A few months back I wrote a blog about why I left seminary. I had recently dropped out of the PhD program at DTS and wanted to begin talking about that. It probably didn’t include as much detail as people wanted, but the thing weighing on my heart at the time was that I had needed the break for spiritual reasons and didn’t realize it until later.
I was surprised to hear from a number of people that they were dissatisfied with their seminary experience, and they resonated with some of the things I’d said. But I wanted to be clear then—and even more so now—that I loved my time in seminary. It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to me!
Here are five reasons why:
1. Seminary opened up worlds I never knew existed. I’d spent my whole life in church and knew all the answers in Sunday School. I thought I was ready for ministry and just needed seminary credentials to dive in full time. Ha! In no time I realized that I was clueless about what it means to think carefully, the conversations I was entering that had been going on for centuries, and the ramifications of doctrines I’d never heard of. These new worlds have given me immense perspective on the world we live in and the Word we cherish.
2. Seminary taught me biblical languages. I was an English major but never studied any other languages. When I compared seminaries, DTS stood out to me because of its emphasis on Greek and Hebrew. I knew if I wanted to be a minister of the Bible, I needed to be able to address not just what it says but what it means. My 6 classes on Koine Greek and 4 on Biblical Hebrew were intimidating—sometimes terrifying!—and incredibly hard. But there I learned what language can and can’t do, I learned about the ways we misuse Scripture, I caught a glimpse of other cultures think, and I had the way I think radically changed. What’s more, I know that we were given just enough to be dangerous, that while we finished our requirements we were only just then walking through the door.
3. Seminary introduced me to incredible people. And I’m not talking about guest speakers in chapel (although I may have been star-struck on more than one occasion). I mean world-class minds on faculty, many of whom receive little recognition. I didn’t agree with all of them, but that’s part of the point. I not only had access to them in class, but at the office, coffee shops, and sometimes even at their homes. Then there’s the shock of finding yourself surrounded by peers who are just as serious about ministry as you are, and way more talented. That lesson alone is worth the cost of admission. To run alongside fantastic brothers and sisters during this time was a huge blessing. What’s more, I made lifelong friends with people of all different denominations, yet we could affirm and uphold the same core doctrines.
4. Seminary challenged my faith. In so many ways! It challenged what I believed, how I believed it, and why I believed it. It exposed me to questions I’d never thought of, answers I’d never heard of, and forced me to look at some tough issues square in the eye. The workload itself challenged my ministry, my personal walk, my finances, the way I treat friends and family, etc. Not only do I think all that built character and shaped my thinking, but I couldn’t imagine being confronted with some of these things as an untrained leader with people depending on me. I’ve heard some people have lost their faith while in seminary; it may sound harsh but I say better there than in the pulpit.
5. Seminary reoriented my place in the world. I used to see myself in terms of my local church, my hometown, and especially my personal relationship with Christ. That’s the only context I knew. Seminary handed me a much bigger map, and I’ve only just begun to fill it in. Now I can see my home church in light of its association, in its denomination, in Evangelicalism. I can see rural Michigan in the context of the Midwest, and that in American religion more generally. I can see the 21st century in the context of the 20th, and that of the 19th, and so on. I can plot my tiny dot in a story that spans millennia with a cast of billions. It’s at once exhilarating and deeply humbling.
All I’ve done so far is speak in generalities. I could get granular on any of these topics and have so much to commend to you. What’s more, I know that time will reveal even more ways seminary has blessed me.
These days we have access to huge resources online, often for free. What’s more, as people continue to consolidate into mega churches there’s an increased desire to train people in-house. Technology even offers tools for advanced Bible study. These are all great things. And I have no illusions about seminary being perfect either; it has it’s significant problems, too. But I doubt it will ever be possible to approximate the training I received at seminary in 4 (+1) years anywhere else.
Of course, that’s not to say that I know it all now, that I’m perfect in my ways. All my studies were like the biblical languages in that they weren’t the end of the journey but the beginning.
I’m not saying everyone should go to seminary (although I’m not sure that would be a bad thing). But I know I was supposed to go, and I’m so glad I did. If you want to go deeper in ministry and have questions or concerns about seminary, I’m happy to talk candidly about my time at DTS.