Church, seminary, future
April 29, 2008, 6:55 am
Filed under: blogging, campus ministry, Christendom, friends, school, the purple door, theology

Following on the recently exploded series of posts from around the blogosphere, some of us at The Purple Door were having a conversation yesterday.  Should young people avoid going to seminary now, if their degrees will ultimately be unmarketable and unhelpful in the pseudo-real world? 

My answer: maybe, maybe not.

There are (and always have been) good reasons and bad reasons to go to seminary.  First some bad reasons.  Don’t go to seminary if all you’re doing is trying to get your credentials for a professional ministry job.  Don’t go to seminary because you lack self-confidence and feel the need to have earned your place in ministry.  Don’t go to seminary in order to fix yourself.  Don’t go to seminary so that you can nail down all of your theological and doctrinal positions, so you won’t have to worry about that stuff once you’re done.  That’ll do for a starter list.  Not all (but some) of those things are completely bad, but if any one of them could be described as your “primary” reason, then I’d suggest you pray some more – perhaps not to change your direction, but more to change your motives.

Better reasons to go to seminary?  To equip you for ministry – there’s a big difference between being “qualified” (in a professional credential sense) and being equipped . . . it changes how you learn things.  To learn some theological ways of thinking that help you understand your culture (and others) and God’s work within it.  To understand the nature of people and how the life and ways of Jesus brings true Hope to all of us.  To have your theological and doctrinal positions poked and prodded and torn apart so that you have great difficulty ever putting them back together in a neat and clean systematic box again. 

So, of course, after talking about this for a while yesterday, the inevitable question was raised, since I was trash talking all the bad reasons to go to seminary . . . “O.k., Steve, so why are you going to seminary?”  My answer (94% joking) was, “So I can teach at a seminary.”  The reason I returned to school was, in part, because I’m a junkie for learning.  The truth is, the number of books I read, and the kinds of books I read, hasn’t really changed much from before I got into my current program.  At some point, the realization came that I might as well be getting some academic credit for all the work I was doing anyway.  Another reason for me, is that it was right next step for me in terms of growth – I needed the discipline of focusing my thoughts at a deeper level in order to do the research and writing.  It’s challenged me in many good ways.  I do love to learn and teach, and if someday I get to do that professionally at a college or seminary, that’d be fine.

I think it’s just really really important to question your motives if you’re considering seminary.  Are those motives internally or externally focused?  Are they for building up your career path or for building up the Kingdom of God?  Are you trying to earn permission from someone to do ministry?  Well, quit it, and just go do stuff!  If God’s given you some passions in a certain area, go serve, learn, and love.  If this is something that you think some extra education could enhance, then go get the education.  And let me say this – let it be o.k. to fail and flounder a bit.  Maybe you go pursue some passions and discover that you’re not really well suited for that . . . fine, then, on to the next thing.  But if you get that seminary degree before you’ve experimented at least a little in some of those ways, you’re gonna be hurting.

Oi!  I’ve got more to say, but this has been too long already.  I may make another run at this from a different angle later.  Maybe not.  I don’t know.  Whatever.


5 Comments so far
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I think that learning how to study the Bible…and better yet, learning how to teach others the study the Bible is a much needed skill in this world of ours. We need more of that to filter through the layity and into the hands of the new believer…

if it takes seminary to do that… well go and then DO!

Comment by writetools

Steve, bringing the heat. I would agree definitely about motivations for going to seminary. That was a big case for me and why I didn’t go to seminary immediately after getting my bachelor’s. Well that and I didn’t feel called to go either. But now after getting the experience that I have, I know for me, I would like to supplement it with the training that comes from studying at a seminary. Not that I need the stamp of approval or the piece of paper, but just the experience and wisdom that comes from it.

BTW, there was something today that my Apologetics prof said that I thought you’d get a kick out of. Here’s what he said:

“Heaven is a lot like coffee and a lot less like sugar.”

(talking about in light of the “soul making” defense for the existence of evil and how coffee is an aquired taste and it takes time to enjoy coffee and that heaven is the same way, we are being purified (I Peter) so that we can fully enjoy heaven and being in the presence of God)

Comment by Michael

Amen, amen, amen. And I resonate deeply with your ‘why go back to school’ piece.

Comment by Pat

There is more here than motives…there is a question of quality of training. Given the cost of seminary…and the mix of good and poor training at most seminaries…I wonder if seminaries are the best place to equip leaders. In my experience and opinion, most seminaries are doing a poor job with ministry training. They do a slightly better job at training for pastoral care…a slightly better job at theological training, and perhaps the best job at Biblical studies/language training.

Comment by markvans

Thanks for the comments, all.

Learning how to handle scripture is important, for certain. I think knowing how to handle within a cultural context, though, has to be part of the equation, and that’s the part that is sorely lacking in many many seminaries.

Mark – I agree with you on the quality thing. I’m probably a bit over-optimistic because I’m actually at a seminary that makes solid attempts at looking into the culture and somewhat into the future. Yours is a good reminder that all seminaries are definitely not like this. Thanks.

Comment by steve lewis

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