The description in your letter of that particular group of students sounds like me when I was learning to swim: I thrashed around as hard as I could just to survive and get out of the water. Many enter seminary with the strange goal of avoiding contamination.
I’ve seen two very different kinds of students try to get through seminary with as little contact as possible. Let’s call them high hurdlers and butterfly swimmers. (The Olympics just ended so sports metaphors are everywhere for me.)
The first group are convinced that seminary is essentially an obstacle standing between the students and their Divine Calling. Every class is just a hurdle to jump over.
They don’t really care about doing the assignments well, or even learning anything from the field the professor is teaching.
Grades, so often overrated, are instead completely ignored. They know that a “C” brings them as close to graduation as an “A”, so why bother? Just hand something in and move on.
So their Church History professor tries to get them to explore the early theological struggles that continue to shape theology. They jump right over.
Their Greek professor can’t get them to consider the grammar and vocabulary of the Bible’s authors, even when it might give depth to their faith depth and clarity to their teaching. Another leap over the hurdle.
Their Homiletics professor can’t get them to imagine that there is more to preaching than sharing their personal testimony. Swoosh!
All they actually want from their classes is a few sermon illustrations to file away, or an idea for this Sunday’s meeting of the youth group.
They just want to get past this required stuff and get out into ministry.
The second sees him or herself as an advanced swimmer. Maybe an Olympic competitor. Too advanced to gain anything from this particular set of coaches.
Picture the butterfly, where the swimmer’s body actually rises above the water with every stroke, as if superior to such mundane things.
I knew a group of students who published alternate reading lists for many of our classes, recommending texts from more conservative viewpoints. They were good hearted folks, and I think they had a variety of motives.
I think they wanted to help conservative students avoid shock and damage from radically different views than they came with.
But I think they were also convinced that the professors were indoctrinating us, keeping us from alternate views.
Swimming the butterfly is an amazing athletic feat. But to get anything out of seminary you can’t rise above it all. You have to actually dive deep.
Often students in both camps have been told that seminary is dangerous. Their friends have warned them that their professors will be trying to blast their faith out of the water. Wily, wicked professors, and critical, challenging questions play big parts in the drama.
Maybe some professors, somewhere, are out to break down students’ faith, but they must be few. Seminaries exist to train leaders for the churches. They want to build your faith.
But, they don’t coddle simple thinking. They want you to ask questions and dig for answers.
As Paul put it, they aim at “taking every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5, NRSV). You can’t just keep your thoughts as they are.
They try to help you to, as Jesus put it, “love the Lord your God … with all your mind” (Mark 12:30, NRSV). Using your mind fully to love God requires strong mental effort.
You have to ask questions and examine the faith you came with so you can grow it up to maturity. You need to have a faith that can embrace all truth. It all belongs to Jesus, who is The Truth.
More on this next time I write. Meanwhile, be well, love God, and dive deep into those new classes.
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