What’s the first thing that comes to mind with these words? For me, it’s stuffy old men in starched white collars and traditional all black attire. Gigantic King James Bibles, overstuffed leather armchairs, solemnity, severity. Aloofness. Almost a holy distance from reality and the people who inhabit it.
May I admit that I’ve had a love/hate/scared-out-of-my-mind/love relationship with the idea of seminary? When I first came to faith, anyone who had more time in the faith, and certainly anyone who had devoted their life to studying God’s word, was in my mind far superior in spirituality than I. Frankly, this was true to a degree. I was an infant, and they [whoever they were] had more experience with God, more maturity than I. These people, with their formal religious training, were untouchable. Pious and righteous in ways I didn’t think applied to me; and I admired them from a distance. This was the case for quite some time. But as I grew in my faith and matured a bit, I began to realize that the same Holy Spirit who indwells the Billy Grahams and Beth Moores of my time also indwells me. It was then that I wondered at the need for seminary. I even scoffed at it for a period (yes, I was anti-seminary for a while), feeling that those who undertook this type of training were puffed up and rigid in their thinking. Yet, after a measure of time and certain events too lengthy to relate here, my husband decided to go. He loved it; he couldn’t stop talking about all that he was learning. And honestly, these discussions reshaped my faith quite a bit. I let go of prejudices, opened my heart to different ways of spiritual growth, revamped my study techniques, and even started reading his textbooks and listening to lectures for fun. I eventually audited a class and couldn’t get enough. In the end, I loved it.
During this time, I was given the opportunity to revise a curriculum that is close to my heart [a work that is still in progress]. At first, I was obstinate [a familiar theme, no?], it was a scripture based work that, frankly, worked. But I started trying to modify it to fit the parameters I thought I’d been given. I met with individuals I greatly admire to get their take on it. And one day, as I was plugging away, the severity of what I was trying to do accosted me. This was God’s word that I was attempting to use for a specific purpose. What if I got it wrong? What devastation could follow? My work ground to a halt. I was petrified of inadvertently hurting someone with my inaccurate, inexperienced use of the sword of the Spirit.
That’s when it dawned on me: I don’t need theological education for my personal study. But if I ever want to apply God’s word to other people’s lives, I’d better know for certain what I’m doing. Much like training for battle, anyone can pick up a sword and learn to use it on their own. But on the battlefield, if my only tactic is to wildly flail about, I will eventually wound my brethren. To fight or lead effectively requires training. Such training can come from multiple different sources: a seasoned warrior [mentor], a group of soldiers further along than I, or a school which specializes in technical training.
I picked all three.
At the inception of my training, I was strongly admonished by a dear professor regarding the extreme importance of using God’s word accurately, appropriately, and for His glory. It was during this particular lecture that I slunk down in my chair, feeling the weight of her words on my chest. I don’t really want that responsibility. I’m afraid of it.
So do I now think that seminary [the specialized training to which I am subjected myself] will launch me into superior knowledge of the scriptures and God? Hardly. I will merely train with new [to me] tools and gain experience in the life of a follower of Christ. I will be stretched and challenged by life-long teachers; encouraged and strengthened by the faith and insight and testimony of fellow students. Hopefully through this process, I am better able to recognize my presuppositions and mistakes; and quicker to revised and correct them. I pray that I leave more humble than I came in; knowing a bit more [while realizing how little that “more” really is] of our unknowable God.