Gordon-Conwell Blog

The Seven Year M.Div.: Two Reflections on the Seminary Experience

February 08, 2012


Author’s Note: Journeys are strange. You hardly ever end up where you thought you would, and you definitely never get there in the manner that you conceived. That has been as true for me as it was for Jonah the morning he woke up to take a leisurely cruise to Tarshish. Over the next few weeks I will be writing a series of blog posts exploring how I came to and through seminary. It’s a strange tale with no straight lines. But it’s my story, and it is the path that the Lord has led our family down. It’s not idyllic. I hope that encourages you. Also, in case you just joined the conversation, Part 1 can be found here; Part 2 can be found here; Part 3 can be found here; Part 4 can be found here; Part 5 can be found here; Part 6 can be found here. Part 7 can be found here; Part 8 can be found here; Part 9 can be found here.

Non intratur in veritatem, nisi per caritatem.
-Augustine of Hippo, Contra Faustum 41, 32, 18

In May 2010 I finally finished a seven-year journey towards a master’s degree. If you have been reading along, you know that the path was much different than I had expected. I learned a lot, but not everything. I read a lot, but not everything. And it drew me closer to God, but did not answer all of my questions.

[I want to confess something at this point. I re-wrote this post three different times. Why? Because it seems like it should be a significant piece since it is the terminus of the series. And such posts usually involve a reflection by the author about their experience. And such reflections, like a Twitter account, usually assume that people care to hear your thoughts. Then I realized that I already have a Twitter account, so here you go.]

If two imagined friends, one considering seminary and one already halfway through his/her degree, sat me down one day and asked for my perspective on the process after finishing, I would sum everything up in two thoughts.

First, do it.

If you have a desire to study God and his people – for that is pretty much what we do in seminary – indulge it. The process may become disconcerting or arduous at times, but it is worth it. If I had not gone, my curiosity would have continued to eat away at me. I suspect that there are others out there who are in similar situations. So, go. And when you’re in the middle of the process, if you can, stay and finish. The evangelical movement in the world needs many things today, and one of the most vital necessities is theological training. We are great at loving God with our hearts, but if our minds are not also engaged we are creating a false dichotomy within ourselves. So, if you can, go.

Second, however, realize that the seminary experience will be hard on your faith in at least two ways. First, your mind and heart are tied together. What affects one also affects the other. In the course of your studies you will be forced to ask questions that others have the luxury of avoiding. And, most of the answers to those questions will involve slight, if not major, shifts in your belief and practice. This can unsettling, but good guides who have been there before are helpful to lean on whenever you grow weary on such paths as textual criticism, Trinitarian doctrine, and diagramming the Greek text of Ephesians. Yet, the pressure on your faith is not only due to these profound shifts. It is also due to the fact that seminary is not the Church. To study and to submit to God are two entirely different things. One involves observation and analysis, and the other involves participation, service, and worship. Like quarreling siblings you will want to separate those two from each other, but do not do it. You need to fully engage both, to love God with your heart and mind, and to let the siblings influence one another.

There is a lot more to be said, but I think this is a good place to stop. Want to go to seminary? You should. Are you in seminary? Remember to fully engage your heart and mind, although the road may seem daunting. And, finally, don’t give up. By God’s grace I was able to hang on for seven years - through two presidents, the birth of two of our children, my wife’s return to school, my wife’s completion of her second degree, a job change, and a move across the country. You can do it, too. Just remember to engage your heart and your mind along the way.

Non intratur in veritatem, nisi per caritatem.
“One cannot enter into truth, unless through love.”
-Augustine of Hippo, Contra Faustum 41, 32, 18

Brian has an M.Div. (2010) from Gordon-Conwell’s Charlotte campus, a Th.M. (2011) in Historical Theology from the South Hamilton campus, and is currently strengthening his language skills while in the MACH program. He hopes to matriculate into a doctoral program in August 2012 that will allow him to continue in his study of the thought of Augustine of Hippo. He has a wonderful wife, three great children, and spent ten years in ministry to teenagers, primarily with Young Life International.

Tags: Author: Brian , current students , equipping leaders for the church and society , future students , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical , training

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Congrats on your degree. I once was in the seminary too. But I dropped out after two years of theology, found other passions. I am always happy to hear that someone else made it through. Congrats. P.s. in some way I feel like I got that degree too. Anyways, from Galveston. Thanks.
Steve 7:02AM 07/27/12
Thank you for sharing your story. I am in the middle of the Orientation Packet for the Online MAR Degree.
Tammy C 6:43PM 03/03/12
Truly inspiring, it's always great to see people finding themselves in this wonderful world of ours. Wish you all the best! Jason
Distance learning courses 4:38PM 02/26/12
Kathy: Glad to hear that your experience has been so rewarding. Hang in there - even though it may take awhile to finish, it is worth it.
Brian 4:37PM 02/24/12
Brian, Thank you for sharing about your journey. I am in my second year at Charlotte GCTS and loving every minute of it. I am like a sponge soaking in the readings and teachings. It seems the more I learn, the more I realize I did not know. It is refreshing and rewarding. It is encouraging to know that it tooki you a few years - it may take me a few years. I feel blessed - I am sure God will show me the final path well before 40 years passes! Congratulations to you!
Kathy Pryor 5:15PM 02/22/12

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