Category Archives: School

On returning to seminary

Two years ago, I made the difficult decision to walk away from a full-tuition scholarship at Ashland Theological Seminary, having completed half of a Master of Divinity degree at that time (about 15 classes). The combination of two major life circumstances precipitated the decision. I was about to become a dad for the first time, and a dear friend who was dying of cancer had just moved to a town near Kent. The prospect of continuing graduate school, being a new dad, and being available to sick friend, all while still working at least 40 hours per week with the church, left me fearing I would not do any of  these things well. I took the feeling in my gut as motivation to seek God and His counsel for my life. I still wanted (very much) to continue in school. With great creativity and painstaking precision, I produced a schedule of how I could pull off all of these pursuits. Yet in prayer, time and time again, I sensed God asking me to let go of seminary. The other commitments were more important. To pursue all of them would cause all of them to suffer. And I would be left spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. And though, on the surface, giving up what would amount to about $24,000 of free education makes no sense, I knew in my heart it was exactly what God was asking me to do. So I did.

Last week I returned to seminary, this time taking only one class (God again provided a scholarship to cover the cost of this class). On the hour-long drive to Ashland, I couldn’t help but think back to the decision I made two years ago. I remembered the peace in my heart as I sat in the office of the seminary Dean to inform her of my decision. But I also remembered the sadness I felt at the forfeit of a tremendous blessing and a personal passion… the disappointment that comes when God rearranges the timetables we create for our lives. Yet I am absolutely convinced God’s will was done.

Now two weeks into seminary, I am realizing how much has changed since the last time I started seminary. Tiffany and I had no kids, we had just moved to Kent to plant a church, and I was serving as a regular staff member of the church. Now we have two kids, our church has been planted and has influence on campus, and I am a pastor with a great deal more responsibility in the church. I have realized this: The blessings of these realities so far outweigh the financial blessing of a scholarship.

Seminary, for me, has always been an exercise in humility. To learn about God is to experience God, and to experience God is to be humbled. Theology is not primarily an intellectual pursuit, it’s a deeply spiritual one. When that focus is lost, seminary becomes something terribly dangerous. Andrews Walls has said “Theology is an act of adoration fraught with the risk of blasphemy.” Theology demands humility. Not only is there a risk of blasphemy but worse there is a risk of spiritual pride, the myth of intellectual ascent to a place of superiority over the authors of Scripture, or even God himself. For me, having to surrender my passion for a season and focus my attention on more important matters has produced in me a humility that I pray guides and shapes my second round of seminary.

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Why you shouldn’t go to seminary

I am a full-time seminary student. And I have enjoyed my experience at Ashland Seminary. In fact God has used it to deepen my relationship with Him and my love and commitment to my faith community and the Church universal. I have met God in the pages of textbooks, in academic journal articles, in the struggle to learn the Hebrew language, in conversations with others on the journey, and in quiet moments of reflection as I wrestle with the inherent weight and responsibility and danger of knowledge.

Still I am not sold on all aspects of theological education. A friend of mine recently pointed me to a blog entry with the same title as this post. The author offers an honest critique of seminaries. I am linking the post here. Read the article then come back here to leave a comment.

On the balance between scholarship and discipleship

Since starting seminary over a year ago, I have often wrestled with this question: How do I merge the scholarly world of intellect and information with the “real world” of faith and discipleship? In some traditions, talk of seminary and intellect has such negative connotations that anyone taking an interest in such things is deemed suspect. Destined to fall into the abyss of cerebral knowledge absent of authentic worship. In other circles, knowledge and intellect are so revered that church leadership is withheld until certain academic standards have been met. And Christian discipleship can, in this scene, be relegated to a secondary place after the pinnacle passion of knowledge.

But does it have to be this way? Does there need to be such extremes? Can the worlds of knowledge and discipleship collide in such a way that each speaks a word into the other? On the long drives home from school, I pray that this “collision” of sorts would happen in my life. I dream of becoming a man whose discipleship is inescapably fueled by his academic pursuits, and whose academic pursuits are tempered by and understood entirely in the context of discipleship.

I think T. F. Torrance hits the nail on the head in this struggle to balance the two:

“The transformation of the human mind and its renewal through assimilation to the mind of Christ is something that has to go on throughout the whole of our life—it is a never-ending discipleship in repentant rethinking as we take up the cross and follow Christ. That is why we cannot be theologians without the incessant prayer in offering ourselves daily to God through the reconciling and atoning mediation of Christ; and that is also why we cannot be evangelists without being theologians whose minds are constantly schooled in obedience to Christ.”

Book list for fall quarter

I finished 3 courses over the summer term- Missional Church, Special Issues in Pastoral Counseling, and Christianity in the Southern Hemisphere- and now have begun the fall quarter at Ashland Theological Seminary. Below is a list of the books I will be reading for each of this term’s courses:

Christian Theology II with Dr. Allan Bevere

  • Michael Jinkins, Invitation to Theology. Downers Grove: IVP, 2001
  • Veli-Matti Karkkainen, An Introduction to Ecclesiology: Ecumenical, Historical, and Global Perspectives. Downers Grove: IVP, 2002.
  • Alister McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, 3rd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2006.
  • Christopher Seitz (ed), Nicene Christianity: The Future for a New Ecumenism. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2001.

Person in Prayer with Dr. Terry Wardle

  • Ole Hallesby, Prayer. Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1994.
  • Leighton Ford, The Attentive Life: Preserving God’s Presence in All Things. Downers Grove: IVP, 2008.

Christian Worship with Dr. Rob Douglass

  • Barry Liesch, The New Worship. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001.
  • Pedrito Maynard-Reid, Diverse Worship: African-American, Caribbean, and Hispanic Perspectives. Downers Grove: IVP, 2000.
  • Rory Noland, The Heart of the Artist. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999.
  • Robert Webber, Worship Old and New: A Biblical and Practical Introduction. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Hebrew and character formation

Spring quarter is now over. Three more classes down, way too many to list yet to go. What is both exciting and saddening is that I am now done with Hebrew coursework (after 9 months of intensive study). I recently spent time reflecting on how the study of the language of the Old Testament has influenced the formation of my character.  This is what I came up with:

What I must first affirm is that the actual exposure to the Scriptural text, oftentimes more robust in meaning in the original language, brings about a transformation that no doubt shapes character. However, equally impactful for me is how the study of Hebrew offers me a constant reminder of the great weight of handling the inspired Word of God. Since beginning this course, I have often been reminded of a few verses from the New Testament:

Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1 NIV).

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV).

The task of shepherding the people of God through the ministry of teaching and equipping is indeed a weighty one. So, as I engaged in the study of Hebrew, I constantly asked God to grant me a heart of deep passion and eager willingness to submit to Him. I often asked Him to allow my character to “keep pace” with what I am learning in the original language. I was reminded of how blessed I am to learn the language and now feel a nearly immediate instinct to share what I learn with others. Yet when I consider sharing with others, another instinct rises to the surface: to check where I am in my journey to know and experience the God revealed through the medium of language.