Tag Archives: seminary

10 Reasons You Should Go to Seminary

I recently came across an older blog post by Scot McKnight about going to seminary. McKnight is one of my favorite authors and biblical scholars. He also teaches at a seminary. I respect the guy a ton! So if he says, “here are 10 reasons you should go to seminary” I listen, and I think you should too.

Here are some reasons for going to seminary:

1. Gift enhancement. Seminaries will not “gift” a person but seminaries can almost always enhance the gifts God has given to a person. I have argued for years that seminaries work best when they are populated by ministers and not by folks who think or want, but aren’t sure, if they are gifted or called. What seminaries do well is enhance gifts.

2. Biblical and Theological enhancement. Seminary students will study the Bible, the whole Bible, and that will be a first for some. And, they already have a theology; seminaries can enhance that theology, both by way of subtraction (getting rid of some careless ideas) and addition (adding better ideas). Students have the opportunity to study great theologians, and pity the seminary that assigns textbook-ish theology books, and I’m thinking here of Athanasius and Augustine, Aquinas and Anselm, Luther and Calvin (and the Anabaptists like Hubmaier), and then into the modern era with Barth and Moltmann.

3. Personal enhancement. There was a day when seminaries assumed seminary students would be praying and reading the Bible and practicing the disciplines and attending church … they assumed formation was already underway. No more. Increasingly, seminaries are making spiritual formation — personal enhancement — a part of each course in the curriculum. I will be. 

4. Dedicated time. Let’s face it, to develop theologically as a minister you need time, and that’s what seminary does. In sociological terms, seminary can be a time of encapsulation: you are isolated from your work, your church, and you are holed up in a class with other students and a professor, and you wander into quiet libraries and you study — it is that dedicated time that seminaries can offer. Most pastors aren’t afforded the luxury to study in big chunks of time, so going to seminary, even if it is as a commuter, offers dedicated time. It probably won’t happen without dedicated time.

5. Access to specialists. One of the problems with seminaries is that they can take on the flavor of a research institution and its professors want to be left alone to do historical and technical research and write books and articles and monographs for the academic guild. I am proud to say at Northern, the aim is for the professors to be both specialist enough to be able to work in the guild but who are shaping their lives toward pastors, toward ministry, and toward the church. Seminaries provide specialists to ministers who need specialists on the topics of the day.

6. Theological diversity. Some seminaries (names omitted) prefer to have faculty who all think alike. I’m 100% persuaded diversity, theological diversity, is the name of the game for seminaries. No two pastors think exactly alike and no two professors think alike, and having theological diversity (within some creedal constraint) that interacts with one another sets a pattern for ministry for years to come. Taking classes from professors who don’t agree with you, or who think differently, will make you a better minister.

That is just 6/10! You can read the rest here.

By the way… I think Fuller Seminary is a great option. Just saying!

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This is a picture of Fuller Seminary’s library – oh and also  of California’s year-round beautiful weather.
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What’s it Like Doing Theology With a Room Full of Philosophers

The following is a guest post by a friend of mine Derek Saenz. Here he reflects upon his past experience as a theology student at Talbot Seminary (which happens to be FULL of philosophy students).

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If you think that many seminary students look at philosophy students and think, “These guys are just a bunch of know it alls, gibbering on about a bunch of theoretical nonsense,” then you’d be right.

Why is this the case?  What is a philosophy student to do?

I’m glad you asked:

Many of us are fundamentally oriented toward more concrete thinking.

When we get some, “Really smart Philosophy guys,” in our classes we don’t know quite what to do with you all.

Sure, we can get a bit abstract with talk of different doctrines.  But the great simple truth of Christianity is that Jesus was a real man, who really lived, and really died – like physically.  And the resurrected and rose – again physically.  That’s the beauty of our faith, we can tell the story of Jesus to illiterate seven year olds anywhere in the world and they can rrock it.

Many of your non-philosophizing seminary classmates were those illiterate seven year olds.  And the sad truth is that many of us never gained a deeper understanding of our faith.

Which leads to my next point:

We come from fundamentally different backgrounds.

The last philosophy class I took was in my second year of junior college and it had to do with virtue ethics – and I was a little lost even then!  Philosophy folks eat this stuff for breakfast before pondering the deep significances of the Theory of the Analytic Whatever.

For many unwashed, dull, normal seminary students we come from the stale scent of old pizza and spilled soda from so many church youth rooms.  We love Jesus.  We got a Bachelor’s in something.  The sad thing is, our Bachelor’s degrees were focused on the retention of information.  Many times we were never pushed to question or truly understand what we were being taught.  We were incented to simply study the required information and bubble it in on a Scantron.

We do topical sermons based around the Ten Commandments.  We spend a week apiece on the different Fruits of the Spirit.  We are simple-minded.  We are concrete-thinkers.

Simply thinking concretely is dangerous because abstract ideas are actually the tool used in real life change.  You can tell a man to, “Be nicer to your wife,” but the real reason he is so terrible to her is that he is a misogynist who truly believes women are worth less than men.  You can’t combat this concretely, you must go to the magical land of abstract ideas – where real heart change happens.

Which leads to the greatest skills that all seminary students can learn from philosophy students:

We need to learn precision and tenacious curiosity from philosophy students.

I can’t tell you how many times a Master’s level student would say in class, “Well, I don’t get it!  But you know what, none of this has to do with real ministry anyway.”

Can I tell you a story from the aforementioned “real ministry” about why precision in language is important?

I recently started listening to a message from the senior pastor of a church I was trying to work at.  He was outlining his position on the roles women can hold in ministry.  I cannot tell you how confused this guy sounded in his own church, in front of his own people, talking about a subject that he was “very passionate” about.

He started discussing “how to really read the Bible,” yet he conflated genre and context when explaining hermeneutics to his people.  He was basically espousing a trajectory hermeneutic on stage, but he never used those words, he never even brought up to his people where he got the idea.*

At a church where nearly 500 people rely on this man to lead them in their pursuit of God, he was being more confusing than helpful.    I wasn’t convinced that he knew what he was talking about.  And in fact, it seemed like he was trying to hide that he didn’t really understand what he was saying by using common flowery preacher cliches.  He went on and on about the “beauty of this,” and “the gospel that,” oh, and my favorite, “the beautiful, broken story that God weaves throughout and scripture and our lives.”  These sayings can be used effectively, but if your main point is murky and all you can speak are these sayings, you’ve got trouble.

Here’s why this preacher was in trouble:

  1. He wasn’t precise in his language because he didn’t understand what he was talking about.
  2. He didn’t understand what he was talking about because he didn’t study enough.
  3. He didn’t study because he wasn’t really curious for the truth.

What can I do to help these poor, pathetic senior pastors to be?

Dear reader, I’m glad you asked:

Ask good questions, but don’t leave your classmates in the dust.

When you are in class, ask great questions of your professors.  Many of my, “Oh, I get it now,” moments in seminary happened when a really bright philosophy student would ask an incisive question.  The best questions brought clarity and precision to what the professor was trying to teach.  Many times I didn’t know that I was lost in a discussion until a philosophy student would ask a great question.  Remember, many of our undergraduate programs didn’t value questions or truly understanding material, they only valued the retention of information.

Philosophers, you are all experts in argument, logic, and the abstract.  Will you use your powers for good or for evil?  Will you shepherd those who are leading God’s people in their intellectual and spiritual pursuits?  Or will you tire of us and let us drown in the filth of our own incompetent, narrow-mindedness?

Grab lunch or coffee or vending machine goodies with your non-philosophy classmates.  Find a good blog or book that puts the Philosophy cookies on the low shelf for them.  Ask them thought provoking questions.  Teach and guide from a place of humility.

Because no one wants to listen to a know-it-all gibbering on about a bunch of theoretical nonsense.

*Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals, Webb.
Bio:  Derek Saenz went to Talbot and got an M. Div.  He has a wife, a daughter, and a cat.  He is too dependent on caffeine.  Follow him on Twitter @TheDerekSaenz

Book Review – Strange Glory by Charles Marsh

Pastor. Martyr. Prophet. Spy. Those are the four words that Eric Metaxas used to describe Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his magisterial biography of the famous German-Lutheran pastor/theologian. The Bonhoeffer that Charles Marsh offers in this new biography of Bonhoeffer could be aptly described by those four words as well, however he adds two new words to the description of Bonhoeffer – “Strange Glory.”

Marsh’s biography follows the same general contours of most Bonhoeffer biographies. Bonhoeffer is born into an academic-socially elite family. He lives a life of privilege even during a time of economic hardship through Germany. He goes to school where he studies theology among some of the most important theological minds of his century – Harnack, Holl, and Seeberg. He was exposed to the theology of Barth. He took up pastoral posts in Spain and London. He took a trip to America to study at Union, this trip would forever change his life. He came back to Germany as Hitler’s power began to rise. He helped lead the dissident churches and founded an underground seminary at Finkenwilde. He took part in the Abwehr’s plot to overthrow Hitler from power. Eventually he was arrested and killed for taking part in resisting the Nazi government. So what makes Marsh’s biography stand out above the other biographies that have already been written? It’s his notion of “strange glory.”

According to Marsh, Bonhoeffer’s life is fraught with contradictions. At once he is driven by earthly and worldly passions yet so much of him is dedicated to the transcendent Christ. This strangeness is especially evident in some of his letters – in many of his letters you catch a glimpse of two sides of Bonhoeffer, he writes about Christology, the resistance, and solidarity with the poor and oppressed. Moments latter, within the same letter, he might go off into a rant about a relative sending him the wrong pair of clothes. He will describe in detail his fashion “needs,” days spent lounging at cafés drinking coffee or wine, visiting the opera and fantasizing about vacations taken to exotic parts of Europe. Another part of this “strange glory” is his relationship with Bethge – which many other reviews have already commented on.

Pros

There are several key things that make this biography stand out above many others.

Marsh’s ability to engage in complex theological discussions – Whether it’s a discussion of Church dogmatics, Hegel’s Philosophy, or the intricacies of Liberal Protestant Theology Marsh “gets it.” He is able to concretely summarize and engage with Bonhoeffer’s contemporaries. Also, Marsh takes the time to engage with Bonhoeffer’s theology, presenting discussions of Ethics, Life Together, Christ the Center, Sanctorum Communio, and Act and Being in depth.

It gives a different take on Bonhoeffer’s first Trip to America – It has been well noted that Bonhoeffer was extremely disappointed by the state of Christianity in America (except for African-American churches). Most biographies allow Bonhoeffer’s feelings during his time in America to color their interpretation of how important this trip was. While in America, Bonhoeffer was highly critical of American theology, which was essentially politics and humanitarianism. However, latter on in Bonhoeffer’s life we see how deeply this trip affected Bonhoeffer. Much of how he resisted the Nazi government and his defense of Jews in Germany was shaped by his time in America.

It paints a vivid picture of Bonhoeffer’s emotional needs – More than any other book on Bonhoeffer that I have read, it paints a picture of Bonhoeffer as a man who not only craves, but needs Bonhoeffer seems to be an emotionally needy person. Whether its his relationship with his sister Sabine, his close community at Finkenwilde, or his friendship with Bethge, Bonhoeffer seems to be a person who cannot do life alone. He consistently seems to move from person to person, seeking to find some sort of fulfillment. He seems absolutely depended upon reciprocal love and attention from others.

Bonhoeffer and his sister Sabine

He does a good job explaining the apparent contradiction between Bonhoeffer’s pacifism and his willingness to kill Hitler – this apparent contradiction is resolved by making use of Lutheran theology, essentially Bonhoeffer knew that whether he took the route of action or inaction he would be guilty of sin, so following the (apparently) Lutheran principle of “sin and sin boldly” Bonhoeffer was able to justify taking part in the plot to kill Hitler.

This is an excellent and highly entertaining biography. It is very well written; at times it felt as though I were reading a novel, not a historical biography. But more importantly than that it is comprehensive, it goes beyond merely reporting the standard story, but instead strives to get into Bonhoeffer’s mind. It does that very well. Marsh understands Bonhoeffer’s theology, and he seems to understand some of the things that really acted as driving forces in Bonhoeffer’s life. I recommended that you read this biography alongside of Eric Metaxas’ biography so that you will be able to form your own picture of who Bonhoeffer really was.

(Note: I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.)

Fuller Seminary Announces a New President (Minus the White Smoke)

Sorry Roman Catholics, Fuller Theological Seminary has beat you to the punch. They have announced what many consider to be one of the most important positions for Evangelicals to hold, and no its not the Papacy, its the presidency of Fuller Seminary. After the unanimous election of Mark Labberton as Fuller’s 5th president the seminary quickly put out an official press release. Sadly there was no white smoke when the President was revealed.

Here is the Press Release:

The Fuller Theological Seminary Board of Trustees has announced that Mark Labberton has accepted the call to serve as the seminary’s fifth president, beginning July 1, 2013.

Announcing Labberton’s unanimous election by the trustees, Board Chair Clifford L. Penner said, “Along with my fellow trustees, I am delighted to welcome Mark Labberton to the presidency of Fuller Seminary. We are excited and inspired by the outstanding qualities and accomplishments he brings to this position. He is a scholar and academic leader, pastor for more than 25 years, accomplished author, and leading voice in many international ministries. Mark brings strong spiritual leadership, a wide range of experiences, and the vision to guide Fuller into a new era of global leadership in seminary education.  As a Fuller alumnus (MDiv) and professor, he fully comprehends Fuller’s rich and diverse legacy.”

The 5th President of Fuller Theological Seminary: Mark Labberton
The 5th President of Fuller Theological Seminary: Mark Labberton

“I feel an incredible sense of joy and hope to be given this opportunity,” said Dr. Labberton. “Thanks to Rich Mouw’s generous, gracious, and irenic leadership, Fuller is well positioned to influence how the gospel is communicated, understood, and embodied in the world.”

The Debate Over Inerrancy: Comparing B.B. Warfield and Harold Lindsell – Part 1: Introduction

If you are an Evangelical Christian (or you know any) then you know how divisive the debate over the inerrancy of scripture can be. However you might not know that every generation this battle comes up over and over again. In this blog series we will be taking a look at to iterations of this debate, then we will be comparing them. Hopefully there is something to learn from the past…..

In this post I will introduce the issue.

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Introduction

The Bible has always been central in evangelical thought and in the lives of evangelicals. In fact some people have sought to define evangelicalism as a movement that places the Bible at its center.[1]  Because the Bible has been central to the faith of evangelicals, it has often been the catalyst for many battles within the tradition. For instance In the early 18th century Jonathan Edwards fought against Arminian trends that were becoming popular in America due to the teachings of Englishmen like Samuel Clarke, John Tillotson, and Isaac Barrow. Participants on both sides of the debate argued by making biblical arguments, they showed that Scriptures supported their position. Specifically Edwards made use of Scriptures in his sermons like “Living Unconverted under Eminent Means of Grace” to show that the Bible taught that any type of theology that placed any aspect of salvation in the hands of humans was wrong. However towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century a new battle was brewing. Once again this battle was within the Evangelical family, but this time instead of being a battle about a doctrine or position taught in the Bible, it was a battle over the nature and authority of the Bible itself. This seemed to be foreign territory for Evangelicals to tread. Yes, evangelicals had been challenged about the veracity and authority of the Bible, but usually these challenges came from the outside; atheists, deists, and heretics brought up these challenges, but to have pious evangelicals question the nature and authority of the Bible was unprecedented.

It has been years since this battle was first waged, yet I some ways it still carries over today. Conservatives are quick to label schools like Fuller Seminary liberal because they hold a particular stance on scripture. And some liberals argue that conservatives are either intellectually dishonest or ignorant to hold their conservative position. But in reality the battle is more complex than the various sides tend to realize. Some inerrantists often hold nuanced definitions of inerrancy, and those evangelicals that don’t believe in inerrancy are often just as or even more pious than some inerrantists.

In this series of blog posts I hope to take a closer look at the debate over inerrancy by comparing two battles over the inerrancy of Scripture; the battle between B.B. Warfield and Charles Briggs and the battle between Harold Lindsell and Fuller Seminary.  By comparing these two battles hopefully we will be able to glean some insights as to how evangelicals should push forward with this issue. Let us begin by looking at the two main players in these debates: B.B. Warfield and Harold Lindsell.


[1] Mark A. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (History of Evangelicalism) (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2010), 19.

Systematic Theology…

Here is an email from my Systematic Theology Professor…

Dear Systematic Theologians,

Three things from me.

First, you should be getting your marks for the first assignment this week.

Second, I’ve been asked about late assignments. All late assignments will be docked a letter grade for each day the work is late. So if it is graded an ‘A’ and is a day late, it gets ‘A-‘; if two days late, ‘B+’; three days, ‘B’ … and so on.

Third, if you’re wondering ‘why would he EVER think I’ll turn in a piece of work late? What could be more important than theology?!’ Well, I know. I agree. I understand. But … some people are like this:


It explains a lot, don’t you think? See you Tuesday.

BW,

Prof. C.