Avaris to Avanim
Pursuing Holiness

Advice to Incoming Seminary and Theology School Students

As a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, I've been regularly asked by various friends about if they or an acquaintance should attend Fuller or another seminary.  Depending on the context of the question, they might be asking about some aspect of a particular school (ie, is there a strong linguistics program), but otherwise I usually begin the conversation with asking what they are intending to gain from going to seminary.  This post as such is not so much about how to pick a theological school as general reflections from my experience and some common advice I've given as a result.

Seminary won't give you answers

The good ones don't at least.  If your hope is that going to seminary will solve doubts about your faith, it won't and it's not meant to.  The nature of a good theological school is not that it gives you the answers, but that it forces you to ask better questions.  The main audience for someone going into seminary is that they have a calling for vocational ministry and/or teaching.  Seminary is therefore primarily meant to empower you to think critically in those contexts.  If the core foundation of your faith hasn't been set before coming to seminary, it will more likely break what faith you have rather than fix it. 

Your faith will be different

In the opening convocation at Fuller, I remember Dr. Richard Mouw advising us that one thing would be a certain outcome of seminary: We will be changed.  There was no qualification that this was necessarily a change for the better, but for most it is.  This is a natural outcome of studying with people who's faith looks different, being exposed to new social issues, or new Biblical perspectives.  For instance, most churches don't teach about Documentary Hypothesis, but that will likely be one of the first things you learn about in an Old Testament survey course and you'll have to wrestle with, in some way, the idea that the Pentateuch had multiple sources.  Or you may be required to read from African American theologians who view the Exodus in a very different perspective from your understanding.  Your views on political issues from welfare to war will be confronted.  As a result, you will likely find that your theological and social priorities may shift in the process. 

My advice regarding this is, above all, take humility with you.  Take this time to understand other viewpoints - even those which you may ultimately reject.  By all means become socially engaged, but don't miss out on getting to see the world through the eyes of another believer in the meantime.

Find a church and commit to it

If there's any point here to remember it's this: Seminary is not a substitute for participating in a church community.  You will have times where your head will be swimming with new ideas.  Having a Christian community will help you keep a solid perspective as you navigate through these ideas.  In my second quarter at Fuller, I had a professor warn the class, "I do not have to claim the gift of prophecy to predict that some of you will get so caught up in a particular social issue that you will leave the Gospel behind entirely."  And he was right.  Christianity is meant to be experienced foremost in the context of community, where the Biblical stories and theology get played out in the lives of people and the choices they make.  There is simply no book or class that can substitute for this. 

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