Tuesday, June 01, 2010

on the whole I'm glad I didn't go to seminary

For years I wanted to go to seminary and get into New Testament studies. That never happened for any number of reasons. I didn't have the money. I wasn't interested in commiting to a fixed denominational tradition in terms of my beliefs. I didn't have a denominational affiliation I felt strongly about that I could get funding help from. I also knew I never felt any "calling" to any ministry and just didn't want to get into church work. Those were all the negative reasons.

Eventually I found positive reasons, which can be read in negative terms. As I read Bonhoeffer, Francis Schaeffer, C. S. Lewsi, N. T. Wright, Fee, Grudem, Augustine, Luther, Martyn Lloyd-Jones (sic), Stott, Metzger, Lane, Bauckham, and others. I began to realize as I read that the Lord had raised up so many men more adept at investigating all these things and contending for the faith that I had nothing to add. I quickly discovered that my hopes to contribute to a study as great as New Testament literature and theology was a youthful fancy. It wasn't a bad thing to want to do but why do it if it turned out God had appointed countless people to already accomplish what I hoped to accomplish? So, instead of all that I decided to focus my attention elsewhere.

I don't dislike seminary the way a lot of people do. I always disliked immensely the joke that all seminaries were "cemetaries". Most of the people who said those sorts of things were no better than the people they looked down on, they just didn't realize how level the playing field often was. Seminarians, for their part, did not necessarily help by acting as though they were doing things that couldn't be done for God without them being there. They didn't consciously say so but it seems as though there is a temptation among theology wonks to really believe, deep in their hearts, that if they aren't doing it the thing just won't get done. If you don't blog about the terrible theological error of so-and-so then the world at large just won't know the terrible danger they are in.

Now I can understand that temptation, having beein a low-level theology wonk myself. I mean I actually bothered to read John Murray's The Imputation of Adam's Sin! But in terms of scale even if you're regionally or nationally famous you don't count for much. Name-dropping is not merely a weakness of the church set but churches and church folk can be more ostentatiously bad about it. They've got chapter and verse for their pet causes, which is okay, but they often name drop as a way to bolster themselves. This goes all the way back to "I am of Paul", "I am of Apollos", "I am of Peter", and "I am of Christ". The letters to the church in Corinth will never go out of style or lose their relevance where urging Christians not to splinter over their pet teachers goes. Yet we keep doing it. This has precedent in that Yahweh permitted Israel to divide before Christ and, it seems, is perfectly content to let fracturing happen even after the first arrival of Christ.

Let me explain by way of example how a household name for theology wonks can be unknown to others. I was talking with a friend of mine who was a Christian studies major at the little school by the canal. I was talking to him about how some friends of mine are really into the complementarian position to the point of having prescribed gender roles. He bristled a bit at this and when I mentioned that John Piper and company are cited as authorities on the subject he, the Christian studies major, asked, "Who is John Piper?" He'd heard of N. T. Wright and Bonhoeffer and people like that, and he had a fondness for Chuck Swindoll but he had, nevertheless, never even heard of John Piper. Your theological, philosophical, intellectual big guns are going to be complete unknowns even to people who qualify as cogniscenti.

Now if by chance there turn out to be reasons to go to seminary I'm willing to consider going but the longer I live the less reasons there are to go. I can read books commended by friends and bloggers and family. My brother told me about a great doctoral dissertation by V. Phillips Long on the literary unity of 1 Samuel regarding the reign and rejection of King Saul. Then it turned out that a friend of mine studying at Covenant Theological Seminary had downloaded Long's lectures on Israelite history, no less. So in the last year I have been in a small Long stage. I've also been reading slowly through Martyn Lloyd-Jones' Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.
I served for a few years as a volunteer in a couple of ministries and for a while was in a ministry fielding theological questions on behalf of a pastoral team. I kind have done the things I have wanted to do, just without the imprimatur of having been to some seminary.

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