I’m sitting in a dorm room in Indiana, miles away from my family. Really, all I want to do is hold my baby. I’m here to take a class as I progress toward earning the elusive “Master of Divinity” degree. I don’t have a roommate this week, so the evenings are spent in this tiny room with nothing but a desk and a bed. I feel a little like a monk right now.
All of this time away from family, all the money, all the time away from my job, all the hard work…it makes one wonder – why do it? There’s really nothing tangible to gain. In my line of work, it doesn’t mean a promotion or a raise. I could continue to do my job for as long as I want without any seminary degree at all – there are all sorts of easier ways to get ministerial credentials. That’s not to mention the negative arguments against it. For instance, the idea that more education often makes ministers less relevant to those they are trying to reach, which seems to be true to some extent. Or that it’s really just a pride thing, a desire to rack up credentials…which could be another valid point. And of course there’s the problem of becoming a dogmatic “know-it-all,” which is I suppose another risk.
So why do it? Just in an exercise in self flagellation? As I sit here tonight and ponder this, here are a few conclusions I’ve come up with:
I’m just curious. This is probably the most fundamental reason. I just wanna know stuff. I don’t have to be able to immediately apply it to my ministry context. Who knows if I ever even will or not. I just like to learn – it’s satisfying, challenging, fulfilling, all sorts of things. I took a strengths finder test once, and this is where one sees my “input” strength coming through. For me, immediate usefulness does not comprise the totality of something’s value.
My education so far has made me less dogmatic. That’s right. Another way of putting it might be that it’s made me more generous. Instead of convincing me even more of the things I thought I knew, I’d say that learning in this fashion has opened my eyes to the broad universe of very bright and sincere people who think differently than me on various issues. In fact, when it comes to being narrow minded, I think that a person who hasn’t studied is at greater risk, because they may not have been exposed to the overwhelming number of different views on any one subject. This can be discouraging sometimes, it can be enlightening other times, but for the most part, it’s made me take a chill pill and relax a bit. Ultimately, this is an advantage in engaging people with different worldviews. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have certain dogmas that I’ll fight for. It just means that I have fewer of them; and the ones that I do have, I know with greater precision why I have them.
I want God to use me to stem the tide. The tide I’m talking about here is that of shallow theology that is downright harmful. Take, for instance, the prevalence of gnosticism within our churches today (that is one heresy that just won’t go away!) that when thrown in with other various doctrines (premillenial dispensationalism perhaps being one?) which are assumed by the masses to be clearly scriptural seem to have led to a situation where even the most devout evangelicals can go about their lives supposing that real, vital engagement with the poor is somehow a waste of time and that concern for environmental issues are just not important, while the practical implications of other much more central doctrines (like…..the incarnation??) are simply unknown. While most of these Christians would concede that we ought to be concerned for these “earthly” issues, it’s often done so with a chip on their shoulder. I’m not saying that pastors just need to start using big words. In fact, I’d prefer the opposite. I’m just saying that without an awareness of the currents swirling around us, how will we know where to begin to change the tide?
Do I think all pastors should have to go to seminary? No way. Denominations like mine, which are more heart oriented than head oriented, are closer to the right track than others. There’s absolutely no telling how the Holy Spirit will use a person who is courageous enough to utter, “Here am I Lord! Send me!” Besides, if education was a requirement for ministry then many of our heroes in the Bible couldn’t work at our churches. However, as I’ve banged out this blog post, which was definitely more for myself than for the 8 or 9 people who might actually read it, I’ve been helped toward the affirmation that this is my calling. For now.
Interesting point on your education making you more generous. That's probably the greatest common thread throughout all my years of education once I got out of seminary. Honestly, I think it's learning to focus on the right things–peace, grace, love, etc.I hold much more loosely to any doctrine beyond basic Christian orthodoxy and mostly it's the result of more education, not less. People who fear the truth will hold tighter to those peripheral doctrines and interpretation because they don't want to know what others might think.