Contrary to popular opinion, seminary can actually leave many believers worse off than when they started.
Not underestimating this strange phenomenon, the leaders at Desiring God ministry created a new series titled “How to Stay Christian at Seminary,” hoping to do exactly that – keep potential pastors and “serious students of the Bible” Christian.
The first of the seven ways seminary students could accomplish this was published on Tuesday: “Know Your Value of Values.”
“As seminarians and aspiring church leaders, our immediate future is uncertain,” Jonathan Parnell, a content strategist at Desiring God, stated on the ministry’s blog. “We don’t really know what we’re doing ... we don’t really know where we’ll end up ... we don’t really know what theological commitments will be intensified or leveraged.”
“But this we do know: we value something. We know what we care about. More than anything else, by grace, we want Jesus to be high and lifted up. We value his name. We are committed to his fame and renown. We want the fullness of God’s person to be displayed for the delight of his people in all that he is for us in Jesus Christ. This is our value of values. We are about the glory of God.”
He warned that without holding onto the “value of values” and being committed to them, it was easy for the knowledge gained from biblical training to puff up.
“Knowledge is sneaky like that,” Parnell said. “The more of it we get, the easier it becomes to slip into a mode of life that assumes accumulated information equals gospel maturity.”
“It doesn’t,” he affirmed. “Left unchecked, there is an inertia in gaining knowledge that moves us away from grace – away from a passion for God’s purpose for the world, away from the sufficiency of Jesus, and away from our small part in it all. We might end up smarter, but we won’t be apt ministers of the gospel.”
It is crucial for students to hold onto their initial goal that led them to pursue the ministry and enroll in seminary in the first place – to proclaim and exalt Jesus.
“This kind of resolve, conviction, intentionality – it’s indispensable. We’re desperate for it,” Parnell shared. “Because without it, we finish seminary in worse shape than when we started.”
David Mathis, the executive pastoral assistant for John Piper, acknowledged that seminary was dangerous as well. “The fragrance is to life for many ... but for others – far too many others – the aroma is to death.”
“Our prayer is that serious students of the Bible not only avoid spiritual shipwreck, but experience what it is to thrive in the disciplined study of the Scriptures, whether at seminary or in the local church.”
Dr. Stephen A. Macchia, founder and president of Leadership Transformations and the director of Pierce Center for Disciple-Building at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, told The Christian Post in an email that seminary did not have to be considered a “life-or-death experience.”
“In fact, it includes both … dying to pre-conceived notions or naiveties about God, theology, the church, evangelism, missions, and even about themselves as children of God, and discovering afresh brand new principles and ideals about the same,” he shared.
“All of this comes to life in this critical season of personal and ministry formation.”
If seminarians were feeling “shipwrecked” they were not at a place that valued community and the shared learning that came out of an organic, life-giving educational environment, Macchia added.
The key to avoiding the pitfalls of seminary was to find a school that sought to offer students a well-balanced approach to “head-heart-hands,” he noted.
“My personal desire in working with seminary students is to help them discover and craft their God-ordained ‘Rule of Life’ that defines them as individuals spiritually, relationally, and missionally, all the while their academic pursuits are stretching them intellectually.”
While Macchia feels that the right seminary could aid in keeping students “Christian,” Parnell believes that students have to crystallize in their minds and hearts the “value of values” – being about the glory of God.
“This is the single thread to interweave throughout all our training,” Parnell concluded. “It’s our foundation, center, and end ... I pray that the great, initial passion of our hearts at the beginning of formal theological training would be the great, persevering passion of our hearts at the end, both of our training and of our lives.”
Desiring God aims to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ, as stated on their website. Most of their resources and products are by pastor and author John Piper.