I know I heard it before going to seminary, that seminary was a place where many peoples’ faith in God died – hence the “cemetery”. “Be careful,” they would say, “You go in really solid, knowing what you believe, and you come out unsure of anything.” I was cautious about that sentiment and now at the midpoint of my seminary experience have a few more questions I want to ask back to those people that warned me of the potential death of my faith.
For instance, when we assume that faith is really strong outside a more focused, scholarly approach, do we mean it in the sense that an aspiring psychologist should be careful so they don’t overanalyze all future relationships because they’ll know too much, or do they mean it in the sense that an academic approach is antithetical to faith, that is to know God?
I’ll admit, some of the seminary experience is about the study of what others have said about God rather than the pursuit of God. But that’s not so different than training concert pianists to study Beethoven before trying to compose their own music, is it? We shouldn’t assume that our personal pursuits should disregard or be ignorant of all the people who have put serious heart, soul, and mind into this before we were ever born, right?
I do think that it is wrong to think of seminary as a professional school. In other words, I don’t think it should lead automatically to ordination. Even physicians have to go through a residency and nowadays, likely a fellowship, to go along with their M.D.s before being considered proficient at their craft. I think an M.Div should also be seen as a starting point.
Do I have more questions about God now having experienced seminary? Yes, but if I may say so, I think they’re good questions that the Scriptures provide room for. They are questions that I’m going to have to really seek the heart of God for, questions that I may never have an answer to, and to be honest, that’s OK with me. I would rather be with God out in the wilderness, than to stay on a secure mountaintop without God.
And that’s where I feel the fears about seminary, and maybe it depends on the seminary, need to be checked. It’s not everything, and you can certainly do ministry without studying at a seminary, but it’s a great place to be honed, to gain tools, to learn the languages, to understand the traditions, and find space to operate, experiment with ideas of worship and liturgy, and work with other future ministers. And what I hear from some professors, you may even find God here (scary, but better a calling here than not at all, right?)
But I will say this, I am more cautious with simple answers about the Christian faith. I am more sensitive to those who have been wounded. I am less certain about Christian apologetics (I used to love apologetics!), not because I think the faith shouldn’t be defended, but because I think if the point is to prove anything, it is to prove that we are transformed by the truth of Christ, not to feel that we right or are intelligent on the same rational grounds as those who question the faith.
But what do you think? Does it look like that on the outside? Or do you feel that seminary is too risky a venture for the faithful?