9 Ways To Stifle The Seminary Virus (part one)

Today’s article was written by graduating M.Div student Matthew Wireman who blogs at Off The Wire. This is part 1 of 2. Look for the conclusion of this article next week. Be sure to subscribe to our feed or get Said At Southern updates via email.

One of the blessings I have had is spending a monthly time together with Dr Stuart Scott and some other seminarians. One day another student asked, How do you all keep from becoming stagnant in your faith while you’re doing in-depth studying at an amazing pace of volume? Each of us shared some things we do to keep from being ineffective in our faith. Here are those tips, with some commentary. If you have the time, I’d love to hear some things you might suggest. Perhaps you’re not in seminary and you just have some good words of wisdom for us that are in such studies.

I am no fool. I know that myriads of people who are working full-time find it very hard to press into the Lord. Inertia in the Christian life too often pulls us back when we come up against Satan, the flesh, and the world. As I finish my last week of class in my MDiv studies and look toward PhD work, I hope to implement more of these ideas in my life.

How To Stifle The Seminary Virus

  1. Take time to read what’s in the parentheses when you’re reading a book. That is, when there is a verse reference, turn in the Bible and read. This may take time and seminary requires that we get a lot of books read, but when you find that rare time…chew on the reading.
  2. At the end of the day write what application is learned from your studies. Some questions you can journal through are: 1. What did I read today? 2. What did they teach? 3. What did I learn that was new? 4. What do these things demand of me? 5. How have I not come under these truths over the past year? 6. How will this benefit someone who is struggling in his faith? (i.e. assurance, problem of evil, loss of a loved one . . .)
  3. Pray before, during, and after studies. This one is very obvious – so why don’t we do it more?
  4. Ask yourself: “What kind of paper can I write that would minister to someone in my future congregation?” That is, if you are writing on the Problem of Evil think about how the conclusion of your paper would be applicable to the hurting widow. Think about how God’s sovereignty can minister practically to your people. Think through the implications of total depravity for how you will do ministry.
  5. Remind yourself that you must learn and not merely memorize. One of my pet peeves is when a student asks a professor what they should study for the test. What a travesty! A future pastor is more concerned about making an ‘A’ on an exam rather than having done the hard work throughout the semester of learning the arguments and texts that support their theology.

Have we given into the academy? Do we wrongly equate letters with knowledge? The doubting Thomas sitting in front of you is not going to care if you got an A- or a B+ on your last paper. What he will care about is whether you can persuade him right now. Regurgitation does not mean you have learned, dear seminarian. True wisdom will be manifest in your journal when you answer questions from point #2.

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- posted by Matthew Wireman

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10 Responses to 9 Ways To Stifle The Seminary Virus (part one)

  1. Matt. Good thoughts. Just for discussion in regards to your second point. I fully agree that our theological studies here should have as their goal the practical outworking in a local church context. However, I wonder if seminary is the best avenue for such an approach.

    A personal anecdote: I took a j-term this past January and I wanted to write a paper on the inner-Trinitarian relationship within the gospel of John (specificially John 17) and draw out its implications for the unity of the church. I believe this is the argument Jesus makes in John 17. However, the professor (whom I will not name) proceeded to tell me that this paper would be too practical for an exegetical/theological course. I had to change my topic, because my original idea had too much of a focus on doing theology for the local church.

    Maybe this was an isolated incident, but at the least there is a bent in all seminaries for “academics” as separate from ministry and theological application in the local church. To me this is a tragedy.

    There is that question on the review section at the end of each semester which asks something along the lines as to whether the class helped you practically in relation to applying the course materials to the local church ministry (or something to that effect). Every class I have taken here has been weak in that area.

    Am I alone on this? Is my experience unique at Southern? I don’t know – maybe if I was in the Graham school things would be different. Just curious as to other thoughts on this.

    I believe that there is something inherently amiss in the seminary paradigm. This will probably only be corrected as young pastors come out of seminary with the desire to so lead a church that the churches will one day put the seminaries out of business. This is my desire at least.

  2. Tony Kummer says:

    Seminary versus Church is too often a reality. I think biblical we all want the seminary to serve the church and SBTS is clearly committed to a “CHURCH FIRST” model.

    In my classes I’ve been given a lot of freedom to apply the topic to my current local church ministry. In one class I was able to teach a 13 week class and submit my notes in place of the traditional research paper. The end result was about 13 times the research I would have done for the paper. It was a blessing for me and the people I taught.

    Even if the professor doesn’t give credit for #2 it is something we should be compelled to do. It may be a case of going beyond the course requirements – which is where the best learning takes place.

  3. No doubt we should go above and beyond, but I guess what I am asking is that is there something inherently wrong in the seminary paradigm which makes it unable to complete its stated purpose. SBTS would claim to serve the church by turning out pastors. Given the seminary model is SBTS turning out biblical pastors or academicians?

    Just thinking out loud…

  4. Tony Kummer says:

    Will – these are good questions to ask. Is the “call to prepare” inseparable from an academic degree program? I think our administration takes this struggle very seriously. I remember at my new student orientation (way back when) Dr. Moore gave similar advice that Matt wrote in this post.

    At the same time all pastors are theologians. The academic discipline to study and read should not be undervalued.

  5. Tony:

    By no means am I saying, assuming, nor arguing for a reduction of academic rigor for pastors. In fact, this is my own personal proclivity – I lean toward academia and have to force myself often to be more pastoral. With that said, I don’t really see the problem at Southern as being one of undervaluing academic discipline – it seems more to be undervaluing the proper application of that discipline within the context of the local church.

  6. Let me just add this clarification. In comment # 3 I asked if SBTS is turning out more “biblical pastors” or “academicians.” I define biblical pastors as being pastor-theologians. Being a good and faithful theologian is nothing more than a subset of being a good and faithful pastor. However, one can be an academic without being pastoral. This may (or may not) be a concern here at Southern. Probably depends on who you ask.

    I guess when I ask people what they want to do after they graduate I tend to here more often – “I would like to teach at a college or seminary” as opposed to what I would prefer to hear – ” I want to be a pastor or missionary.” But this is only arguing from my own experience here at SBTS dating back from 2001.

  7. Tony Kummer says:

    Thanks for the clarification. This is a good conversation for Said At Southern. It seems like too many students fall in love with Seminary life and lose their love for Christ’s church. AKA – the seminary virus that Matthew was writing about.

    What suggestions would you have to prevent the “I just want to teach at a college” attitude? The best professors are the ones who are ministering as elders or teachers in their local church too.

  8. What suggestions would you have to prevent the “I just want to teach at a college” attitude?

    1. Don’t go to seminary! :)

    2. Seriously, experience in a local church. The applied ministry program seeks to remedy that (sort of). I know the Applied Ministry has been revised since it was the SME when I began and I know it is well intended but it is a very problematic system. I personally think the applied ministry should be completely dropped from all degree programs.

    3. What should be put in place is a rigorous mentoring program. Each local SBC church and pastoral leadership should be actively engaged in mentoring and training seminary students. I know this will require to a large extent a reformation of our churches but even churches pastored by seminary students should allow for this mentoring. I am thankful that my pastor is very in to mentoring both seminary and non-seminary church members. This mentoring program should last all 4 years of one’s degree and should require active participation throughout one’s seminary training.

    4. My college used to have it as a requirement that the students exhibit the spiritual gifts as a prerequisite to graduate. While that may prove a bit hard to put in practice there needs to be more of a focus on not just allowing someone to graduate because they have obtained an academic degree. All that shows is that they can study (or worst off, cheat well throughout their program!).

    5. Every seminarian (and seminary prof for that matter) should read David Calhoun’s two volume history of Princeton Seminary. This provides an incredible look into the early start of Princeton and shows what a good seminary should look like then the decline of Princeton and what led to a bad seminary (I cannot speak too highly of this work!). This should be read and studied the student’s first year at seminary. And one should also read Broadus’ bio on Boyce.

    Much more could be said but I will leave it here.

  9. Tony Kummer says:

    Great points – turn those comments into a post and I’d love to publish it here. I think what Dever is doing at Capital Hill is much closer to what you suggest but he still sends them aways to SBTS.

    Personally I regret that I never had the mentoring until after I finished Bible college. For about six months I met with a Ph.D student who was on staff at our church. His time investing in my ministry was worth more than many – many – many classes I’ve taken.

  10. Pingback: Said at Southern Seminary » 9 Ways To Stifle The Seminary Virus (part two)

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