I love theology. I got my first Lewis Sperry Chafer systematic theology eight volume set when I was fifteen years old. Some anonymous preacher dropped it off at my house and asked my grandmother to give them to me.
I was hooked.
From the time I was a teenager I have been a student of God’s Word and theology (in that order). I love to pour over God’s Word, think and pray through what it means and how it applies to my life and, then, inevitably adjust my theological grid by the truth that I learn. God’s Word is always kicking my butt and changing my grid. I believe that the Bible is the most perfect thing that we have on this side of eternity. In other words God “opinion” is much better than my “firm beliefs.” If the Word of God is the cumulative divine opinions he wants us to hold on to, then I must chuck or adjust my beliefs when they come up against God’s opinions. Why? Because divine opinions are true truth. Human opinions are like armpits…everybody’s got them and they all stink (heard this quote from my old pastor when I was a teenager.)
In preparation for Seminary I took a year of Greek at Liberty University. Taking a year of Greek is equivalent to learning how to take a punch and fall down right in Karate. It gave me enough tools to master a lexicon, pronounce the words right and give me a few nuances of the Greek language that help me navigate the text more effectively.
Because of my passion for God’s Word it was always my plan to go to seminary. I wanted to dig deeper in the Word and the Scriptures, allowing God’s truth to make a more powerful impact on my life and my belief grid in every way. But I didn’t go. I honestly believe that it wasn’t in God’s plan for me to go.
Here’s my shortlist of why I’m glad I didn’t go to seminary:
- The Prevailing Seminary Cynicism. Thanks to Karl Barth (among others), an army of left leaning scholars of higher criticism and a growing passion for all things Emergent, there is an ever increasing seminary cynicism of Biblical inerrancy (i.e. the belief that God’s Word was inspired/ ‘breathed out’ by God and is therefore without errors in its original manuscripts). If God’s Word is not inerrant then it is left up to me to decide what is true and what is not and to what degree. To be honest, I don’t want that kind of pressure. I’m just not that bright. Now this smarmy cynicism has spilled over to the substitutionary death of Christ (i.e. that he paid the price for all our sin when he died on the cross), the exclusivism of Christ as the only way of salvation, the reality of hell, the knowability of truth, and pretty much everything that makes Christianity, well, Christian. Many seminary professors take great joy in embracing and invoking doubt in their students. They love to push Humpty Dumpty off the wall. Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem pushing the Mr. Dumpty off the bricks…as long as we put him back together before we finish the scene.
- The Hiatus from “real life” among “real people”. Instead of three years of Seminary I had eight years of roofing. I’m so glad. Why? Because this taught me how theology integrates into real life with real people. As a matter of fact when you study the way the ultimate Professor taught his twelve students you see a baptism into real life with real people, not a hiatus from culture into an inner sanctuary of separation. Jesus’ seminary was cursing fig trees and Pharisees, touching lepers and reaching shepherds, reaching out to the prostitutes more than the religious institutes. Jesus’ classes were held while walking down the pathway filled with mud and crud, flipping tables in the Temple, telling stories on the mountain and taking naps during the original “Deadliest Catch.” Eight years of seeking to live, form and share my theology on the roof helped me immensely more than a sequestered life of monkdom would ever do for me at the typical seminary.
- Failure to grasp “The Blue Collar Hermeneutic” I don’t know about you, but most commentaries I read are pretty lame. Many basic commentaries seem either restating the text in a “no duh” way that provide no significant insights to the student or they are so dead set on “being deep” that what they share is not grounded in sound insight and basic common sense. I’ve finally come to the conclusion that many commentators suffer from a deficiency. They lack what I’ve nicknamed “The Blue Collar Hermeneutic.” You see, the Bible was written to average people of average intelligence. It wasn’t written primarily by or to the intellectual elite. It was written by common people for common people. Highly intelligent scholars who separate themselves from real life tend to be lame commentators in my opinion. They often don’t take the common sense route of basic interpretation. They weave a web to impress themselves (and fellow collegues) and in so doing do a disservice to the text and to the reader of the commentary.
For these reasons and more I’m glad that I never went to seminary. I’ve studied theology for a lifetime and will continue to do so (although I wish I knew the original languages of Hebrew and Greek more!)
Now, having said all this, I don’t think that just because my path didn’t go through seminary that your’s shouldn’t. God has different plans for different people. I was in a unique kind of situation where I started passionately studying theology from my teenage years.
If God is leading you to go through seminary let me challenge you with these thoughts:
- Pick a seminary that is going to help you build a strong theological grid that relies heavily on the inerrancy of Scripture. Avoid the loser seminaries out there that undermine basic Christian orthodoxy.
- Connect yourself to real “sinners” while in seminary. Get a job off campus with non Christians if possible. If not possible then study at your local Starbucks, work out at a local fitness center or join a non Christian sports team. Why? Because you need to stay connected with real people and real life while learning God’s truth. Remember that Jesus seminary was primarily outside the walls of the Temple.
- Take on rogue profs. If you encounter a professor who is a Humpty Dumpty pusher who refuses to put him back together take him/her on. No Christian has a right to spit in the face of Jesus and call it “intellectual freedom.”
- Let God’s Word be your guide. We are going to stand before him (not some seminary president) and give an account for every wasted word we speak. According to Jesus in Matthew 12 by our words we will be aquitted and by our words we will be condemned. In other words theological solvency matters to Jesus so it should matter to us.
My good friend and co-worker Lane Palmer has two degrees from Denver Seminary. He came out of seminary even stronger because he stayed connected to real life and real people by serving in the Air Force Reserves and landscaping. He also allowed the Word of God not the word of his profs to build his grid and took on a few rogue profs with the truth of God’s Word.
If you are praying about going to seminary consider what I’ve shared with you in the paragraphs above. If God leads you to go to seminary then make sure you stay connected to the real world and real ministry along the way. If you are one of those guys who think that seminary is the only option consider that Jesus and none of the disciples ever went to seminary.