It’s been a little over a year since I moved to Covenant Theological Seminary to start their Master’s in Exegetical Theology program so I wanted to give you an update on what it’s been like and how I’ve changed over that time.
The Usefulness of Seminary in General
I used to be skeptical about seminary. A pastor’s degree costs about $40,000 (my degree is around $104,000 with PhD). That seems like a lot of money. But think about it this way – assume the pastor pastors for 30 years after graduating with an annual church budget of $500,000. Over his career that equals $15 million or 0.3% of the cost of seminary. Isn’t spending 0.3% of the church budget on training the primary leader to shepherd, preach, and read the Bible worth it? Of course it is.
What I am doing is a little different than a pastor. In seminary you only learn some tools to read the Bible better; there isn’t time to actually learn the Bible well. With my degree, and hopefully career, you learn the tools to read the Bible, implement the tools, then try to make better tools, and then bring the resulting knowledge to the church. Doing that costs a lot of effort and money. But ministry costs money, and since we are talking about eternal souls and the health of the church it is money well spent (see donation button on right of screen).
Before coming here I had studied the Bible diligently for years and so was surprised to come here and find out how ignorant I am. Being humbled is a good thing. That is another advertisement for seminary. No one can do it alone, and few churches are equipped to give the kind of training you get at seminary.
Covenant Theological Seminary
To be honest I picked the seminary I’m attending simply because it was close to home and had a two year master’s program. However, I don’t believe I could have picked a better school. The focus is on reading the whole Bible well and reading it as one story – creation, rebellion, redemption, and consummation. The faculty is great. Going to office hours is actually encouraged, and many of the professors will talk to you over your appointment time. That being said I don’t think I would recommend it for academic work. If you are considering an academic ministry attending a university might be a better option as that makes getting into a good PhD program much easier from what I’ve heard.
Surprisingly I’ve disagreed with very little of what has been taught. In my first semester a cessationist viewpoint was taught for about 10 minutes. But I was allowed to discuss that in class with the professor as they are very open. My Acts and Paul teacher is a cessationist so that was a bit odd. Again, though, he’s a great guy and willing to discuss the issues.
From a Charismatic perspective it is odd that, to my knowledge, the seminary doesn’t offer any spiritual development classes. The future pastors aren’t taught how to pray or given much time at all to pray, for example.
To my knowledge I knew no Presbyterians before coming to seminary. It is always interesting to be around groups of people who are different than you; you see some of their strengths and weaknesses and are therefore better able to see your own weaknesses (and strengths hopefully). The best thing I’ve encountered is their focus on wisdom and knowing the Bible. Presbyterians are very good at Biblical doctrine and understanding God’s practical instruction for life.
There are some sharp differences. My understanding of the kingdom of God, personal piety, and some ethical issues is just plain different. Coming out of the prayer movement to here, the lack of prayer and worship meetings is a bit jarring. My guess is that is because I’m coming out of the Pietist movement whereas that movement bypassed the Presbyterian church for the most part. Differences aside, the Presbyterians I’ve encountered are doing their best to be faithful to what they understand God to be asking of them.
While I have thrived intellectually, spiritually it has been a hard year for me. Worship meetings are like breathing spiritually for me, and so not being involved with regular worship and prayer has hurt. On the bright side, there are some musical folks on campus that are interested in starting prayer meetings, and so I very much hope that comes off. Also the financial and academic pressure tends to wear one down after a while. To get into a good program I have to have a 3.8 GPA or better, which means every assignment has to be as good as I can make it.
Our biggest mistake has been not getting a support network before we moved here. Having people regularly praying for us and supporting us financially would have been very helpful. Christianity is a group activity and so shouldn’t be attempted alone.