by Britt Treece
A week before Christmas, after six long years of study, I graduated from seminary. Looking back, I’ve had a lot of thoughts, questions, comments, and recommendations, so I thought that organizing some of them would be helpful both for me and for past, present, and future seminarians. (Since it took me six years to finish, this could be quite a long post.)
What a Good Seminary Is
- A Place to Begin Learning “Book Knowledge.” Few places amass the amount of biblical “book knowledge” – in classes and in print – that a seminary has to offer. Used rightly, seminary can whet your taste for deeper studies.
- A Time to Begin Studying Harder. Let’s be honest – most of us don’t naturally think too deeply about Christ and His Lordship over all of life until someone prods us to do so. Seminary could be a good place to begin this lifelong practice.
- A Venue to Begin Asking Hard Questions. Whether spoken in class, written down for further study, or discussed with friends, good questions are often the offspring of seminary studies. Again, however, seminary can just be one of many starting places of what must be a lifelong practice for the Christian – asking and answering the hardest of questions.
- A Good Place to Begin Learning Hebrew and Greek. There truly is no substitute for time spent in class learning Hebrew and Greek. Can it be done on your own? Yes. Is it much harder than just going to class? No question. Imagine having a world-class biblical language scholar to teach you Greek. Would you pass that up for just a book?
- A Good Assembly of Mature Biblical Scholars. There are many places in the world in which you couldn’t find these kind of scholars for hundreds, possibly thousands of miles, so to have them all in one place is truly a blessing of God.
What Seminary Is Not
- Your Local Church. Too many students still come to seminary and try to find their deepest fellowship between other students and professors. Too many students still come and waste time trying to find “just the right fit” at a local church. Not to be harsh, but just go and find a good one, get joined to that body, and watch God work in lives. It doesn’t happen at seminary, because seminary is not the local church.
- Your Ticket into the Gospel Ministry. To dispel another rumor, just because you have your M.Div. doesn’t mean that churches will come out of the woodwork to offer you multiple jobs. The gospel ministry isn’t a job anyway – it’s the highest and holiest calling from God. Your local church should be doing the calling, equipping, and sending.
- The Only Place to Learn, Study, and Ask Hard Questions. There are many other ways to learn and practice deep, difficult, delightful study in a community of learners, and the foremost of which is your local church. The discussions I’ve had with 2 or 3 brothers around a table at Bojangle’s dwarf seminary discussions by a longshot.
- The Only Way to Learn the Languages. Again, if your church has someone gifted by God in Hebrew and/or Greek, he and your church can offer you many advantages over learning the languages in seminary. Of course, you can learn the languages and still keep your learning plugged in to your church, but you may find it easier to do it all in one context.
- The Only Available Assembly of Mature Biblical Scholars. You never know until you look, but your local church may have more mature, more fatherly biblical scholars in it than your local seminary. And it may even be that these men already know you better, and you them, than could ever happen in a seminary setting. Count this a blessing. Utilize the library and the bookstore, too, since their shelves should be full of biblical scholars, both alive and dead. Read them and discuss them with your church.
- Necessary. Loving your wife and children is absolutely necessary; the seminary is not. The local church is absolutely necessary; the seminary is not. Loving the lost peoples of the world is absolutely necessary; seminary is not. Getting further training for the gospel ministry is necessary, but seminary isn’t the only way to do it. In fact, the local church can be far better.
Questions to Ask Yourself (and Your Wife):
- How will seminary serve to increase happiness in Christ for me, my wife and children, my local church, my neighbors, and the peoples of the world? Do I think about this time of study and learning as working more joy, so that it may then flow out from me into others, or is it just to puff my head up?
- Why do I want to go to seminary? What is my goal? Is it to love Jesus more, or to get another credential to put on my business card?
- What do I expect to learn at seminary? Do my expectations line up with reality? Does this school even teach what I want to learn?
- What is my plan for starting, working through it, and finishing? If I don’t have one, am I okay with that? Will I be okay going for six years instead of three?
Questions to Ask of Your Church Family:
- How has God gifted me to love and serve others? In what ways has God created and grown me to love people in our church well? Are there any supposed giftings in which I may be deceiving myself?
- Do you see God’s grace at work to send me to seminary? If so, how so? If not, why not? Over what changes in my life should I pray for God’s help?
- Do you see God’s grace at work to sustain me through seminary? This isn’t a question of “Can God sustain me through it?” but rather, “Is seminary the best idea for me right now, considering my life situation?” Many of us falter at this question.
Questions to Ask of Your Seminary:
- What are their basic beliefs? Closely consult their statement of faith. Doctrines like the Trinity, Christ’s humanity and divinity, the sufficiency and authority of Scripture, the perfect saving work of Christ, the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone, the primacy of the local church, and the importance of the family – to name just a few – are non-negotiables.
- Do they understand the gospel of Christ? When the gospel is preached at this seminary, is it more about man’s duty or God’s finished work on the cross? When the ministry is discussed here, is it more about man’s clever designs or about God’s gloriously good news?
- What classes and types of classes are emphasized? This is easy to learn by simply looking at the required curriculum. Many seminaries require classes and sections of classes that are superfluous and peripheral to the gospel ministry. Does this seminary require you to take needless classes? If so, are you prepared to deal with them and learn anyway?
Finally, if you, your wife, and your church family decide that seminary is the best option for you, here are two categories of recommendations.
- Get and stay deeply immersed in the Word of God and prayer. Not only is the Bible for study and for teaching, it is for all of our life our only source of pure truth, our only kindling for pure joy, our only testimony of the perfect Christ, and the only source of the glorious good news. It is easy to treat the Bible as a teaching tool; remember to approach it more often for your own enjoyment, faith, hope, love, and satisfaction in God. Only humility and prayer can do this.
- Get and stay tightly woven into your local church during seminary. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – there is no way to live, eat, or breathe Christ for very long without the local church. This doesn’t mean you need a building; it means you need Christians in and through and around your life, holding you up in prayer and loving you and being loved by you. Don’t think of them as a checklist during seminary; think of them as family.
- Start killing and continue to kill sin by the Holy Spirit. The absence of the first two – communion with God in the Word and in the church – often creates a terrible situation with sin. Instead of being a time of growth in holiness for life, seminary can often be a time of growing, cancerous sin for death. Get serious about murdering your own flesh.
- Get and keep your priorities straight. Don’t put seminary first. Never put seminary first. There is no conceivable life situation in which seminary comes first. As one of my pastors said, “Your priorities are in order when each priority honors the one above it.” This means that if school comes before wife, you’ve got it very wrong.
- “Find out who the best professors are and take only them. Professors can make or break your seminary experience.” This advice was given to me by my college pastor, and it may have been the best piece of class-taking advice I received. You can’t always keep it – things like scheduling, time, and work may get in the way – but, as much as possible, try to take only the best professors.
- Find others who’ve gone before you. Ask them who the best professors are. Ask them what each professor believes and why his class is “good” or “not good.” See if these observations line up with Scripture.
- Love the languages. Luther may have put it best when he said that the languages are the sheath from which we pull out God’s Holy Sword – the Word. Too many seminarians think that they’ll just “get Hebrew and Greek out of the way” and forget that the Christian ministry is fundamentally one of preaching the gospel of God’s Son straight out of God’s Word (Acts 6:2-4, Acts 20:27, Romans 10:17, 1 Corinthians 1:17, Galatians 3:2-5, etc.).
Britt Treece is a new graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. He blogs at http://crossonmyback.wordpress.com.