You can call seminary a lot of things.
Seminary is for “putting tools in your toolbox,” or for “deepening your well” as a minister. A term we seminarians throw when we think about our homework or about our budgets or about all the sacrifices our wives make is “season.” Its only a season, we tell ourselves and others.
Recently I ran across a term from a theologian named Helmut Thielicke that applies to seminary well: “theological adolescence.” Thinking of seminary as a theological adolescence makes a lot of sense to me.
Speaking as a former (and perhaps recovering) teenage boy, there’s a certain geekiness or nerdiness that comes with the territory of American teenage boyhood. I trust you’ve observed this if you have spent time with this demographic. These boys know all about sports figures like Lebron James, or about superheroes like Batman, or about crazy science experiments, or about math facts, or about facts in general. (Full disclosure: for the longest time my specialties were the U.S. presidents and the states and capitals. 33rd president? Harry S. Truman. Capital of New Mexico? Santa Fe, Baby!) These boys know virtually nothing about bank accounts or mortgages, but could tell you every World Series winner for the past 75 years. They are experts in a very specific area of knowledge. The trouble comes in trying to utilize this expertise and knowledge in the world outside their little cohort.
Seminary is not that different. We just are nerds about different things. In seminary we’re learning Greek and its accompanying jargon. We love dissecting Greek genitives to see if they’re objective or subjective. We take quite a while to decide if a participle is causal or concessive. We roar with laughter when someone throws out a timely joke about modern vs. Erasmian pronunciation. But at the end of the day we have to work hard to understand how this Greek knowledge makes a tangible difference in how we would preach or teach or love our neighbor. That transition is not automatic.
Take seminary as growth and development, just like adolescence. In those teenage years our bodies can grow 6 inches taller. In seminary we’re growing into better learners and communicators. And hopefully we are developing more mature love for others.
You may know someone— or know someone who knows someone— who walked away from Jesus and the Christian faith while they were in seminary. There are probably a lot of reasons why someone would walk away. Its just like how the teenage years are harder on some people than on others (for a variety of reasons). The people that walk away remind me that in the daily grind they (and I) are dealing with deep, life-changing things. For a lot of us, our identity is up for grabs in seminary just like it was in our teenage years. We are in many ways trying to figure out who we are and what we believe. Am I a student? A scholar? Do I want to preach? To teach? To write? To go to a mission field? What are we going to base the rest of our ministry and life on? What verses of the Bible and what doctrinal truths are we willing to die for? What doctrinal hills are we not willing to die on, so to speak? What do we want to be known for? How are our families and relationships going to fit into that?
Those questions abound, along with all the usual questions about paying the bills and raising the kids and going on vacation and finding community and being good citizens and loving our neighbors.
All this to say thank you. Thank you, readers and friends, for your patience if we come across as nerdy and perhaps as a little unloving. Take us aside and give honest advice and help us mature. Thank you for the prayers you pray because you know this is a unique season of growth for us and probably for our families too. Thank you for believing that through this season we will mature in knowledge and love.
until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:13-16 NIV)