A pastoral thought to my fellow servant leaders in ministry. In the past I have often heard (and even poked fun myself), the play on words between seminary and cemetery. This is as if to say that seminaries are nothing more than breeding ground for dead orthodoxy, whose occupants cannot be but lifeless theologians. But can we fairly criticize anyone for committing ones life to deeper study of Scripture, and more effective ministry? Unfortunately, we belittle them while simultaneously contradicting ourselves and becoming hypocritical in our practice. Before you become pharisaical and seek to stone me for my words, read on.
I can understand why we might have an aversion towards the academic world. After all, many liberal theologians, and indeed secular institutions, have done great damage to the hearts and minds of countless believers. With the undue emphasis in some denominations on formal education, and their criteria for ministry, even some of the first-church Apostles would be disqualified for ministry. This couldn’t be more erroneous.
But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. For here is an enigma that I feel compelled to bring up. Although we often ridicule those in the academic field of theology, whether tongue-in-cheek or veraciously, time and time again we turn to their written works. Resources such as dictionaries, commentaries, lexicons, atlases, archeological journals and so on, become our friends and helpers to aid us in our study. So while we criticize the approach of today’s theologians and their predecessors, we at the same time by our actions acknowledge their work and the benefit they have brought to the body of Christ. Their diligent efforts of study in a specialized area of Christianity occupy the majority of real estate on our bookshelves, and for some of us, in our Bible software.
So then, are we not being unfair, and dare I say, hypocritical if we let them do the hard work for us, while we reap the rewards of their labor and then call them theological corpses? To help shed some light on what I mean, take a look at this truncated list of theologically educated saints who, through their speaking and writing ministries, have helped myriads of believers “grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). It is likely that you also turn frequently to these for Biblical insights:
• H.A. Ironside • William MacDonald • John F. Walvoord • Roy B. Zuck • D. A. Carson • R. Kent Hughes • James Montgomery Boice • Griffith Thomas • M. R. DeHaan • Irving Jensen • Warran Wiersbe • J. Vernon McGee
These are just a handful from my shelf, for this blog would be unnecessarily long otherwise. And the list is miles-long in the history of Christendom.
Now, we don’t have to agree with everything coming out of seminaries. Surely, I don’t! But personally, I am grateful to the Lord and to his servants who continue to make it possible to access invaluable information that would have otherwise taken me a lifetime to gather. In the end, we Bible students, and especially Bible teachers, are better for it.
I view seminarians, those who are genuine brothers and sisters in Christ, differently now. They are a part of the body without whom we pastors, teachers and leaders, would be hard-pressed to function well. Do I think that seminary is required for ministry? Definitely not! But can it help us in our service to God and his people? Well, just take a look at some of the fruit residing on your bookshelves. Mine is full of men and women God has used to bless me, to enrich my walk with Christ, and to help equip me for the ministry to which I have been called.
In closing, this might be a good time to recognize the roles some seminaries and their students have played in the church as an invaluable part of the body. And instead of despising them, to thank God that he has put them in the body. I think Paul sums up the godly attitude we seek after, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.'” (1 Cor 12:21)