Why Go to Seminary or Bible College

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?

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9 Responses to Why Go to Seminary or Bible College

  1. jordan buckley says:

    Thanks man, this is one of the more helpful things I’ve read recently.

  2. Ok, now that I’ve left a dumb comment I made alone for a few hours, I’ll contribute something.

    Why I’m in Seminary:
    1. Concentrated Education — in both (a) context and (b) content. The seminary context allows me the opportunity to spend a concentrated amount of time and effort studying with and learning from brilliant men (both students and professors). Also, it is a unique opportunity to build a wealth of theological, linguistic, hermeneutical, and pastoral knowledge. Like Dr. Whitney said at least ten times in his personal spiritual disciplines class: “When you leave seminary you become a well, and the whole world becomes a bucket.” Seminary affords a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (for most pastors) to fill my well, and to do it well. And in a relatively short period of time.
    2. Networking/Fellowship/Friendship — in seminary I have met dozens of brothers (and sisters, one of whom became my wife!) who I can draw from and lean on in ministry. Maybe I will minister with some in an official capacity, and maybe I won’t. Either way, no other context would allow me to meet so many gifted, faithful, intelligent, and godly people, who are in pursuit of the same goals as I am.
    3. Personal growth in holiness and love of God — I put this third because it is not something unique to a seminary environment. Seminary done well can grow you immensely. But it can also inflate you with pride.

  3. I came to Southern because I heard it through the grapevine that Owen Strachan would be attending here. It was an opportunity that I could not turn down!

    But after that, I would say that it was more of a shove than a “sent” for me, providentially speaking that is. But having been here, I have been exposed to wonderful men of God who have become more than a professor to me. Just today, I had the opportunity to share my heart with a professor who gave me wise counsel and encouragement about a future decision in my life.

    I would also add that I have a passion to learn, grow, and share what I have learned with others. The truths that I have ascertained, I hope to teach others whether it be my wife and immediate family or in a church context.

    Finally, I would say that seminary (unfortunately) is the best place to receive theological education and training. I say unfortunately because it should be done in the local church. Perhaps us seminarians can help fulfill Dr. Mohler’s dream of putting him out of a job! ;)

    . . . and then we wouldn’t be asking this question too.

  4. I came to seminary for a couple reasons. First, was to get a better understanding of the the Baptist denomination. Being raised Catholic all my life and coming to the SBC out of conviction only 5 years ago (my g-pa thinks I am my own anti-christ because of this), I have come to learn there is so much I do not know about the SBC. Second, I moved down here with my wife and 2.5 kids (one due in Feb.) in order to immerse ourselves in the “culture.” Being first generation Christians, we need this immersion for our whole family. Finally, I simply needed the further training. In response to my resume, most churches told me I had to go to seminary. I honestly struggled against this professionalization of the ministry, but in the end, saw the need for seminary.

  5. Tony Kummer says:

    God’s Providence = I have lived nearly my whole life within 10 miles of SBTS + Boyce College offering a Bachelors degree in 1998 +my wife was a Baptist when I met her.

  6. Zack says:

    I appreciate this site and this particular post. I’m 25, a newlywed, a full-time web developer, and a youth pastor. I have a college degree and a year of overseas experience, and lately I’ve really been wrestling with the option of going to seminary.

    My wife went, and a lot of my good friends are currently going.

    –My best friend lead worship at y’alls chapel service last week –

    But here’s my question: with a new wife, a mortgage, and a stack of bills, what are the chances that I could have the experience you describe. What if I’m really busy AND I’m expected to read 10 books in four months — without robbing my wife.

    Does anybody have advice about how to go to seminary after life is already rolling pretty fast?

  7. Zack, I can completely relate to what you are saying. I have two kids and one on the way. If it might be of any help, my blog is a diary of my time here at southern (it is only 2 months old being that this is my first semester). However, I would love to sit down with you and talk. I struggle just as well and it would probably do us both some good. Feel free to contact me at tdelaney017@yahoo.com. I would love to meet up with ya.

  8. Zack says:

    I just sent this response to Terry via email, but I would love to have anyone else’s thoughts as well:

    Hi Terry,

    I appreciate your response to my post at SaidAtSouthern…

    It is truly inspiring to think of someone going to school with a full-fledged family at the same time.

    As for your invitation to get together, I would love to, with the stipulation that I live in North Carolina :0)

    But I’ll settle for an email dialog!

    I know that there is a good percentage of seminarians who go to school while working and balancing a family, etc.

    I just don’t know how they do it financially. For example, right now, if I completely pulled back from all of my extra commitments, and narrowed it down to just husband, provider, and student, in that order, I can’t imagine making it work.

    I think the only way to be even a sort-of good husband would leave me with like 10 hours a week to devote to seminary.

    That doesn’t sound like enough to even get by, much less really ‘live the experience’.

    I suppose loans are always an option, but that possibility really runs counter to my wife and I’s conviction that we want to be full-time missionaries within the next 10 years. Debt is an enemy of the mission field :0)

    So…. I guess there are my primary concerns right off the top.

    I know there’s a ton more to it, but I guess that’s my first question: How do you pull it off financially?

    Thanks a ton for your interest in serving me this way!

    For His Renown,
    Zack

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