Mastering divinity
A Case for Seminary . . . Warts and All

Enjoy this timely reflection from good PARSE friend Kyle Rohane. As a seminary grad myself, I can relate. - Paul

I knocked on the door to Jim's office. A few seconds later, I heard his chair scoot back and the knob turned. "Come on in, Kyle," he said. I shook his hand and followed his wagging ponytail into the office. The wall to my right displayed one of his massive paintings: a Texas vista of sprouting mesas, pockmarked by sage. It made the cramped office feel a little bigger.

He saw me take a chair and sat down in his own. He looked odd sitting behind that desk—smaller somehow. He belonged outside.

"Would you mind writing a recommendation for me?" I slid the form across his desk, past the paint brushes and stained rags. He picked up his glasses and placed them on the end of his nose. "Thinkin' of going to grad school?" He tilted his gaze to read the form, fluorescent light reflecting off his exposed head. As he read, his brow furrowed, and he fiddled with a button on his black vest.

"You want to go to seminary," he said. It was a statement, not a question. I answered anyway: "I do. I think it's where my passions and talents are leading me." And God, too, I thought. I knew asking my atheist painting instructor for a recommendation to seminary was odd, but none of my other professors would do. To them I was just another face in the lecture hall. But Jim had worked one-on-one with me for two years. He knew me and liked me, and I respected his opinions.

Finally he removed his glasses and looked at me. "I wish you'd stick with painting," he said with a smile and a wink. "But I'll be happy to write you a recommendation." As I turned to go, I saw genuine concern flash across his face. "Just don't let 'um brainwash you."

Red flags

I expected Jim to question my decision. But I was a little surprised by the reactions from Christian family and friends. They extended cautions too—but for different reasons than my atheistic professor. They congratulated me, but about half ended their encouragement with a short, "Be careful." The leader of my small group joked about the lexical similarities between seminary and a burial ground—a jest I've heard many times since.

My best hope, it seemed, was to spring through the seminary landmines, praying my soul wasn't blown up before I got through.

The many books and articles I read in anticipation of the next three years of my life weren't much better. If they avoided the graveyard metaphor, they employed a minefield one. My best hope, it seemed, was to spring through the seminary landmines, praying my soul wasn't blown up before I got through. All seemed to imply that my diploma would cost something substantial beyond the financial investment—possibly my family, my heart, and likely my faith.

Displaying 1–6 of 6 comments

Gary Kemp

May 17, 2014  11:44am

Seminaries each have their own agenda, programs, theological directions, such as reformed (Calvinist), pre-trib rapture, charismatic, non-denominational biblical, etc. New students enter their chosen seminary with a zeal for the Lord, and want to learn more. They are innocent and unprepared. Most enter to prepare for a "job" as pastor. Most enter with a glow of the Holy Spirit within, only to have that stripped away, pounded out of them with each research paper, each exam. They have acquired tools to better interpret the Bible which is good. For some, it takes years for the Holy Spirit to be reacquired within. For some, seminary destroys their lives; for most, the graduating student will find employment in a church or para-church. If only seminaries could understand this passage, it could make all the difference: "He (...God) has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant - - not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2CO 3:6). GK>

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Pastor Benjamen S LONG

May 15, 2014  8:51am

It's been my prayer since I began my Seminary educational pursuits that MORE Pastors had a mind to do the same. It has been, continues to be, and shall further enrich my understanding of "who" God is, and "how" I can be used to "feed His sheep".

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sheerah kahn

May 10, 2014  2:24pm

"This statement tells me you don't yet know enough about God or yourself. This makes both God and you too small." Tim, does it matter that he learned something about himself and G-d at a seminary? I could say the same about your positions, too...your G-d is too small, Tim, far to small for me, and yet, subjectively, you and I are still the same...which is why I don't say you're G-d is too small. Mr. Rohane learned something very important in Seminary...granted, he could have learned it anywhere, but that he learned it at all is good thing. Lets be charitable. Mr. Rohane isn't extolling the virtues of seminary education, he's just saying that for some, like himself, it was good, for others, maybe not so much. It's all subjective, and we should just read it and take from it that he learned something. Good on him, and good on you too, Tim, good that your experiences with G-d help you grow...few, if any, ever seem to listen when our maker speaks...even I, at times, seem to turn a deaf ear.

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Tim Aagard

May 06, 2014  4:23pm

"But I learned things in seminary about God and about myself that I couldn't have learned anywhere else." This statement tells me you don't yet know enough about God or yourself. This makes both God and you too small. I could make a contrasting statement that is equally false - "There are things I have learned outside of seminary that I would never have learned there." Consider this statement for truth or error. There is nothing that God wants us to know about anything that should require a seminary. It seems to me the way God has set up life with Him and His people that seminary may be a man designed reality that has contradictions to God's design. Like most everything men set up that is a substitute for God's design, His grace is big enough to make use of the error in man's design. We also know that his grace would be seen as greater when we focus on what he designed. I have a list of things God has designed that seminary substitutes for and with meager results in comparison.

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John Adams

May 06, 2014  2:34pm

Kyle - seminary was far more enriching than I ever anticipated. In fact, so much so, that a decade later I returned for further study. Never stop learning....only God already knows it all!

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Mark Carabas

May 06, 2014  8:41am

True words. I am a seminarian too. My experience was a little bumpier than yours, but the net result was a time of growth and reflection that's helped me as a pastor and as an engaged layman. Higher theological education is so valuable.

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