Friday, February 03, 2006

On Being in Seminary

4 Epiphany
3 Hilary
+Ansgar, Missionary

Not all of my readers can listen to podcasts, so I wanted to post a written version of my reflection on seminary from last week’s recording.

Why do people attend seminary? Lots of people go and complain that they didn’t learn how to be spiritual, or that they weren’t taught well enough how to “manage” the church. I can appreciate the former, but the latter is just gross. Sorry, kids. Presbyters of Christ’s Church are not meant to be glorified managers or business administrators. What do you want seminary to do? To make you holy? The Master of Divinity degree is no mark of holiness, or of even knowing the first thing about God, though this might surprise some of you. Do you know what most M.Divs know about? Growing churches.

God forbid.

I think that in education, one gets out of it a return on what one invests. Theological education is an investment, of sorts, one made with God, into God and the life of the Church. The whole experience should be about a holistic spiritual formation in the Christian faith so that one can be a teacher in turn. It’s about the health and development of souls, about whole persons, not getting more people to “get excited” about God – which is often just a code for the consumption of religious goods and services.

Check out this bit from Eugene Peterson in his “Seminary as a Place of Spiritual Formation” (1994), in Subversive Spirituality, ed. Marva Dawn, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997:
Spirituality, it seems, is not a function of place or curricula. I spent my formative years in my father’s butcher shop carving pork loins and grinding hamburger. This is where I learned much of the spirituality that I have been working out ever since. It has been supplemented, of course, challenged, corrected, redirected, developed, sidetracked, abandoned, and then taken up again. But that, and my mother’s prayers and presence provided the raw material that the holy spirit has been working with ever since. It took me a long time to recognize that rather simple and obvious fact, but once I did, I quit expecting either persons or institutions to provide for me what was already sitting in my back yard. And from the moment of that recognition, I was freed from a lot of grumbling and complaining in the wilderness. Seminary does not provide the materials for spiritual formation, but a particular condition in which the formation takes place for a relatively brief period of time.
I like that, because it’s about taking responsibility – taking responsibility for myself to live my life deeply invested in the community of God, and a holistic learning experience. I have been turned loose at a place where I have free reign of libraries, any number of Christian communities I might befriend, innumerable lectures, and some great tutors – I have all kinds of people and tools for learning at my disposal with which and with whom I can become involved to work out my salvation and priestly formation with fear and trembling.

Peterson also points out that words about God are not the same as speaking to God. What’s important is that in all the thinking about and talking about God, I’m doing it with other people, and that together we learn to listen to God and learn to talk to God. In that order. This should be a no-brainer, but it doesn’t seem to be that way with everybody.

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JHearne said...

I don't know about you, Kyle, but I went to seminary for the money. All the money is in Popular Religion, nowadays.

Kyle said...

Will Absolve Sins for $$

Anonymous said...

A decent seminary will integrate spiritual formation into the study but for the most part I would agree with Peterson's witness as to my own life. Trouble is you can get pastors who have good hearts but have not much under the hood. Seminary is one way to correct that - for me it forces me to study (and I love to read anyway)some valuable theology, church history and Holy Scripture. Obvious if you are not Irish and prone to sloth like I you can study without a demanding professor pushing you. Jesus is smart and I want to be more like him.

Anonymous said...

Ahh.. spiritual formation, the one thing seminaries tend to forget. Actually, while at Bible College, I learned why it is so important to take up the disciplines and give room for spiritual formation: so I don't end up as one more asshole christian who knows what's good, but is too caught up in my anti-gay protests to care.

A little extreme, I know. But I guess that's what makes me "dramatic."

Kyle said...


Cheers, guys.