My First Semester Shock, or Seminarians Without Chests

In Spiritual life, Stories by adminmark

I approached seminary with many of the common illusions seminary students have. I thought it would be a spiritually vibrant and intense time, full of people who were overflowing with passion for Christ.

Boy was I surprised. My first semester, I enrolled in Hebrew class, like many beginning M.Div.-ers. I made friends with some other young single guys in the class, and we got together to study. I lived off campus, but they lived in the men’s dorm on campus, so I went over and hung out with them.

One day a group of us got in a conversation about scriptural interpretation. A prominent church leader had shared (in chapel I think) how he had made a major life decision based on a particular verse of scripture…and by the rules we were studying at the time, we agreed that he’d not interpreted the scripture correctly. So we were batting that around.

Somewhere in that conversation one of the guys made a remark I’ll never forget. He said, “Interpreting the Bible properly is so difficult and such hard work, that I don’t even bother to read my Bible devotionally any more.”

This gave me pause. I asked for clarification. I got way more.

I agreed with him about the challenges of proper interpretation, but then I asked him, “You mean to tell me that Farmer Jones out in East Texas can’t sit down with his Bible and his morning coffee, pray that God will speak to him through it and expect reliably to hear from God?”

He said, “No, that’s not possible.”

He went on to say that God could speak just as well through the “funnies” in the newspaper as he could through the Bible.

Wow.

So I chalked it up to him being one of those weird students that you’re bound to run into anywhere. I found out he went to one of the loopier, left-leaning churches in the area, so I figured he was an exception, a little nutty. I’m still pretty sure I was right about this.

But after a while, the others left the room, and I was talking with another friend, one more stable, more normal, more conservative, more in the mainstream of what I considered seminary students to be. The kind of guy you’d want to be on church staff with you.

I was bemoaning the weird guy’s (I thought) abandonment of God, and he said, “Well, to be honest with you, I don’t read my Bible devotionally either.”

He paused.

“And neither does John, or Keith, or….” He went on to name about six guys from his floor that he knew for a fact had abandoned daily time in prayer and in the scriptures.

I was amazed. We talked more. He had been very faithful in personal devotion in college, but somehow just stopped.

These guys, in this atmosphere of saturation of study of the word of God, had abandoned a devotional pursuit of God. They started studying God and stopped loving Him.

I went on to discover that this is very common among seminary students. In all honesty, I struggled very much with this during seminary. By God’s mercy, I managed to keep my habits of prayer maintained, but seminary was a dry and difficult time.

Philosophical riff:

It reminded me of C. S. Lewis’ lament in The Abolition of Man
that the modern world produces men without chests: heavy on reason (the head) and heavy on animal appetites(the belly) but without sentiment (the chest), that ennobling blend of emotion and truth that warms the aridity of cold reason and ennobles the raw impulses of the body. The head, reason, makes us like God; the belly, our appetites, make us like animals. The chest is the mediator that brings them together and makes us really human.

It’s no accident that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God. The basic duty of man to the Lord is worship: an activity of the chest—of the heart—if ever there was one.

The modern man, Lewis said, has a big head and no chest. So apparently, did some of my fellow seminarians.

Conclusion:

Seminary is a dry time for devotion. The easy way out is to blame the seminary: the modern institution produces modern men. I don’t buy it. You and I are responsible for our own growth. In the midst of all your study, be sure you are loving God well.