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The problem with seminary education

We prize education. Generally speaking, the more you know in a discipline, the more valuable your work. I knew I needed to learn how to manage and lead better, so in 1987 I got my MBA. What a great move it was for me! And many of you have had a similar positive experience with education. &nbsp…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
We prize education. Generally speaking, the more you know in a discipline, the more valuable your work. I knew I needed to learn how to manage and lead better, so in 1987 I got my MBA. What a great move it was for me! And many of you have had a similar positive experience with education.
 
But in the spiritual realm, “knowledge puffs up.” I like the New Living Translation of 1 Cor. 8:1, which says, “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church.”
 
It’s true. When I flaunt my knowledge of a subject, it’s ego. I’m looking for a crutch – something to make me feel better about myself, so I fall back on all the information I’ve acquired.
 
But love is a different animal. Is there any school that will give you a degree in loving better? It would be nice – I’d like to find a shortcut. Most of the time, growing more loving feels like work.

Kevin Rubottom shared with me the story* of the first African to get a Doctorate in Germany – John Mbiti. When he returned home, his tribe threw a great party to celebrate his achievement.  
 
During the ceremony, a woman in the crowd became possessed by a spirit. 

The tribe elder said to him, “Now that you have studied the Bible in Germany, come, cast out the evil spirit from this woman.” 
 
“Well,” said Mbiti, “As you know, I studied with Bultmann. He says there are no evil spirits. He has de-mythologized all.” 
 
Perplexed, the crowd replied, “What was the good of studying in Europe? Before, you could heal. Now, you cannot.”
 
What does your spirituality rest in? If it’s knowledge, perhaps it’s time to do a gut check.

*From RS Sugirtharajah

Comments (11)

  • Great stuff. We tend to want to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good & evil and not from the tree of life. It’s still getting us in trouble!

  • I can relate to the fact that decades of gained “knowledge” can hinder dependence on God and love for people. It seems that every day two questions are always before me, “Do I really love this person standing before me right now?” and “What word will impart grace, edify him/her and meet the need of the moment?” I can easily be tempted to pull up all the “wisdom” I’ve gained on the subject over the years. But waiting on God is life-giving for both the other person and me. I need to, and hope to, grow in….love.

  • Good thoughts. No coincidence that some of the most spiritually dead nations are the same nations that require church leaders and pastors be educated in the matter.

  • It sounds like you might be throwing the baby out with the bath water when it comes to seminary. As one with an MBA, you surely know that the degree alone isn’t what helps you be a better leader or manager. It is taking the information you learned and APPLYING it. If all you did is get an MBA and then pontificate about management theory, that wouldn’t do much good at all, would it? It is when you take that MBA and put it to work in life and labor that it becomes useful (right?). I’d say the same is true for seminary.

    Just my 2 cents.

  • If I understand you correctly, you are afraid you will lose your faith by gaining knowledge. Am I right? As an MBA did you lose your intuitive powers as you learned how to develop effective business plans? Perhaps we are afraid we might begin to think about religion on our own rather than believing all the myriad interpretations of scripture. Just saying.

  • This post reminded me of Jacob’s vision of a ladder to Heaven (Gen. 28:12), with the Lord God standing at the top of it declaring His dominion and His promise.

    Sometimes, in our weakness and self-reliance we can tend to make it all about the ladder, rather than the dominion and the promise. The ladder is more accessible to us, more of this world. We can easily fall back to reliance on our own strength, which for some of us, is what we “know”.

    There is nothing inherently wrong with learning or ladders – the mistakes are in how we use them. Even the angels made good use of the ladder to get to and from Heaven and Earth. We all have a choice between becoming a Doctor of Ladders or a servant of God. We can make Jacob’s choice. Knowing what he had learned from the ladder experience, Jacob chose a fuller relationship with God. My “ladders” and learning are not as revelatory as Jacob’s, but I hope to be making the same choice he did.

  • An interesting post for me personally as education trumped faith in my life for years, seeking to gain a sense of being valued and self worth from it…which didn’t work. Those holes were filled with Christ’s love for me, but I didn’t meet Him until I was 41 so my education prior to that seemed to me that it should do the trick…

    It didn’t…

    But now I am embarking on learning once more, but feel my heart is full and I am moving forward, interestingly enough through seminary, to broaden my perspective and be in a setting where iron can sharpen iron regarding faith.
    I am enrolled in an online class on evangelism with Dan Kimball and it is life affirming and giving…I deferred official enrollment in the degree program I was accepted to until next year because of family needs…but went ahead with this class as a “special student” and I am so glad I did.

    But my heart needed an attitude adjustment first.

  • A verse I have been working on applying this year is:

    Romans 13:8
    Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

    It has been neat seeing how my perspective changes when I worry more about loving others than what people may think of me. Thanks for your reminder that what we do is not who we are, but that who we are determines what we do.

  • Somehow I survived seminary still loving Jesus!

    “Ooh, that’s harsh” you say – let me explain. I remember one day in one of my many theology classes – profusely taking notes (I would be tested over this stuff!) with my Bible open as my professor kept referencing. I gradually would find myself immersed in the Word and then shake my head “shoot, I’ve got to get back on track taking my notes.

    Then I would find myself “drifting” again, enamored with the Word Himself. “Gosh, get back on track”, I would think to myself. I found myself enjoying the Jesus of the Bible much more than man’s commentary.

    It was my experience that MANY (if not most) of my fellow seminarians were more enamored with notes, test, degrees, and the ability to make an apologetic about supralapsarianism (you can look it up!), rather than being swept away by God’s love for his bride!

    Maybe I survived because I’m not the brightest bulb in the house – I don’t know! But I have become EXTREMELY LEARY in recommending to others the seminary route (I was tempted to write “cemetery” route!) because I witnessed so many young guys fill their brains with lifeless theology in preparation for a pastoral position.

    Now, on the reverse side of this, I am TRULY thankful for my education. For some reason it never went solely to my head. I credit some aspect of this on my willingness to ask God for everything HE wanted to give me and by submitting myself to the Holy Spirit as my ultimate teacher.

    Oh, He indeed is so good – the lover of my soul!

  • Good word. Especially of interest to me as I am renewing the completion of my grad degree after putting it aside 8 years ago for marriage. One reason I waited so long is I didn’t want a degree for the sake of a degree but rather the right degree that would equip me even better. You might have some folks in AIM who might be interested in this too. It is called the MATUL, and it stands for Master of Arts in Transformational Urban Leadership. Most of the entire degree is done on the field with real life practical living. It is focused on equipping people to minister amongst the poor long-term. The class I’m doing now involves Spirituality, and understanding the very real differences that often exist between the Western church and those living in poverty. Understanding Holy Spirit and His various manifestations in different places and people is emphasized as well. Here’s a link about it:
    http://www.matul.org/

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.



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