I started seminary as a 32 year-old who experienced some serious personal trials. By the grace of God I had been set free from both pornography and self-gratification as well as gluttony and laziness. I had served in a ministry helping men find freedom from those habitual sins and in that time developed what
I thought to be a pretty sound theology. I figured that I needed seminary to give me a piece of paper so that I could get hired by a church to do full-time ministry.
While it is true that a MDiv does open doors, I have since learned that seminary is about much more than the piece of paper. To be perfectly honest, I wanted my school to bless my convictions so that I could move on to the ‘real’ work. I had no idea what I was actually getting into. Here I thought I was simply attending a school that pretty closely matched what I already believed and, therefore, I would
not be challenged too much. I was very wrong.
The first big challenge came when I took an elective course on 1 Corinthians. We had to write papers describing all the views we could find on some of the more controversial passages. What I learned was that there are a LOT of views out there and quite a few of them have biblical warrant even within a traditional approach to inerrancy and inspiration. I suddenly realized that there was not quite as much room to be dogmatic about some issues as I thought.
Next came Greek exegesis. That was where I learned about textual criticism. I have not gone down the road of some folks like Bart Ehrman, but it did make me rethink my view of the text. I still believe that the Bible is God’s Word and we can trust it, but looking at the text-critical issues around some passages definitely opened my eyes to what goes on under the hood of our English translations. This served to leash my dogma.
Another big challenge was my hermeneutics class. I came from a nominally Roman Catholic background, but am a fully-committed Protestant now. However, hermeneutics made me appreciate the authority of the Roman Catholic Church because I began to see how easily the Protestant system can devolve into ‘what this passage means to me.’ This showed me how important it is to be tethered to church history because if you see something in a passage no one else has seen for nearly two millennia you’re probably on the wrong track. And even if you do find precedence in church history you may still be on the wrong track. This forced me to relax my dogmatic approach on some controversial passages where I previously thought that disagreement with me meant you were a heretic.
Finally, my Hebrew classes really opened up my eyes to how we translate and read the Old Testament. The wide semantic range of many Hebrew words has taught me to be careful about making too much out of any single translated word in my English Bible. This was yet another thing to soften my previously hard dogmatic approach. Just as anyone preaching from the New Testament should promise not to overstate the aorist tense, I learned not to overstate the value of Old Testament word studies.
I write this story to encourage anyone in seminary to engage your classes with an open mind. You are learning from men and women who have dedicated their lives to particular subjects. Chances are they have thought through these issues more deeply than you have or will. Do not simply seek approval for what you already believe when you enter seminary, but allow the experience to transform you.
Personally, I feel like I have acquired a framework for thinking things through. I may not always come to the same conclusions as my professors, but at least I have a way to evaluate these issues and make my own decisions. And I have the freedom to do that as well, as long as I have biblical warrant to do so.
Basically, I am grateful to have opportunities to tear down some personal theological houses of straw and rebuild them with brick. The rebuilt houses may have the same shape as those of straw, but they are now much more solid because I feel more sure about the Rock on which they are built. And that is easily the greatest blessing I received from seminary.