*Posted by Everett Berry
I have heard pastors, laymen, or other church leaders say that “if you attend a cemetery… I mean seminary…, you might graduate but at the expense of any real fervor for the Lord.” Now unfortunately, I do admit this can be true depending upon certain variables such as the theological underpinnings of a given institution or the fluctuating maturity level of some students. But often in my own experience and interaction with numerous colleagues and students who attend Bible-believing institutions, this caricature is not always the norm. Sometimes students are deeply enriched by their studies of the Old and New Testaments, the biblical languages, philosophy and yes, even theology. Consequently what I have observed is that periodically it is not a spiritual stalemate which begins to settle in among these students. Rather it is an awkward perplexity that occurs when they attempt to reconcile the theological utopia which they encounter in the classroom with the messy reality of the church’s moral shortcomings and general ambivalence toward critical reflection upon biblical matters.
Once this crisis begins to intensify, it is not their commitment that extinguishes. Instead it is their patience. Their newly ignited passion for biblical fidelity causes them to shy away from the general populace of local churches and cluster together with like-minded remnants so they can feel ideologically comfortable in their own groups. As an example of this, I can remember teaching adjunctively at conservative Bible College while completing my doctoral work. After lecturing for a few weeks, students were beginning to ask me questions after class. One particular afternoon a student asked me if I thought it was wrong if he and several other students met together in the dorm and had a Bible study on Sunday mornings as opposed to becoming a part of a local church. My expressed concern initially was whether they intended on functioning as a church or just a group study. He answered that they would attend churches once they graduated and could move to other areas or eventually pastor their own congregations. Now the point that I want to highlight in this account is not that this student’s answer was oozing with ego-driven snobbery. He did not come across that way at all. In fact this student was academically disciplined and spiritually inquisitive. It’s just that he and his friends honestly felt it would be better to avoid local churches in their city because they were convinced that most of them exuberated biblical and theological dissonance.
The true tragedy here is that biblical and theological education exists to build up the whole body of Christ, not create appendages that want to be transplanted somewhere else. Yet I believe this dilemma can only be resolved if students realize that they are being taught not so they can create a modern-day monastic movement wherein they merely hang out with their fellow seminarians and discuss the theological intricacies of Augustine, Immanuel Kant, Karl Barth, or N.T. Wright. Seminary education should enable students to see how the biblical ideal is to impact and engage the messy world of the real. Yet what many fail to realize is that many times the best place to put your seminary training into practice is when you are serving with people who could care less about your understanding of exegesis, Second Temple Judaism, Systematics, or Philosophy. What we all too frequently forget is that we must learn how to wash a flock’s feet before we can hope to influence and possibly reform the minds of sheep.