Today, Kevin DeYoung posted tips to help you choose the right seminary that I want to pass along to you. Quite helpful. To his list I would add “How Will You Fit At the Seminary?” The trouble with recommending a seminary for charismatic believers is I don’t know any top seminaries that are charismatic. Therefore, DeYoung’s question Have you thought about the tradition you want to be a part of? doesn’t have an obvious answer for us charismatics. What you have to do then is find a solid school that will, at the very least, accept you as you are. I’m solidly in the Reformed camp at this time, but historically the Reformed church has been cessationist. If you pick a staunchly Reformed seminary, they might not accept you, even if you present good support for your beliefs. Personally, I can recommend Covenant Theological Seminary having graduated from there myself. They were extremely supportive and helpful, even the professors that completely disagreed with me. If Covenant doesn’t work for you I’d check out Trinity, Gordon-Conwell, or RTS. Before picking RTS, though, I would confirm their position on charismatic believers as they seem to lean more conservatively Reformed than Covenant.
I’m listening to A Conversation with Derek Thomas, and he goes into the pluses and minuses of seminary around the twentieth minute. He is honest with the problems of seminary, which I really appreciated just having gone myself. But despite the negatives of seminary he says that pastors need some sort of training. Specifically,
There are basic things that you need to know, and need to understand before you can be trusted to be an expounder of Scripture and somebody who deals with people’s hearts and souls. A basic competence in Scripture, in Biblical and Systematic Theology, in worldview, in Biblical languages, in history, unless you want to be the guy who repeats the errors of history, you need to know to know some history.
The history bit really resonates with me. I’ve come to realize that there is nothing new under the sun; the theological debates we have today have already been debated for hundreds and thousands of years. We could save a lot of time if we would just read the conclusions of the best of the orthodox church.
I graduate from Seminary in a week. Having been through most of the process, I want to give those considering seminary some things to think about. Of course, existing pastors who have been to seminary can speak to this much better than I.
The obvious negative is the cost. I’ll be blunt here – seminary is offensively expensive. It’s just silly how much seminary costs. For me it cost $40 a lecture or $12,000 a year (hence the donation button on this blog). An MDiv, the standard pastor’s degree, is around $36,000. Clearly seminary is out of reach financially for almost all potential pastors in the world. Due to the time and money requirements of seminary, the denominations that have expanded historically are those that haven’t required seminary training of their leaders, the Methodists and Baptists of the 19th century and the Pentecostals of the 20th century. Denominations that require seminary simply cannot expand rapidly; seminary, as currently done, isn’t scalable. Of course, there is a downside to this. Pastors without training often, but not always, pastor like they haven’t had training, with some messy results.
At this point you may be thinking, “I don’t need to spend all that money. I’ll just learn everything myself.” Imagine for a moment that instead of seeking to be a pastor, you wanted to be a doctor. How many hospitals would hire you if you said you had taught yourself? I would imagine none. Similarly, you need training from somewhere to be a pastor. Since I’ve been a bit negative about seminary up to this point, let me say some things in its defense. On a personal level, my family has never been happier, and I have loved the experience. In general, you will certainly become a much more knowledgeable and competent pastor if you go to a good seminary than if you don’t. Having experts teach you daily does makes a difference. That fact has to be weighed against the monetary and time costs of seminary.
In my experience the average American evangelical, besides not knowing how to read the Bible well in general, doesn’t know how to read the Historical books theologically, doesn’t understand the major and minor prophets, doesn’t understand how to read apocalyptic parts of the Bible, doesn’t know how to answer modern criticisms of Christianity well, etc. This is because their pastors haven’t taught them how.
The last point, answering modern criticisms of the Bible, is a huge responsibility for pastors these days as so many of our young are leaving the faith when they go to college and face questions their churches haven’t equipped them to answer. According to the Southern Baptist convention, 88% of their youth leave the faith after leaving home. Clearly, learning to address the historicity of Joshua, the creation accounts and modern science, the problem of evil, and apparent discrepancies in the synoptic gospels isn’t a waste of time. These are the very issues that are causing young Christians to fall away in droves. If you as the pastor can’t address these issues, how is your youth group going to? Where are you going to learn how to address them well? A good place is in seminary.
However, I don’t think seminary is absolutely necessary. I much prefer a practical apprenticeship with a pastor who has been to seminary. That way you can learn the knowledge, but also get practical ministry experience, understanding doctrine being only one of the requirements for church leadership after all. However, it may be the case, as it was with me, that there is no one in your church who is seminary trained. In that case you have to find someone you can learn from who has been trained, either by attending a seminary yourself or going through a curriculum such as the one from Third Millenium Ministries.
On Monday I posted that Dr. Michael Bird was coming to the seminary I attend. I was able to ask him a question about productivity, the answer to which I wanted to pass along to you guys.
Dr. Bird has a tremendous literary output, and I asked him what his work schedule was like to allow him to accomplish so much. He kindly answered me in some detail. He started off by telling me that he doesn’t watch much tv. He gets up at 6 am and is at work by 7. He works until 4 and goes home to spend time with the family. Every other night or so he works from 8 pm to 10 pm. I forget what he said about the weekends. He makes sure he writes 1000 words every day. This is a reduced schedule. He used to work from 8 pm to 1 am 6 days a week in addition to his morning work, but can’t keep that up anymore.
One thing he attributed his success to was discipline. He defined discipline as doing what you have to do before doing what you want to do. That’s helpful. Almost all of us would rather be watching tv or surfing the internet than reading hard books, or praying, or running sprints, or whatever discipline we are working on. The best put in the hours whether they feel like it or not.
I’m a foodie and love reading about top chefs, although being in seminary I can’t afford to go to their restaurants anymore. Their work ethic has always inspired me. A top restaurant expects their chefs to work 15 hours a day six days a week, many of them for free (to get experience). Of course this isn’t healthy or balanced, but I love people who push themselves towards excellence. Christian ministers need to be willing to devote themselves to God like cooks devote themselves to food. I don’t believe 15 hours a day is healthy even when it’s spent in ministry. But whatever it looks like for each of us, we need to pour our lives out before God remembering that our labors have eternal value and have great reward.
A friend posted a helpful and funny link containing a chart designed to tell you when to comment or ask questions in class and when to keep quiet. My favorite one is “Is your comment an attempt to teach the professor something you think he doesn’t know” if so “STOP! Don’t speak!” You’d be surprised how common that particular one is.
Today marks the beginning of my final semester in seminary. How the time has flown! I have a great lineup of classes this term:
The World of the New Testament – Concerns the life of Jews, Greeks, and Romans during the time of the New Testament
Prophetical Books – Covers the major and minor prophets. This is with Dr. Collins who was editor of the OT for the ESV. I’m weak on the minor prophets so I should learn a ton.
Historical Books – Covers narrative historical books of the OT. Again I’m pretty weak on these books. I know the story, but don’t know how to read them theologically.
Pentateuch – I’ve already taken this class, but the professor who is teaching it was on sabbatical at the time. Supposed to be one of the best classes at Covenant when he teaches it.
God and Humanity – A systematic theology class concerning, you guessed it, God and man. Dr. Williams (author of Far as the Curse is Found, a great intro to the Biblical story) is an excellent teacher, once you get used to his somewhat brusque approach.
Master’s Thesis – I’ve got until March 4 to turn in 60 to 80 pages concerning Matthew’s reports that faith can move mountains. I didn’t realize the deadline was so soon until the beginning of last week. February is going to be a very, very ugly month. Every morning I tell myself “you only have to write 2 pages today” so as not to panic.
I haven’t written a personal update for a while, and my situation has changed dramatically since the summer so it is time for an update. I came to Seminary planning to get a PhD in New Testament Studies. Last spring I had a personal crisis and switched off the PhD track and into preparation for pastoral ministry. Then during the summer, when I got my spring grades and realized that I was able to do PhD level work, I switched back to the PhD track. Continue reading
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.
The following is a paper I wrote for Reformation and Modern Church History, divided into two posts, that I thought might be of interest to some. My two main take-aways were that there have always been reported healings and prophecy in the church, and that cessationism, the idea that miraculous gifts ceased with the apostles, was primarily held by the Reformers as a way to defend their understanding of Christianity against the Catholic Church. This isn’t pretending to be exhaustive as the assignment was only 8-10 pages. Craig Keener has written the definitive guide, Miracles, in two volumes. The best overall resource I found was Ruthven’s On the Cessation of the Charismata: The Protestant Polemic on Postbiblical Miracles, which goes into the Biblical argument more than Keener does.
The doctrine of continualism is the belief that at least some of the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit described in the Bible continue to this day. I’ve chosen this doctrine instead of its more familiar antonym cessationism, because I personally subscribe to it. However, both doctrines will be treated in this paper. Discussion of continualism has become increasingly important with the growth of Pentecostalism in the last hundred years. Pentecostalism is marked by its belief that spiritual gifts, particularly healing, prophecy, and tongues, continue today. This movement, despite its relative newness, numbers in the hundreds of millions and continues to grow rapidly. Therefore, the history of continualism needs to be carefully considered. In this paper I will present the doctrine throughout history, giving the opinions of prominent leaders from both the Catholic and Protestant church, particularly the opinions of Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Warfield. Warfield will be given the most space as he wrote a book, Counterfeit Miracles, seeking to refute the doctrine that has strongly influenced modern day cessationist believers. As this is a paper about the history of the doctrine, I will not deal with exegetical issues in any great detail. After presenting the history of continualism I will present my own conclusions and discuss how this doctrine applies to modern day Christian practice, particularly in the West.