As usual, I’m going to to take the rhetorical back door to my topic.
I’ve spent all week moving. I’m moving from a room in the third floor of a Brooklyn Jewish woman’s house to a house in a slightly “rougher” part of Philadelphia with a couple of guys from my church. The place is amazing, neighborhood not that bad, rent cheap, and roommates incredible. As I was moving a load today out of the Jewish lady’s house, I peered over to the house next door. A couple lives there, the husband having gone to Westminster years ago. We would run into each other as I was getting in or out of my car and we talked often about me going on walks with him and his dog to talk about life, marriage, church polity, and seminary. He’s an elder at his church – a local PCA church with a large Westminster contingent – but he’s currently some sort of computer engineer or something like that. He’s awkward, but confidently awkward. He’s funny, but awkwardly funny. He’s always cracking some joke or pun that you didn’t see coming at all. His smile is happy, but his eyes are slightly sad – he wears well that discontinuity between the northern and southern hemispheres of his face. His walk is something between a stroll and a mope. We would always offer to help or spend time with one another, but neither of us let those thoughts stir our affections and in turn inform our wills enough to actually take advantage of those offers.
Thus, now I’m moving out, and we never got to spend any time together apart from our occasional outside-my-car-door rendezvous. I never got to really talk to him or know him deeply. But my old roommate did. Once. He got a beer with this neighbor a while ago and told me some of the conversation. One thing that was said I’ll never forget. It was something that I was reminded of today while loading yet another box of books into my car (what is it with me and books?) and it inspired this ramble/article. This neighbor, upon receiving a question from my old roommate about his time at Westminster, grew quiet. He looked down and set his drink on the table. After a few moments of thoughtful reflection he simply said that following:
“I was a boy pursuing his hobby surrounded by men pursuing their passion.”
Why am I here at seminary? Why are you at seminary? Why are you thinking about going to seminary? Why are you looking at this site or even reading this article? As a hobby? Or your passion? I’m scared sometimes. Terrified, even. I am a very self-aware man who’s been shown that even he can be absolutely blinded by his sin and his motives.
Completely. And utterly. Blind.
I realize that in many of the circles I run in, theological knowledge and rhetorical skill are the “currency” among those people. It’s what is thrown around, flashed, and shown off. It’s what gets you into the exclusive rooms with the VIPs that you can try and manipulate to get them to affirm you in the ways you most deeply desire. Is this metaphor making sense? All poetical devices aside, I’ve realized that there are parts of me – very dark and wicked parts – that are fed by seminary. I’m realizing that I have placed certain men and women on pedestals and then asked myself “okay, what in others do they most esteem? What do they most value? What do they seem to find most attractive in others?” And then I’ll act accordingly. I’m realizing that I’ll say very solid things very eloquently in my small group and some small part of my heart whispers to me, hoping that how “solid” and “rhetorical” I am gets to the senior pastors of my church. I’m realizing I want a wife who would be attracted to me more because I went to seminary. Why does that old man within me still think this?
Because in the end, these desires for human affirmation are merely a reflection of my longing to be accepted by God on my own terms. Some part of me, no matter how small, still thinks God smiles just a little bit bigger because I’m at seminary. Some part of me feels like when the sky rips apart and I descend with my Lord along with a thousand armies of heavenly hosts, watching my bridegroom’s blood-stained robed flapping before me in the wind behind his pure white horse, and I am thereafter allowed to stand before his throne to bear the exposure of judgment, I will be able to lift my trembling hands before him and offer these four years of seminary alongside his blood as my acceptance before Him. Oh, the age old heresy of “Jesus and _______”.
Hobby? Or passion?
But here’s the good news: I really do abuse the opportunities extended to me in seminary. Those things a year ago I dreamt and longed to do that I now can do, I take every opportunity not to do. I do create idols out of other people, a future wife, my education, my knowledge and my self. I do long to wave something in the face of God at the end of time and cry out “I did this! I brought myself here! I played some part in getting me here!”
Yes. I am in fact that wicked and idolatrous.
God, being the creator and sustainer of all things and therefore having a rightful claim on my life and what I do with it, has found it to be His pleasure to act. Apart from every sin and idol I have erected in my heart; apart from every M.Div and sermon I get to preach, He has chosen me. He has come! He has accomplished on my behalf all that he finds loving, pleasurable, acceptable, and righteous in His sight. He has poured His own wrath upon Himself that was due me that I might never taste it. He has dressed Himself in the robes of my own shame, and behold: He has dressed me in His very own Righteousness! My full, complete, and living righteousness now sits at the right hand of God, far from my hand lest I touch it and pollute it – attempting to add or take from it. I am now free to follow the leanings of this God’s Spirit now dwelling within me – refining and shaping me to look more like this righteousness. A process that will last the rest of my life; a process that He will employ every external and internal factor to accomplish. A process that will make the desires and leanings of God my greatest passions so I am now free to discard the useless and vain “hobbies” that I only use to esteem myself to others. So now God’s Glory becomes my greatest joy and things that otherwise would be taken advantage of as those mere “hobbies” now find residence in the deepest recesses of my passions.
I don’t want to look back at my time here in seminary with the same perspective as that neighbor. And I don’t think I will. Practically speaking, I am able to look back and see that seminary was never part of my “plan”. Nine months before I began my first class at Westminster, I would have laughed if you suggested seminary was in my future. It wasn’t even on my radar. Nothing external changed. No one suggested it to me. It was God using the preaching of one faithful sinner in Dallas to stir my heart and passions in a way they’d never been stirred before. I had to preach! I had to go to seminary! My heart and the Gospel demanded it. I can’t ignore that. Also, I can tell you that my deepest affection for Christ, obedience to His Word, and love and service for His Bride have all grown in great strides since walking into summer Greek all those months ago.
If you read this article again, you will find I have actually said very little: there was a guy who went to my school; he said so-and-so about it; I’m wicked but through the Gospel what he said doesn’t have to be true for me nor you. That’s it. So why have I proceeded to write my longest article yet on this site with excessively long descriptions, phrasings, introspections, and prose that borders on sentimentality? As a test. You see, this is the hardest type of article to write, because it’s attempting to expose sin in the reader. And I can’t do that. The people that need this article the most are the very ones that will be hardened to it. I can only write as passionately as I possible can (even to excess) in hopes that God’s grace may use it to break up fallow ground.
Was your heart stirred by confession followed by the Gospel? Did your heart resonate with “yes, I am that sinner as well! Yes, I make those idols as well! Oh, how I long to guide others past that point of realizing their sin!” Did the application of the Gospel to exposed sin cause your passions to flare? Then I would venture to suggest seminary may in fact be for you. If not, then I would wonder. If you were absolutely cold to the very real confession of very real sin and the proclamation of the very real Gospel, then maybe you need to wait – or stop. Maybe this thing has just become another passion. Another “club”. Another dead idol that you will worship with one end and burn for warmth at the other. I don’t know. These are just some musings from a weak and broken sinner quite possibly reading the propensities of his wicked heart onto the rest of the seminarian world. Or maybe I’m speaking to something deeper in all of us – a condition of our hearts that seminarians fall into in a very unique way.
Please, for God’s sake, don’t let this “seminary thing” be a hobby. Rather, let it be the all-comsuming passion of your heart and life to serve both Christ and His Bride faithfully and well while resting in the finished work of Christ as the foundation of your approval, affirmation, and security. This isn’t a game. This isn’t trite. We – I – need to stop treating it as such. I hope this article helps someone, somewhere, at sometime. I’m praying for you all.
Grace and peace.