So, in my view, here are 3 major reasons to value a seminary education as a Pentecostal/Charismatic:
- Seminary training will help you read the Bible. If nothing else, a good solid class in biblical hermeneutics will do wonders. Because unfortunately, we tend to treat the Bible like we do no other book. We handle Bible verses (even Bible words) as if they are free floating. I think verse enumeration somehow gives us the notion that each verse stands alone. But, a class like hermeneutics reminds us that the Bible reads just like any other work of literature; it reads in paragraphs. And the context may limit the meaning to the verse we so freely utilize. God’s Word is also revealed in certain literary genres, and a course in hermeneutics can help one appreciate how each typically functions. Also, in seminary, you get to learn the biblical languages. This is laborious, but very rewarding work. Put it this way, if you were in love with a woman who speaks Spanish, you would certainly do your best to learn her language, unless you wanted a translator to assist with every conversation you had. Same kind of thing with the Bible. Our translations are well done, but granted, there’s always something lost in translation. And the study of the original languages is the enterprise of recovering all that’s left behind. Taking the pains to learn the language of Scripture is getting as close as we can to the one in whom we love – a serious consideration for anyone who desires to preach the Word on a regular basis.
- Seminary training will help you appreciate the church. I definitely recommend attending a good evangelical seminary that is fairly well represented theologically. If you’ve been apart of one church for many years (like me) it’s likely that you are immersed in a sub-culture and may not even realize the depth of that immersion. And it’s a humbling experience to find out that not all Christians think exactly like you — and then to find out they have good reason for it! Wow. To explore the other positions and how they have come to their conclusions has been one of the healthiest endeavors I have ever engaged in as a Christian. It doesn’t mean I agree with them, but how can you disagree if you don’t really understand their position? Understanding breaks down stereotypes. It breeds appreciation, instead of mistrust and suspicion. We can get spiritually smug in our own sub-culture, thinking that we possess the elite form of Christianity and have nothing to learn from other expressions of the church. Now, all this doesn’t mean we have to lose our distinctiveness and turn into theological mush. On the contrary; it sharpens us. Knowing other theological positions helps us understand our own that much better. Karl Barth has said, “The person who knows only his side of the argument knows little of that.” So, in getting acquainted with the beliefs of other evangelicals we come to a better understanding of our own. With no map, there’s no reference point, and thus no identity. With a map, we know our ecclessial context, and understand who we are that much better.
- Seminary training will help you acquire technical skill. Seminary is a place to learn the tools of biblical study, languages, theology, church history, how to prepare sermons, how to think critically, even practical tools of ministry. It’s a place to acquire a tool box. And that’s exactly what I came to get. Nothing will replace the time spent in a church setting simply working with and loving people. Although, I have been thoroughly transformed by my time in seminary I wouldn’t necessarily promote it as the place of transformation. It’s an unfair expectation and it’s not a guarantee. Once that responsibility becomes the seminary’s a student is likely to become disillusioned with the institution fairly quickly. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on theory and technical skills. It’s nitty gritty and it can get dry. (Hence the unfair caricature of seminary being a cemetery). Personal vitality and growth in Jesus needs to be owned by the student and fostered in the church. Seminary isn’t going to make that happen, which actually makes for good training for the pastorate, cause guess what? no one will be looking over your shoulder to ensure your transformation. So, everyone that endeavors to obtain a seminary degree should understand from the get go that it is a place to acquire tools, to read, to think, and to reflect upon and articulate a fresh philosophy of ministry. If one’s own relationship with Jesus is underway and if experience in the church is happening, seminary doesn’t have to bear the load of personal transformation. And instead, it can be a place of great acquisition of valuable skills and tools that will help the man or woman of God be thoroughly equipped.