Thanks for your note. You are definitely right: seeking a mountaintop experience is by no means the only off-target assumption people bring to seminary.
And the assumptions that you bring make a big difference on the experience you have.
Anyway, the conversations you mention point to another assumption that can keep people from thriving.
As you put it,
A whole lot of people here seem to think seminary is too much work.
I’m glad this one isn’t troubling you personally, but maybe if you think it through you can give a helpful nudge to some of your fellow students.
Of course I don’t know your friends personally, but I can say I’ve known quite a few seminarians who have every appearance of asking
If God really called me to this, shouldn’t this be easy?
That thought may never get said out loud. It may never even get thought out so clearly. But a lot of people begin to doubt their call when they face a few hard assignments or get that first round of grades.
Is God’s Call Usually Easy?
There is a theological question to ponder here. Is God’s call in your life supposed to be easy?
To take just one biblical example, consider the Apostle Paul. Here he’s making a mocking comparison of his experience with other Apostles. His ministry was filled
with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death.
Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.
Three times I was beaten with rods.
Once I received a stoning.
Three times I was shipwrecked;
for a night and a day I was adrift at sea;
on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters;
in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.
And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Cor. 11:23-28)
Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy — not.
You could make the same case from the life stories of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Jeremiah, and others.
Well what about later times? Isn’t it all blessings now that we are after the times of the Bible?
- Think of St. Athanasius, the theologian who shaped our understanding of the Trinity. He spent his adult life in and out of exile, fighting for orthodox teaching.
- Think of John Calvin, the Reformation theologian who so shaped Protestantism. His entire adult life was spent in exile. Though he found himself best suited to the quiet life of a scholar, he was constantly thrust into local and international conflict.
- Think of the countless martyrs who have been tortured and murdered for their faith in Christ.
O yes, I know, but they didn’t have my Systematic Theology prof! She’s brutal!
Could a good seminary really be easy?
Personally I don’t think a good seminary education can be easy, at least for the vast majority of people.
Each of us is good at some things, skating through some subjects. Most of us also struggle in some things.
For example, if your undergraduate degree is in Spanish or German, you have some language learning skills. You’ll probably find your language work in Greek and Hebrew comes easier to you than to many.
Those excellent language skills may not help you at all in theology — while your friend with the philosophy degree finds it a breeze.
When you look around the curriculum of the typical seminary you don’t just find a variety of subjects. You find find half a dozen or more classes that require completely different skill sets.
Your professor is not there to give you an affirming grade for being such a nice person, or even for trying so hard.
He or she wants you to take on the homework tasks that will help you grow in the skills of
- a historian
- a biblical scholar
- a linguist
- a theologian
- a counselor
- and a public speaker.
Hardly anyone finds all of those things easy.
You’ll be better off in the long run if you try to learn all you can about each course’s skill set as well as the specific content of the subject.
And you’ll have more joy if you focus on learning skills and content rather than on your report card. No one else is ever going to care about your report card.