This may seem strange. After all, if you’re reading this, there’s a pretty decent chance you’re already attending seminary. However, all is not lost. I’m writing this article as a soon-to-be-graduated seminarian to those who may be wondering what the specific value of the MDiv is. Current seminarians can judge their experience along these lines. In addition, this may prove mildly helpful to someone who is thinking of possibly attending seminary. This is by no means a systematic treatise on this subject, but is merely an attempt to help others to begin to think about the benefits of seminary and how to seize them.
First, seminary polishes and buffs your personal theology. You may have come to seminary flush off the various Piper books and Mohler radio shows and have a heart full of steam and a head full of knowledge. You might actually know a good deal of theology. But that doesn’t mean that you know your theology systematically. A great deal of theology–a great mass of knowledge–amassed without categories or organization is a dangerous thing indeed. In addition, seminary gives you perspective. You learn what is of first-order importance and what is of third-order importance. Before seminary, before classmates who challenge you and professors who train you, you can easily become overly focused on a particular doctrine or idea. We have all met the freshly reformed five-point Calvinist who debates limited atonement as if it were going to usher in the second coming. Seminary does not eliminate such tendencies, but it does educate them. Though this point may not sound exciting or invigorating, I can say from personal experience that this aspect of a seminary education is a boon to the student who receives it. Such a person will often enter seminary unpolished and unorganized, impulsive and unbalanced, and leave it with a theological framework that is loaded for bear.
Second, seminary teaches you a great deal. It would be foolish not to state this matter. If you work hard and do your reading, you will come away from seminary with a body of knowledge that is wide and, to an extent, deep. As I noted before, you may well enter seminary having read a ton of Piper, or a ton of MacArthur, or a lot of Sproul. But many of us haven’t read much philosophy, and haven’t done intensive exegesis of the Greek, and haven’t read six books on the development of modern fundamentalism. Seminary gives us a chance to prepare for a lifetime of ministry by accumulating a store of knowledge. It is an incredible opportunity. Ask your average layman. Many do well to read a theological book a month, let alone ten in four months (if not much more). I should know–I was one before seminary. Life outside of seminary is busy to the extreme, and most of us will not have pastoral jobs that allow us to sit in a plush chair for hours, milking the latest theological publications for cherished insights, a latte by our side, Vivaldi on the stereo. Most of us will be quite busy, and quite thankful that we had three or four years to sit at the feet of godly men and do nothing but learn. It is hard, it is long, but it is worth it, if only for the way it allows us to serve God’s church in the future.
Third, seminary puts you into contact with a wide range of people and beliefs. This is especially helpful for those who come to seminary having served in one church that has a particularly strong philosophy of ministry. It’s good, not bad, to have that philosophy challenged and stretched. If justified, it is a good thing to change your mind and to make friends beyond your home church base and link up with guys who don’t think exactly like you or who aren’t from your home state or college. Much of what keeps Christians apart is provincialism. Too many of us live in a little theological village of our own, a place where the borders are very tightly guarded and where newcomers are strongly mistrusted. In our little village, our personal theology reigns, and everyone else is wrong. Seminary helps to disarm our little villages, to make them friendly places, where we can hold to truth and to our beliefs, yes, but without distrust and contention. It’s a helpful thing for five-pointers to be around four-pointers. It’s a good thing for lifelong Southern Baptists to be around Northern Baptists who have only recently become Southern Baptists. It’s a good thing for premillenial guys to be around amillenial guys, and for the two to talk congenially. All too often we guard our theological territory with a vengeance it does not require. When we do so, we miss out on stimulating, challenging Christian fellowship. We miss out on making connections with future pastors and missionaries. Seminary is an opportunity to expand our perspective even as we hold fast to truth. We should not pass it by. Love the truth, and form your theology–but first make sure your theological “village” is a demilitarized zone.
There are a few thoughts. Perhaps the future will allow me to expand on this topic a bit. Either way, two things are clear: one, it is not necessary to go to seminary to minister well, but two, it certainly helps.
Now that I’ve attempted to answer my own question, now it’s your turn: why are you in seminary?