. “Seeing this helps not just as I’m studying the Bible, but also how I’m communicating it to other people,” Nilwona said. “I came home asking what are cultural examples I can use as I’m communicating.”

“I didn’t get these kinds of opportunities growing up,” Nilwona said. “Experiencing these kinds of things allows me to take these stories back to my community and encourage young people to want to do these kind of things and want to travel and experience other parts of the world.”

North Park Theological Seminary’s commitment to developing women and men as faithful ministers of the Gospel is enhanced through travel learning. Yearly trips around the world to places like South America, Europe, and the Middle East allow students to experience a variety of cultures and engage scripture and theology from new perspectives.

“A lot of what people experience most of the time in Seminary is very cognitive,” said Dr. Lee, who has been blogging about the recent trip to Greece. “They read, they go to class, and that is a tremendous way to learn. But sometimes there are insights born from being there that cannot be born from just being in the classroom.”

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