An Open Letter to Seminary Students

Thanks for taking some time away from reading Karl Barth to read Jay Sanders.  Sorry for the intellectual drop-off.  And the lack of a pipe.

I’m writing to warn you.  You need to be aware that even though you are able to spend most of your time around other Christians and great theological minds you could still be doing yourself harm.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some diatribe about seminary or theological studies being a waste of time.  Seminary is very important and I benefited greatly by graduating from what I believe to be the best one in the world.

But none of that can protect your heart.  If you’re not careful, the institution that was designed to train you for ministry could actually be the place where you learn to be a better Pharisee.

You see, your theological training will go one of two ways.  Hopefully, what your mind absorbs will work its way down to your heart and out through your mouth and hands to produce years of fruitful, faithful ministry.

Or it could do the exact opposite.  It could be mere information that has no impact whatsoever on your life or how you treat others.  This will make you like the people that you hear about every now and then that witness a beating and do nothing to help the guy laid out in the middle of the road.  You’ll have the knowledge but it won’t be doing anyone else any good.

So which are you?

Here are some questions to consider.

1.  Has seminary turned you into a critic?

When others pray, are you joining with them in talking to God or are you evaluating how they pray so that you can correct them?  All for their own good, of course.

“Lord, please be with Danny during his job interview tomorrow.”

“Actually, the Lord is everywhere so he’s already with Danny.  Why did you ask him to do something he’s already doing?  Heretic!”

Or what about sermons?  While everyone else is listening, are you too busy acting like Simon Cowell with an M.Div?

“Point number three was teh-rubble.  Tew pitch-ee.  Hair-uh-tick!”

2.  Are you more in love with your tribe than you are your church?

Maybe, like me, you subscribe to Reformed Theology.  Do you find it difficult to read Ravi Zacharias, Eugene Peterson or anyone else outside of your tribe?  Remember, it’s good to read people that you are not in total agreement with.  It will either make you stronger in your position or show you where you are wrong.  Just because someone doesn’t sign off on all five points of Calvinism doesn’t mean that you won’t be seeing him in heaven or that he has nothing to teach you.

Your tribe should be the body of Christ, not a particular muscle group in the body of Christ.  This is important because it involves your identity.  If you are searching for indentity in a particular group, no matter how theologically on point that group may be, it’s likely that your group has become an idol.

Just because something is correct does not mean that it cannot also be an idol.

3.  Do you love the church or the idea of the church?

Because you are a seminary student, there’s a good chance that you go to a swell church.  Your pastor has written tons of books and the janitor is working on his dissertation about Paul’s use of nouns in his letter to the Romans.  Solid church.

But what happens when you graduate and move to Conway, Texas, miles and miles away from the nearest seminary?  Will you still love the church when one of the Sunday school teachers is a big Creflo Dollar fan and the pianist doesn’t know how to play In Christ Alone?

Loving the church doesn’t mean loving the perfect church.

It’s likely that you will be called upon to lead a church in desperate need of help.  This will require a lot of prayer, time and patience that can only come from a heart that is in love with Christ and his body.

And remember, if you did happen to land a job at the perfect church, you’d probably mess it up in a week or two.

This is the kind of advice that I needed when I was in seminary and I’m guessing that you probably need it too.  If I lost you in the first paragraph because I failed to quote your favorite pastor or author, maybe you should give this another read.  Maybe three or four.

So hang in there, keep studying hard and, above all, keep a close eye on your heart.

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  2 Timothy 4:5 (ESV)