How to Keep the Seminary Christian, Part 3
By Timothy Raymond –
As I mentioned in my opening post, in this series seminary education has been maligned as a spiritual wasteland for decades. In recent days, however, the critiques have taken on a new, more sophisticated form. Many seem to assume that seminary will be inevitably detrimental to a man’s walk with God and the best the aspiring pastor can hope for is to graduate with a few minor cracks in the foundation of his faith. The entire conversation could lead to the conclusion that it would be far better for the godly, passionate Christian to skip seminary entirely and head directly to the pulpit or the mission field.
I countered with my own testimony of profound spiritual growth while in seminary. For me, seminary was not a spiritual wasteland but an oasis. I grew tremendously in my love for God, His Word, His Church, and the world. And I explained in my last post the first two of six virtues my particular seminary possessed that I believe made my experience so different from what many are apparently suffering through.
Today I’ll share two more virtues that have the potential to keep a seminary Christian.
3. Godly professors who were experienced pastors or missionaries.
To a man, all my seminary professors were either experienced pastors or missionaries. This was an intentional hiring choice driven by the philosophy of my particular seminary. Their rationale was that if professors are training future pastors and missionaries, it only makes sense for those professors to have at least a few years’ experience doing what they’re teaching students to do.
I’ve come to see this as a very wise decision. Our experiences naturally shape who we are as people and my professors’ pastoral or missionary experiences colored the way they taught. You can probably imagine how important this would be in practical ministry classes, but this came out even in some of the more “academic” classes. I can still vividly remember how our Greek professor, who had been a pastor in a small rural church for about a decade, would transition effortlessly from discussing the particularities of a specific type of aorist to how to then use that Greek knowledge in local church ministry. That sort of tight connection between scholarship and local church ministry is priceless and the more it characterizes a seminary, the better.
Moreover, my professors were godly men. Even when I disagreed with a professor (and there were times when I disagreed vehemently), I did not question the professor’s sincerity, conversion, or walk with God. Those training me to be a pastor were, as far as I could tell, spiritually qualified to be pastors themselves, and again, that made all the difference.
So as you consider possible seminary choices, or as you consider your influence over the seminary you lead, don’t minimize the importance of godly professors with pastoral or missionary experience. While it may not be an absolute essential, it is tremendously helpful and does shape students’ seminary experience.
4. A commitment to train primarily pastors and missionaries, as opposed to scholars respected by the secular academy.
It does seem as if a seminary needs to ask itself why it exists. Is it there primarily to produce professional scholars who will train more professional scholars for the academy, or does it exist to train pastors and missionaries who will serve in local church contexts? While these goals are not necessarily exclusive of one another, I can’t see how you could equally aim at both simultaneously.
As you could probably surmise, my alma mater was forthright in its commitment to train primarily pastors and missionaries. While occasionally a guy went on to pursue an academic career, he was the exception. Most of the guys I graduated with entered seminary to become ordinary pastors or missionaries and most of us continue to serve as ordinary pastors or missionaries today.
In retrospect, I believe that this commitment to train primarily pastors and missionaries was actually instrumental in creating an environment that fostered spiritual growth. Because we were all on the road to local church ministry, godly character was as important as good grades. Because we were all striving to serve in local churches, the temptation to intellectual pride was not as great as I’ve gathered it is in some contexts. Generally speaking, it was the holy guys, not necessarily the geniuses, who were most admired by the student body.
Again, as you evaluate your seminary, ask yourself, “What’s the goal?” Do we exist primarily to train local church ministers or academic scholars? Are we more interested in impressing the world with our academic credentials or serving the Body of Christ?
Next time, Lord willing, I’ll conclude this series by considering two final virtues for keeping the seminary Christian, namely, tight accountability to and involvement with local churches and regular chapels which include sermons from pastors and missionaries on the frontline.
Timothy Raymond is an editor for Credo Magazine and has been the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Muncie, Indiana since April 2006. He received his MDiv from the Baptist Bible Seminary of Pennsylvania in 2004 and has pursued further education through the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Tim grew up outside Syracuse, NY and previously served at Berean Baptist Church, Nicholson, PA (member and teacher during college and seminary) and Calvary Baptist Church, Sandusky, Ohio (seminary internship location). Tim met his wife Bethany at college, and they were married in May 2001. Tim enjoys reading, weight-lifting, wrestling with his three sons, and attempting to sleep.