I made the confession while leaning over the coffee table weighted by her enormous family Bible: "Grandmother, I think God is calling me into ministry… and I've decided to go to seminary."
Local preachers had enjoyed warm hospitality in her home for decades. But I knew my announcement would meet with disfavor—I had used the word "seminary." And indeed, she berated me as one who had chosen a foolhardy and perilous course.
My grandmother believed every word in that King James Bible positioned between us, the browning edges of old obituary clippings and baby announcements protruding from the sides. But in her mind, the “academic” (that is, dry and highfalutin) study of the Bible held no vocational validity in bona fide Christian ministry. True ministers did not require a seminary education.
Testimonies of Another Sort
It’s easy to dismiss the rants of an old woman worried about the Bermuda grass in her day lilies. But the anti-intellectualism underlying my grandmother’s warnings, so deeply embedded in the American psyche, is not without warrant. The academic study of the Bible has a well-earned reputation for hurling students and scholars alike beyond the safe boundaries of orthodox faith.
Years later (after gaining that seminary degree) I became a campus minister. In this position, I found myself frequently reaching out to students undergoing crises of faith after learning from a religion professor that Moses did not really write Deuteronomy or that the Gospels' resurrection accounts differ irreconcilably. My grandmother's warnings had firm grounding in countless testimonies about the hazards of academic biblical studies.
But testimonies of another ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more