The Conservative Seminarian

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Category: Musings

Why Seminary?

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:

What Seminary Gave Me

Study

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No Good Representative Goes Unpunished

I recently read a social media post by an outraged citizen (who I do not know) decrying his local government. It seems that their crime was having the nerve to consider re-opening a matter for a second round of voting that had mustered up a 54% to 46% split it’s first time around.

Clearly, this gentleman was among the 54%, as he lambasted his representatives for their audacity in even discussing the idea further (as if a difference of 4 out of 100 people is a healthy majority to begin with….but that is a matter for another day).

Now, I happened to know absolutely nothing about the matter being voted on and therefore had no opinion on its outcome. Which is irrelevant to the case because the flaws with this gentleman’s thinking have absolutely nothing to do with which side one happened to line up on in the debate. The point is that he did not understand principled representative government, and in that, he is not alone. The vast majority of our country, including its leaders, do not understand it. And if they did most of them would hate it.

Here’s the thing: a representative is not merely a mouthpiece of the people. If he were, there would be no need for representatives at all. Think about it. In a pure brute democracy (which we are about to discover is a terrible thing), all you really need is some fast n’ ready slick n’ easy electronic votation device to tally up the votes lickety-split and let some faceless clerk in some excessively-named office know what the will of the people is (or at least 50.0001% of the ones that voted). If representatives are merely puppets of the people, there is no need for them. They are nothing more than exceedingly expensive yes-men.

At least one reason representatives exist is the assumption that they will occasionally tell the people “no.” Representatives are guardrails against mob rule.

Now, in order to do their jobs well they will first need to know more about the political and cultural topics of the day than the average Joe that they represent. They will need to be experts in many fields. And because average Joe has a real job and does not have the time to become an expert in many fields, representatives are paid to do just that.

In addition to knowing more and knowing better, they will also need the backbone to take principled stands against the will of their constituents when necessary for the good of those very constituents. It’s very like parenting. And as you know parents are quite often not the most popular folks around the house.

After a mere two qualifications you can probably see why good representatives are nearly extinct. In America, you simply can’t be a good representative and stay in office. People do not like to be told no. Do it once or twice and you’re sure to lose reelection. And since reelection is the primary goal of nearly all politicians, they simply do not operate in a world of “no’s”.

In order for this to change, citizens of good will and conservative values need to better understand good representative government and do their best to elect leaders who understand it even better than we do. We ought to be the first to applaud a representative who takes a principled stand, especially if it is an unpopular one, and maybe even if it contradicts what we wanted him to do.

A virtuous republic cannot exist without virtuous people. And while there are precious few of these left, the ones remaining would do far more for their communities and country if we encouraged good representatives rather than punishing them.

You Say It Best When You Say Nothing At All

Who knew that the lyrics to a cheesy Allison Krauss song (I’m proud to say I had to Google that fact) could provide a lesson in self-discipline?

If you’ve been alive recently you realize that the rhetoric in this country has reached a deafening roar. While we’ve always been a nation of enthusiastic narcissists, the din of unbridled and uninformed opinion-slinging has grown to an especially cacophonic level in recent days as the world continues spinning towards its eventual demise. What’s more, upwards of 346% of what is spoken and written is complete bilge (it is not lost upon me that you may judge this piece just so). Being a nation that has always loathed anything remotely smelling of aristocracy (see: U.S. History) we instead blindly race to the furthest thing from it: unmitigated, unrestrained, undisciplined, anarchic, total equality. We will have no experts to rule over us. Or better, we will all count ourselves experts and everyone’s voice will matter equally. Everyone’s an expert. On everything one decides to speak on. And I mean everything. Let me illustrate: perhaps you’ve heard of Facebook? [end of illustration]

Unfortunately, Christians are not exempt from this reckless, undisciplined way of thinking and acting. We are very often the ones pumping more bilge into the streets and splashing this sewage about on the pant legs of any poor fellow who happens to wander by our virtual barber shop while we are pontificating on things we’ve never bothered to research more thoroughly than a quick perusal of the blog that most often agrees with us and perhaps a sentence or two from a corresponding Wikipedia page (I fear that with many conversations I observe I am actually giving more credit than is due here). Who knew that years of effort in theology, philosophy, and history might help?

What I’m encouraging us to consider is shutting up.

Now hear me out. I’m not saying we can never say anything again. What I am arguing for is that we patiently work ourselves into a position such that what we say is first true, then substantive, and thereby contributes to a meaningful conversation. I have to warn you, this requires discipline and likely a greater amount of effort than we’ve put into most everything else in our lives.  There aren’t many things harder than controlling one’s spirit when an opponent’s bilge bombs start that little red flushing mechanism that turns one’s face into a stoplight (doesn’t Proverbs 16:32 have something to say about this?).

But doing the hard work necessary to transform our current way of doing business has some significant benefits.

First, it will actually build character. You see, saying no to oneself is the difference between a child and an adult. We help our children develop character by telling them no because they are (more or less) incapable of telling themselves no. As they grow and mature, the hope is that they become better and better at saying no to themselves. By the time they leave our care they need to be pretty doggone proficient at it. So you see, when someone who looks and smells like an adult cannot tell himself no, the question deserves to be asked: is he really an adult at all? Being large and smelly are not the only indicators of adulthood. There are intangible elements as well. And the more we tell ourselves no when we really, really, really want to lash out, the more like adults we are behaving.

Second, it will tone down the rhetoric and likely enhance the case you wanted to make anyways (especially if it was a correct idea that you simply aren’t capable of defending yet). Because bilge is flammable, it inflames. It does not soothe. The more you pump, the hotter the blaze rages and the less likely folks are to be able to hear the few comrades around you who have done the hard work to become experts (aristocrats, if you like); those who are trying to argue reasonably, properly, gently, and courageously in generally the same direction as you. Your silence actually increases the effectiveness of their work.

Third, it will make you a better interlocutor. I have no doubt, if you are as passionate about your subject as your warm red cheeks indicate, that saying no to yourself will provide the fuel you need to drive you to the place of study. I am convinced that there is no greater motivator for learning to argue a case well than realizing that you are really shoddy at it right now and, instead of lazily going forward and pumping more bilge anyways, forcing yourself to shut up until you have taken the time to dig up something of value to contribute (if you choose instead to pump bilge at this point you take a step backwards; that’s how it works).  Please understand, for many subjects it may take years of disciplined silence and study before you are ready to contribute. But, by and by, you’ll have a real chance to shape a meaningful conversation rather than hopping up and down with the rest of the clowns in the middle of Piccadilly Circus and hoping to be heard above the din.

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