by Jonathan Hamilton
My wife and I recently announced to our church that we would be leaving next year so that I could return to seminary full-time in pursuit of a Master of Divinity degree. This is something we had been mulling, discussing with trusted counselors, and praying about for a year. It was not an easy decision and it did not come lightly. And while we had time to grow into the idea, many people hearing such news are confronted with the question for the first time: why go to seminary?
While I do not expect that everyone would weigh the answers below and come to the same decision we did, I want to explain, as best I can, why we chose to do this.
First, and most importantly, we believe this is what the Lord wants us to do.
“How do you know, did he speak to you? There’s no chapter and verse in the Bible that says to go to seminary.”
No, he didn’t speak to us. And no, there’s not a chapter and verse that specifically tells us to do this. But there’s also not a chapter and verse in the Bible that tells me I shouldn’t run Aunt Edna over with a steamroller. Thankfully, we are expected to take Biblical commands and principles, like “Thou shalt not murder,” and apply them specifically to Aunt Edna’s situation. The Bible is not a blueprint for life that tells you where every hinge, and screw, and shim goes. It is sufficient, not exhaustive. This means that wisdom, knowledge, and discernment are needed in the Christian life. In other words, much of the time we do not have a specific command to go on. Most of the time we are making judgments about what is right and wrong. And frankly, judgments between right and wrong tend to be the easier part. The hardest judgments to make are not between right and wrong, but between good and best. I think this is the point of Philippians 1:9-11, one of my favorite passages in the Bible:
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ; having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
In our judgment, going to seminary right now is the best choice we can make. That wasn’t true three years ago, and it may not be true if we waited another three years. But right now, in our judgment, it seems to be so.
That main reason is undergirded and evidenced by three subordinate reasons starting with this one: desire. There is a side of us, as conservative Christians, that can erroneously discount desire or place it under suspicion. And while it is always good to weigh one’s desires against Scriptural principles, desire in and of itself is not evil. The desires of a pure heart can be precisely what the Lord uses to reveal his will to us. Psalm 37:4-5 says:
Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
But here’s the sobering thing: making decisions based on desires requires us to be the kind of people who delight ourselves in the Lord. The Lord designed it so that the desires of those who delight in him would be true and strong compasses (though not infallible), guiding us as if by the light of the noonday. And the opposite must also be true. If we are not delighting ourselves in the Lord, undoubtedly our hearts will lead us astray, like a blind man walking unassisted in the black of night. So desire can only be used as a guide when one can say, “As best as I can tell, I am delighting myself in the Lord. I am seeking him first in this, and not merely me.” The glorious thing is that, if this is an honest assessment, he makes his desires ours, so that we too may delight in the way that he leads us. It is not a dreary thing to serve the Lord, it is a delight. And right now, the Lord has placed a strong desire in my heart, even a delight, in the idea of pursuing robust pastoral training that would prepare me to better serve him for whatever years he gives me. I have seen how immensely the tiny bit of seminary I’ve had so far has benefited myself, my family, and my ministry at our church and I want to pursue the full seminary experience and finish the job. I have no doubt this training will not only serve the Lord’s church better, but also my precious wife and child. These considerations matter deeply to me.
Third, we believe God uses circumstances to direct us. Right now, in our lives, it seems that he is lining up the circumstances to lead us to seminary. I won’t give an exhaustive list here, but a representative sample would start with the timing. I am 33 years old, and believe that if I do not pursue this soon, the opportunity (and likely the desire) will slip past. And if my desire for seminary is an accurate representation of the Lord’s desire for me, this would actually result in disobedience. It is also true that our daughter is barely one year old. If we begin seminary soon, we will likely be able to wrap up my degree by the time that she is entering Kindergarten. That would make for a very sensible time to transition from seminary to the next ministry the Lord has in store for us. A third note of interest is the fact that the Lord gave Stephanie the opportunity to complete a PhD in Biomedical Engineering during our time here in Michigan, which we never quite understood how he would use in her life as a pastor’s wife. One of the many potential ways he might use that degree is during our time at seminary in the Twin Cities, which is an area rife with universities and several companies that operate in the sphere of her degree field. She is equipped to make a healthy enough salary in part-time work to make a significant difference in our income while still having most of her time to be at home with our daughter. Several of my friends who have been to seminary were blessed to have wives with nursing degrees and the wife’s income was invaluable during those lean seminary years. This will be a significant blessing in our family life as I try to juggle part-time work with seminary training.
A fourth factor has been the wise counsel of trusted pastors and mature Christian friends. I have not talked to a single seminary-trained pastor who regretted the decision we are now making. All have strongly encouraged us to seriously consider this opportunity, and have recounted the immense wealth that they gleaned from their years in school. They speak of the beneficial discipline of regimented training, the meaningful mentoring relationships with professors, the camraderie of other men undergoing the same rigors and delighting in the same treasures. I long for these things.
This is not an exhaustive list of all of our reasons, but even if it were these would be enough.
Even given these four factors, this has not been an easy decision. We are comfortable here in Michigan. We have a loving church family, deep friendships, and rich memories. We love our house (especially our soapstone woodstove), our neighbors, and even our pickup truck. We don’t look forward to starting over in seeking a church, finding new friends, and re-acclimating to minus-40 winter days. But since we believe the Lord is leading this way, we trust his plan and know that he has joys in store for us that we cannot imagine.
So based on the weight of the evidence, in our judgment, this is the right thing to do. Yea, the best thing. And with that in mind, though our hearts and knees quake ever so slightly, we proceed in confidence knowing that a good, wise, powerful God is pointing the way. And with that assurance we view this step as a fruit of righteousness that we pray will one day help us to stand sincere and blameless before the One who makes perfect judgment.
Other helpful insights on the question “Why Seminary?” can be found at the following links: