THE FLIP SIDE of SEMINARY
You Shouldn’t Go to Seminary You Should Go to Seminary
By David Drury
I've been thinking about the so-called
“pros and cons” of getting a theological education. What’s the big deal about reading Augustine
or parsing Greek verbs? What is good
about setting aside several more years for theological training at seminary or
graduate school? What’s bad about
it? As I move this year toward finishing
my seminary education here in
Ten reasons NOT to go to seminary or grad school:
1) It can make you depend on your own intelligence. This is basically because of the environment of academia, not necessarily just theological institutions. It is a spill over from the Modern Age that crowned Reason as its king. This self-centered-side inherent in education causes even students of Theology to flip the Wesleyan Quadrilateral upside down. When you spend your days thinking about thinking itself, you can easily give too much credit to your own brain.
2) It may cause you to develop false values. It is easy to value grades, impressions, skill, and vocabulary more than the weightier matters at seminary. It is possible to put more emphasis on the comments of the professor and the letter marked in red than the discovery of a new truth and the impact it has on your life and call.
3) It causes stress. A degree can be lot of work, and if it isn't then it should be. Yet, sometimes you find yourself spending four hours a day in class, two hours a day researching Greek, three hours a day reading old books, and one hour a day talking to your wife, if you're lucky (or one hour a day playing video games, for you singles out there.) Soon you arrive at a breaking point. This can be a hindrance not only to your studies but also your psychological health.
4) It will likely challenge your beliefs. Your beliefs can be challenged by a convincing person long before you are far enough along in wisdom and understanding to defend your own beliefs and answer tough questions. You may interact with many professors with "far out" ideas and doctrine that convince many young students in their belief before they even finish their first year of school.
5) It can cause you to think of your religion as a class. In seminary, it is easy to see your religion in terms of class work, papers, and tests. But the Bible is not "collateral reading." It becomes easier to treat your studies as the beginning and end of your religion because they take up so much of the day. And you can start to see Church and devotions and worship as drudgeries that take your “studies” into the double-digit hours for the day.
6) It can make you lose touch with real world. While cloistered away at seminary you might sink into the Atlantis Syndrome. You are at a school which has its own little world and illusionary existence that never rises to the surface of actual reality. It is easy during a theological education to remove oneself from the world like a monk translating scripture in a monastery with no discussion concerning what exists outside the walls or how you should engage that world.
7) It costs lots of money. This truth increases for those that have prior education debt. After tens of thousands of dollars getting loans for an undergrad degree should you then add on more expense, and likely more debt? You will sometimes wonder how you could have used this twelve grand or so if you were starting a new church, or pastor of a quaint church in the country, or working on staff somewhere. You think about how this year’s tuition money could have been an entire down payment on a house, would buy a new car, or would easily help you start a family. Seminary costs (more) money. And many of us have spouses or even kids to care for this go-around.
8) You can lose sight of ministry. It seems ironic that the very institutions that train one to do ministry sometimes neglect the very core of the calling. It can be much like going to a truck driving school and learning all the details about trucks—how their engines work, what tire pressure to set them at, how early to signal for a turn, how many feet you need to clear another car during a turn—yet you never actually get into a truck and drive it. You just learn all about it in books and on the screens. You can lose a grasp of your calling and your ministry while nose deep in books at seminary. Particularly since ministry is all about people.
9) It can cause you to see the Bible as a textbook. This can happen at the undergraduate level, but happens all the more at the graduate level. The Word of the Lord often loses its potency when seen only under the microscope. Sometimes we treat the Bible as though we were performing an autopsy on a living human being. Of course one doesn’t do an autopsy on a breathing person! You do surgery on a living person, then you stitch them back up, and the person walks away. All too often the Bible spends all of its time on the operating table and never back home in the dorm or apartment or house you live in during seminary.
10) It can make you lose your focus. Primarily, you can lose your focus on Christ and His work in your life. It is easy to spend all your time thinking of theology in the abstract, and never apply it to your own life. And often, you can lose sight of the things that matter, namely, your salvation, your holiness, your call, your family and your ministry.
Ten reasons TO GO to seminary or grad school:
1) It makes you think. Perhaps you’d say we all "think" regardless of whether we contemplate the interrelation behind Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism on a daily basis. This is true, we do all "think", but the question is the degree to which thinking is taking place. If you are to adequately appreciate and propagate the Gospel for the rest of your natural life you must in some way have a grasp upon its deep meaning. You might not sense it now—but 10 years from now you may realize you need some deeper training. You’ve got to dive deep seeking oysters if you ever want to make a pearl necklace.
2) It makes you read. You have to read a lot during seminary. You read Church History, classic Theologians, contemporary apologists, Biblical commentaries, etc. These all give you a grand breadth of tradition behind your beliefs and ministry practice. No other subject than Religion has had so much written and so much preached throughout the history of the world, and it seems like you are forced to about 51% of it. This gives you a love for reading that you will never lose, and often time your undergraduate education does not provide or require this at all.
3) It makes you write. The papers and essays and projects never seem to end during seminary or Grad school. But it teaches you how to write. You learn how to articulate your thoughts instead of just idly thinking them or speaking them imprecisely. Seminary teaches you to express yourself in written words—particularly since your entire grade is usually based on one or two papers per class, and almost never on a test or quiz.
4) It answers a lot of the tough questions. Everyone who ever took a shower has questions about Theology. And a lot of those questions are genuinely tough ones. It is hard to get those questions adequately answered anywhere but at a theological institution. At nearly any seminary the professors have spent decades researching and writing at the highest scholarly levels on the very subjects they teach and they are indispensable sounding boards to help you better answer the tough questions you have. You leave your Theological education a bit more confident and diverse in experience about these areas of common question.
5) It helps you understand and appreciate diversity. While studying Theology, you have to take a look at numerous views on one subject—often times interacting with someone from a completely different Christian (or not so Christian) tradition. This forces you to gain a deeper understanding of the diversity within the Christian community on issues. It also causes you to appreciate the good parts of different perspectives, for many that you don't share still add to the collage that is the total picture of Christian belief. It is sometimes wearisome to debate over these points of discrepancy, but in time a seminary education simply makes you love all of God's people more regardless of the less essential points of debate.
6) It forces you to form foundations. A seminary education constantly tests the foundations behind your beliefs and doctrine. You come to a point when you realize that where one settles on his/her foundations is of primary concern for life and ministry. This not only helps you understand your fellow students, professors and people in the world, but it helps you understand yourself.
7) It helps your own spirituality. This is true if, and only if, you meld seminary education with your own spiritual life. You cannot divide the two, for they may both disintegrate. You need to see all studies (and all work for that matter) as an outgrowth of your relationship to God. If this is the case, then you cannot leave seminary without growing much closer to Him.
8) It forces you to know the Bible. At a good seminary you can’t walk into a class and give your opinions without some scriptural basis for them. You must ground them in scripture or at least refer to the Bible in all your assertions. This forces you to know the Bible, read it, and hopefully even apply it.
9) It makes you more knowledgeable. It doesn’t come automatically, but comes from years of study. You can't fake being knowledgeable very long, and people can see through it immediately if you do. But seminary will help you know more than ever.
10) It probably pleases God. (II Corinthians
5:9) "So we make it our goal to please him..." What could be more pleasing to God then
spending a few years studying about Him and getting to know His Words. And seminary years help grow the
David E. Drury wrote this article in 1997 while studying
for a M.A. Theology in Boston and now lives in Spring Lake,
©2004 David Drury
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