So the seminary story goes...
Many know that in the Fall of 2012 I started seminary classes. The topic had been discussed in my house for over a year. After returning home from a Ligonier Conference, I was bent toward making this talk a present reality. The basis for that decision was both simple and complicated. In the case of the simple, I was seeking to increase my knowledge of the original languages and hermeneutical methods. To many this would be the last thing they would want to study. But because this seemed to the most practical to church teaching, it was first on my list. The decision of me and my wife was that I would begin the seminary process slowly and see where God lead us.
My personal theology leans heavily towards the Reformed tradition and naturally the most attractive schools were not located in Texas. However, both of the schools that I genuinely considered were located in Texas and provided the opportunity for online classes. Those two seminaries were Dallas Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. There were benefits on both sides. DTS was clearly the better institution. There is no disrespect intended but the name value of DTS made it the most attractive Texas option. The later option is associated with the Southern Baptist Convention and provides discounts through the SBC's Cooperative Program. Because I currently serve and attend a SBC church, it made sense from a financial perspective to pursue this option. Since neither school would conform to my theological opinion, there was almost a sense of mitigated risk. In the end, we decided to go with the SWBTS and plan for an eventual move to Houston to finish the program should we decide to continue.
The application process was simple. Registration was a breeze. Everyone I talked to on the phone was nice and helpful. No bad words can be spoken about my experience with the people of the institution. Neither can I complain about the education I have received. The professors have been excellent. The methods utilized for online education have been diverse and productive. But that doesn't mean I was left without complaint. There were obvious issues about time spent on busy work, reading, etc that are always a part of the sacrifice. But in the midst of teaching on Wednesday Nights, working a full time job and trying to take these classes, I was left with little free time. This truly did begin to weigh on me. Should we sacrifice ministry for the sake of education to ministry? I'm pretty sure the institution would have said no. But the result of their class loads demanded the opposite.
Despite how it may come across, the work load wasn't a major problem. My real major lament has been my reintroduction to the legalism within the Evangelical community. Let me be blunt. My major gripe has been the requirement to neither drink alcohol or smoke tobacco while a student.
Now please don't misunderstand me, I recognize that the study of Biblical principals is more important than these things. I've proven I believe this by refraining from participating in these things throughout my time as a student. But the Scriptures do not require that we make this distinction. Essentially, I was placed in a situation where I was forced to treat my institute of learning as the "weaker brother". This truly did contradict my reason for attending seminary. I wanted to learn the languages and proper ways to interpret the Scriptures. And while I acknowledge that private opinion on the matters can be diverse, it is quite clear that the Scriptures permit both the consumption of alcohol and tobacco. To enforce this upon students is nothing short of legalism and has weighed on my spirit throughout my tenure as a student.
How can I take seriously the idea that the seminary is about proclaiming the gospel when it requires such strict legalism to simply attend? The two ideas are neither so separated or involved as they might seem. But in every case of explanation of my predicament, I was forced to defend the seminary despite their un-Biblical decision. As a teacher and elder at my church, I was taught sternly about the dangers of consuming anything out of neglect of the power and victory of Christ. I talk the over consumption of alcohol seriously. But I also take seriously the consumption of a pint or half gallon of ice cream. Many church members were taken back by my humility to refrain. But in return their opinion of the institution was greatly weakened.
Despite my gripe, it did not so overwhelm the education. My ability to take both my Greek NT and Hebrew OT to service has been incredibly. And I am excited to continue my study of these languages beyond what the school's program requires. Member of our congregation are beginning to see the value of the languages and are being pushed to study more. Commentaries that mention the original text are being purchased and the Word is truly being studied and not simply read.
The encounter really wasn't with the seminary. I am an excessive reader. Systematic theologies and liberal nut jobs make up a good portion of my library. I tend to read book in topical chunks. Towards the conclusion of my teaching through Ephesians, I increased my eschatological study. In fact this blog is stemming from that reading. But alongside that reading I was drawn to the teaching concerning the family that is found within postmillennial circles. It was with this literature on family that I had a significant encounter.
This encounter cam at a crucial time. My wife and I had our first child in January of last year. Leaving them at home, I went to the Ligonier 2012 conference with my father (this is the same conference that quick started the seminary). During the conference I listening to an optional session and was persuaded to purchase Joel Beeke's book Parenting by God's Promise. I cannot recommend this book enough. But it comes with a huge disclaimer: it is for covenantal people. This introduction to a Reformed belief that I already accepted provided me with the necessary starting point. This started me on a whirlwind tour of R.C. Sproul Jr. and Doug Wilson material. While I cannot endorse everything they teach, they have gotten me thinking very carefully about both secular and Biblical education of children as well as the needs within the church to education kids.
To make a long story marginally shorter, I have become convinced that the church is spending too much time addressing the lost outside the church when we have so many inside the church. We are working on programs to bring the lost into the church when as of now, we have plenty of lost kids being brought by their parents. We need a serious reevaluation of our children's curriculum to make sure they line up with the type of youth and adults we want populating our churches. We need to be a "salt and light" producing church to influence the world. Now we certainly can't do any of this a part from the Holy Spirit. But if the Holy Spirit can't use our obedience to teach these things, He will have to remove our children from our care to do so. It laments me to even have to think about the grief the church has provided the Holy Spirit on this topic.
So how about that curriculum? I have found it lacking in truth Biblical grit. When I looked at it did I see the Bible being taught in a way that helped these children wield it as the spiritual weapon for our spiritual war? No. In response to this, I removed myself from adult teaching and begun teaching the 2-6 yr old class. This has been an immeasurable blessing to both my spirit and pride. While I look forward to teaching through 1 Peter at the start of 2014, I have made children's teaching my principal ministry.
This is going to seem scattered. In truth it is. I'm going to refrain from saying some of the more contentious things and I will try to limit the foolishness that often comes from too many words. But after multiple conversations with family and the word, my wife and I are convinced that seminary is to back on the shelf. The church needs children's teachers not M Div graduates. The church needs people to instruct and encourage parents to raise their children in the Lord not seminary professors. The church needs the gospel to be taught in the home. The church needs the gospel to win within its own walls.
I wish both seminary and this calling were permissible at the same time. But the truth is that for me it isn't. I'm a crypto-Calvinist (fully reformed) in a Baptist church. Even after a degree at SWBTS, most Baptist churches won't consider me for anything. And because of my cautious disagreements with the Westminster Confession of Faith, many of the conservative Presbyterian churches will be uninterested (this of course after I attend a Reformed Seminary).
But is this really what God has called the church to? Exclusion over doctrine? I don't believe so. And thankfully the leadership of our church is in agreement. The church we are currently at is breaking all molds and models. Not because the elders have lead the church here but because the Bible is leading them instead of the traditions of men. So we've decided to let the word lead us to leaving us here. We will continue to serve at our present church and see what God does.
And that's the end of the story. I still want seminary. And I still hope to finish. But for now the children come first.