- Write to Communicate, Not to Pontificate. (Shawn Wright, SBTS)
There’s plenty of brainpower on a seminary campus. For instance, I once sat an entire semester in preaching class next to an engineer for Lockheed Martin. (Meanwhile I was working at a Ragu factory) By His grace, God calls some of the brightest minds in the world into His humble ministry. That’s encouraging for the future of the church, however, it also presents a challenge. Seminaries can be notorious for intellectual saber rattling. Young, zealous students of the Bible eager to prove their acumen can often display their theological plumage like colorful birds sparring over mating rights. With premiere theological education comes the responsibility to advance in love and holiness, as Paul says, “with knowledge and all discernment.” (Phil. 1:9) This maxim applies not only in the realm of public speaking; our writing also requires a measure of humility. During the first semester of my Th.M., I had the honor of taking Shawn Wright’s doctoral seminar on Puritanism. To this day it’s still one of the most profitable and enjoyable courses I’ve ever taken, however, at the time I was especially eager to prove that I could keep up with doctoral students. One particular class, after I had presented a particularly lengthy paper on Richard Sibbes, Dr. Wright remarked, “I can tell you’re a preacher.” “Thanks!” I replied. Dr. Wright smiled politely, “That wasn’t a compliment.” His point wasn’t that pastoral ministry isn’t commendable and useful in seminary, rather that my writing seemed less concerned with simplicity and more concerned with presentation and delivery. Good theological writing is clear and concise, not necessarily ornate. At any seminary, chances are good there’s always someone smarter, and professors aren’t impressed with five-syllable words like the old ladies at your church. Write to communicate, not to pontificate.
- Know One Theologian Well. (Tom Nettles, SBTS)
I remember my first semester at Southern Seminary with more clarity than I do the following three. The steep learning curve was overwhelming at times. I had no idea that words like “eschatology” and “ecclesiology” and “Christology” were real words. (For the first month I honestly thought the latter meant the study of crystals) But it was more than just words; it was also about names. I remember writing the names “Mark Dever” and “Kevin DeYoung” down on a notepad in Gregg Allison’s Systematic Theology course one afternoon because I’d heard them multiple times in the same class. Over time, seminary students can feel like they have to read every single theologian in every single book, to keep up with the seminary Joneses. But even Al Mohler – the man who apparently never sleeps – admits there’s just no way to read everything that’s pumped out by publishers nowadays. At least that’s what he told a friend and I one day in the bookstore at SBTS (as I froze in shock that I was standing next to Al Mohler). My very first day of class in Tom Nettles’ Jonathan Edwards course, Dr. Nettles addressed this very issue. His advice is one I’ll never forget: partially reading every single theologian in history isn’t as enriching as drinking deep from the well of a titanic, seminal thinker. You don’t have to know something about everyone; instead try knowing everything about an important someone. Inevitably, when we endeavor to study the life and thought of an unparalleled historical figure, we find that we can go deeper and wider than we ever could simply reading excerpts of hundreds.
- Be a Husband First and a Student Second. (Rob Plummer, SBTS)
My very last semester of my M.Div. Kelly was diagnosed with cancer in her shoulder and back. Needless to say, combined with my first six months of pastoral ministry, it was a challenging semester. It seemed as if I was behind on all my assignments. It also seemed I would be unable to submit many of my important papers in order to graduate. I panicked. Thankfully, I had Dr. Robert Plummer for Greek Exegesis of James that semester. One particular cold Louisville morning, on my way to Vint coffee with a heavy heart over Kelly’s uncertain future, I received a call from my teacher. That morning he was more than my professor; he became a brother in the Gospel. His message is still clear and applicable today: I’m a husband first. Seminary can take an unbelievable toll on a marriage due to the amount of required reading and writing, but theological study should never become an end unto itself. I thank Dr. Plummer for his kindness and friendship. And His Greek.
- Theology Textbooks Are Not Substitutes for Your Bible. (All)
I still remember holding Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology in my hand in Dr. Russell Moore’s class as a second year seminary student. The amount of reading in the syllabus was…well…a lot. How in the world was I ever going to read all of it? One of the occasional hidden tragedies of seminary is the fact that some seminary students cease reading their Bible as much as they did before they came to seminary. When there’s only so much time in the day, and so many assignments to finish, books written to supplement the Scriptures can sometimes become substitutes for the Scriptures. While reading Wayne Grudem can actually be incredibly devotional, it’s meant to drive us deeper into the Bible. After seminary, the sword of the Spirit is still your primary tool in ministry. Pastors should be more intimately familiar with the God of the Scriptures than they should with D.A. Carson. (No offense to Carson) I’m thankful to have attended a Seminary that valued the Scriptures preeminently above everything else, and that viewed theological education in the context of the church. There are weeks when I definitely needed the reminder.