Thanks for writing. Glad you found the distinction between Protestant and Non-Protestant seminaries useful.
Seminary as new car showroom?
Yes, your car analogy works pretty well:
- Protestant seminaries are built on the chassis of an academic program, with spiritual features and option packages.
- Catholic and Orthodox seminaries are built on a monastic chassis, modified to satisfy the academic equivalent of the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency.
No matter what analogy you use, you’ll get better mileage (snicker) out of your program, and out of your Christian life in general, if you steer clear (get it?) of one common assumption people bring to seminary:
Avoid the idea that seminary is going to be a spiritual mountaintop experience.
Seminary as mountaintop experience?
Many people find themselves called to Christian ministry, or at least to seminary education, when they have had a spiritual mountaintop experience:
- an adult conversion
- a summer in mission work
- a “Walk to Emmaus” or “Cursillo” retreat
These experiences put people in contact with God in new and life-changing ways. They bring a big wake-up call, an opportunity to decide on new paths.
The mistake is thinking that three years of seminary are going to be three years on top of that mountain.
Seek God, not experiences
The best writers on the spiritual life will tell you you should not be seeking mountaintop experiences.
You should be seeking God. Any experience in the world of your feelings and senses is less than God.
Sometimes the presence of God gives you big feelings. Sometimes nada.
And if you do have a mountaintop experience, eventually you have to come back down and do life. To integrate real change, you live life in light of what you learned on the mountain.
So write about it in your journal. Keep pictures of where you were when you met God so powerfully. Meet with others who had the same kind of experience. But you can’t recreate it or maintain it.
Even Moses, who met God face to face on a literal mountaintop, only stayed up there for 40 days. A human being can only bear so much of the unfiltered presence of God.
Seminary as place of growth
God willing, seminary will have some moments of profound change, and the powerful emotions of mountaintop experiences. But that really isn’t the aim — and it certainly isn’t the measure of whether seminary is worthwhile.
- If you were in a more monastic seminary, transformation would come with living the life of community in the rhythm of prayer and worship.
- Since you are in a more academic seminary, transformation happens differently, in a more Protestant way, as you study, and learn, and integrate the subject matter.
- Actually both things happen in both kinds of seminary: both community and class are crucial.
Either way, you basically have to live the real life, taking responsibility for your spiritual growth, and taking advantage of all the grinding mundane challenging work that your seminary provides for your growth.
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