Recently, I’ve been a bit unsettled over some observations. I’ve heard a few different stories, all revolving around seminary graduates. There were the stories of newly installed pastors, who after going through a rigorous “calling” process involving strenuous scrutiny, presented themselves and their beliefs as something different than in that process. Then there’s the pastor who proclaimed heresy in front of the congregation despite earning top grades in seminary on that same topic. And I see with an uncomfortable frequency, espousal of ideas that veer towards syncretism of Christianity and some contradictory worldview (like new age ideas) or endorsement of teachers who do the same.
But it also reminded me of some of my experiences during the six years I spent in a conservative evangelical seminary – conversations I overheard and took part in, observations of students, and even grads, endorsing teachers with questionable theology and in some cases, flat out false, other-gospeling teaching. I’ve also encountered inability to articulate core doctrine of the Christian faith or discern when something is just flat out wrong despite it’s attractive flavor. No, not everyone. Of course not. But enough to be concerned about the attention that was being given to how Christian belief is being articulated and lived.
Seminary is a tricky animal for it can create a false sense of accomplishment and arrival. While there are varying motivations and life experiences that lead people to seminary, at the core is to, in some capacity or the other, serve as a minister to the gospel. And seminary does provide very useful tools and education for serving in a ministerial capacity bolstered by wonderful, pastoral oriented professors and building strong relationships. So please don’t misread what I’m communicating or think I’m down on seminary. I am not and am grateful for my experience.
But I have learned that these tools can substitute for the one thing seminary can’t teach…
A commitment to Christian fidelity
No, seminary cannot teach one to care about being true and faithful to Christ and his church. Seminary cannot provide the conviction that keeps one in a perpetual state of humility and caution to serve God’s people faithfully, to make sure how Christianity is articulated because it matters. Seminary cannot produce the love of Christ’s church that keeps one in a reserved state of caution and desire to seek out what is best for the church even if it displaces our own sense of personal desire and accomplishment.
Yes, seminary may provide the tools to utilize in the course of Christian ministry and will even provide encouragement in how to use those tools for the sake of Christ’s church. But it cannot provide the heart to strive for faithfulness in service to the people of God. Learning Greek and Hebrew, the discipline of theology, homiletics, counseling and ministerial techniques can encourage a false sense of accomplishment which can translate into an “I have arrived” mentality. In fact, I often ponder my own degree name – Master of Theology. Just the title alone can lure me into a false security that I really am a master of theology because I’ve gone through some courses and have a piece of paper to show for it. But truthfully, that paper means very little if I don’t have the commitment to at least strive to honor Christ and his church, and especially according to the historic witness of the faith. It is particularly egregious to use that education to create a self-centered platform that lacks integrity for the purpose of praise and security.
Does that mean we’ll always get it right? Of course not. But it is that striving, that commitment, that earnest zeal to want to serve God’s people with a faithful witness of Christianity, to make sure that we are not superimposing our own desire for outcomes or capitulate to whatever is popular to fit in that grounds us and keep us wondering down unfortunate paths. To be sure, this is something that is purely born out of conviction of the Holy Spirit and pliable hearts that seek to honor Christ.