How Seminary Has Shaped Me
The more I learn, the less I know.
I’ve grown to love that saying. It feels truer now than it ever has.
And I’m pretty sure this is the opposite of what most would expect to feel after 3 or 4 years of intensive study. It sure isn’t what I expected to feel. I mean the degree has the word “master” in it. Surely I’m supposed to have mastered something by now…
Only, I haven’t. I haven’t begun to master anything. I guess this leads to the first way I’ve been shaped by this season:
I’ve grown to see this time of study less as the acquisition of knowledge
and more as the gaining of tools.
Seminary has equipped me by giving me a full tool belt that I know how to use. I will spend the rest of my life using these tools to become a better student of Scripture.
In some people’s minds, you ought to be able to ask a seminary grad/minister/pastor anything about Scripture and simply wait a few short seconds for the “right” answer to come flowing off their tongue. But I’ve found that this is a big misconception.
In fact, once you’ve studied a little, you become aware of complexities which go undetected in a surface reading of Scripture. Those complexities can’t be given justice in an elevator conversation. I had it happen just the other day – I was presented with a loaded question with an assumed window of 2-3 minutes to answer. I responded, “Let’s do this over dinner.”
So back to my point. Seminary is more about gaining tools than acquiring the most exhaustive amount of knowledge. Yes, I have gained a lot of knowledge in the process. But let’s be honest. It barely scratches the surfaces of all there is to know of Scripture, let alone of the God who wrote it.
The tools I’ve gained are things like Hebrew, Greek, an understanding of exegesis [a term I couldn’t even define before seminary – so you’re not alone if you have no idea what I’m talking about!], and a much better grasp of the one, big narrative that Genesis-Revelation is telling.
I’m carrying these tools with me into the future and will keep using them to deepen my understanding of the Word, and more importantly, my awe of Him. And speaking of awe…
I’ve developed a deep admiration for Biblical scholars and the work they do.
Not until I sat under a few did I realize what rare treasures in our midst Biblical scholars are. These people have spent their lives – as in, decades – studying the languages, history, and culture surrounding the Scriptures.
I remember one of my earliest realizations of the magnitude of their work. I was still a pretty new student at Gordon-Conwell when someone mentioned what our professor’s doctoral dissertation had been written about: shame and honor in the book of Esther. Most dissertations are a couple hundred pages – so upon hearing this, my head was spinning. I couldn’t imagine pulling together a paragraph on shame and honor in the book of Esther, let alone a few hundred pages! My mind was blown. In a very small way, I was starting to understand the level of discipline, sacrifice, and study that scholars engage in as a lifestyle.
That initial realization kept expanding with each new semester. I was amazed all over again with each new professor I sat under. Each was unbelievably sharp – and not just knowledgeable and well-spoken, but worshipful. That’s what makes these people so rare. They study for endless hours and give their very lives to it because they cherish the Word. They love the God who authored it.
There are so many Biblical scholars out there who don’t love Jesus and don’t see Scripture as the Word of God. They’ve got all the knowledge, but they’re missing the Holy Spirit. They’re missing the worship. That’s what makes the scholars I’ve sat under such gems. There aren’t many of them in the world.
I’ve grown to see their study as a beautiful act of worship. “Exegesis is worship,” Dr. Petter told us repeatedly. It’s true. Pouring one’s life out in pursuit of understanding the original text of Scripture is worship. I remember another one of my professors, Dr. McDowell, saying something similar – that some of her most profound moments with God have been in the library, in the midst of her study.
The fact that our world – even the Christian world – mostly ignores their work makes me admire them all the more. The average NY Times Best Seller will never hold a candle to what these scholars are writing. And the lopsidedness of the fluff that sells versus the substance that remains hidden is not lost on me. It’s actually annoys me a little.
But that’s not why these scholars do what they do. They don’t write for millions of dollars or talk show appearances; they write because the Spirit compels them. Because Scripture is worth writing substantially about. They study, they sacrifice, they write…because it’s an act of worship.
Scholarship, engaged with humility, is a beautiful act of worship.
More to follow…