If you’re in seminary, have ever considered seminary or are nursing a grudge against seminary, no doubt you’ve heard the following:
“Seminary? More like ‘cemetery’!” (Insert Beavis and Butthead chortle here).
Why is this? It seems as though the collective consciousness of North American Christianity dislikes the concept of seminary. Most mainline denominations require it of their leaders, so why does seminary get such a bad rap?
I’m going to be graduating from Bethel Seminary in May. I’m a fan. A huge fan. As such, I’ve become a seminary apologist of sorts. From where I sit, here are a few reasons why seminary gets a (mostly) undeserved reputation:
As with any sort of master’s degree, seminary usually costs a healthy chunk of change. Sometimes, people who want to go to seminary simply can’t afford it. It’s easier to deal with the death of a dream if the dream becomes unappealing. Hence, the vilification of seminary. I wish that everyone who wanted to attend seminary had the means to do so. (As a matter of fact, we have some ideas on the back burner that will help facilitate this for some of you!)
This one’s legit. I’ll admit it: I’ve used words in conversation since I’ve been in seminary that I never would have used otherwise. This can be a good thing (broadening vocabulary), but most often it’s a bad thing. Because seminarians spend so much money on their degree (see #4), we feel like we need to get our money’s worth. So we say things like “pre-dispensationalism,” “substitutionary atonement,” and “behoove.” (No joke, a fellow student used the word “behoove” in class and I laughed, out loud, at him. That was unfortunate. He was not a fan after that.) The words aren’t bad, it’s the attitude behind them.
2. The “Jesus” Excuse.
If you’ve spent any time in ministry circles, you’ve heard this at work before. “Jesus didn’t go to seminary, so why should I?” Fair enough. But then the “argument” escalates: “The disciples just followed Jesus around for three years and they didn’t need no seminary. Neither do I!” Or, worse yet, someone tells you they went to “seminary in the Spirit.” *shudder*. Most often, people who use this line of logic do so because of the other three reasons listed on this list. Which leads me to the last one. . . .
This, by far, is the number one reason seminaries get a bad rap here in the U.S. Our Christian culture smacks of anti-intellectualismÃ¢â‚¬â€œthe subtle but lethal belief that engaging God with the mind is somehow unspiritual, or even sinful. There are myriad (seminary wordÃ¢â‚¬â€œsee #3) reasons why this belief persists (Gnosticism, Hellenistic thought, the Church’s reaction to the Enlightenment, Romanticism, etc.). It boils down to this thought: Flesh (material world) is bad. Spirit (unseen world) is good. The mind gets lumped into the “bad” category and the intellect is looked at as a villain to be eliminated rather than an ally to be utilized in understanding this great God we serve! Dallas Willard says that “Jesus is the most brilliant man who ever lived. He is the smartest person in the history of the human race.” Our charge in Scripture is to love God with all our heart, strength, soul and Ã‚Â … anyone? …. mind!
So there you have it. Some reasons why seminaries can be the neglected step-child of the evangelical world.
To the skeptics out there, I understand your concerns. But listen to this: The very first class I took at seminary, the professor got up in front of the class and said, “I want you to learn this stuff so you can know God better.” Another professor of mine said, “If you can’t connect your theology to your love for God, it’s worthless. Your theology becomes worthless.” Isn’t that something you can get behind?
Question: What have been your experiences with seminary? Either yourself or watching people you know?