Realizing Seminary’s Not for You

paulI think it’s time for me to start the site NotGoingToSeminary.com.

It’s almost been five whole months since my last article was posted on this site. Much has happened. As I recently revealed in a recent post on my personal site, I’m not going back to seminary next year.

I’m a young man. At the time of this writing I am a week or so past my 23rd half-birthday. I have spent every year of my life in school since I was 4. I’ve never had a job with a consistent income. I’ve never made more than $13,000 in a given year. I’m a very, very young man.

I still remember the phone call with my mom almost six months ago where I was asking them to pay my rent again for the umpteenth time (it’s a real word, I promise). She finally said, “Paul, your father and I were going to wait until you were hear to talk to you, but we just can’t do this anymore. We can’t be paying for all this stuff for your brother and you and survive. We need you to work more and take on some of these responsibilities.”

I though she was joking. I thought she was just frustrated then and it would pass and I would just stay in school as I’d always done – as I’d always planned. But she wasn’t. A couple of weeks later I had to face the fact that my plans I’d had since seventh grade had been turned completely upside down. Then the job search began. Long story short, I’ve got a real job now, I’m only going to take one class next semester (a counseling class), and probably won’t ever finish seminary. And I’m really okay with that. I never thought I would be. How did this change happen?

As I was thinking about this this morning, I remembered something one of my old pastors once said concerning the seemingly-never-ending relationship saga of the single twenty-something: “you know, the identity of “the One” is something best discerned through clarity and hindsight rather than ambiguity and attempted foresight.” In other words, it’s better to live your life faithfully, trusting that the person you marry is and has always been “the One”, rather than trying to figure out who that is and then marrying them. The will of God is an ever unfolding present reality unfolding in real-time far more than it is some ethereal “path” we must figure out and make sure we are walking. You may find yourself in seminary one year, and not the next. That is just reality. Prepare your heart to be willing to let go of anything.

So, how do we wade through the murky waters of discerning the call to stay or go? How do you know if this is also the path for you? Ultimately, I can’t give you any 1-2-3’s, I can only tell you what hindsight and clarity have afforded me in respect to this event in my life. After the nail was placed into the coffin of Seminary Year 2, it felt as if scales fell from my eyes and I finally saw how this made total sense and how this was God’s love, mercy, and gift to me. See if any of these ideas resonate, and if so, “examine yourselves” (how do you like that misapplication? Kind of like Hosea in Matthew, huh? Sorry. Different post at a different time.)

Financially

I saw in hindsight that my situation was just not sustainable. This was God’s mercy to me practically. Seeing the trajectory I was on with school, work, expenses, and finances, I don’t know why I was so blind to the fact that I couldn’t go on like this for three more years, over thirty thousand more dollars of debt, and no real work experience (and therefore no marketable skills) to help me get a significant job. Oh wait, my plan had been to go into a five (more) year-long Master’s-Ph.D. program for Psychology, eventually putting me at age 31 with God knows how much debt and never having had a job more prestigious than waiting tables. Maybe some people could make it work. I could not. So ask yourself: Has God clearly granted me the resources necessary to be a good steward of both seminary and life – to do both well and restfully?

Theologically

This was God’s mercy emotionally. I realized (once more only in hindsight) just how frustrated I had been at the theological differences I have with my seminary. I realized the direction the seminary is going in is one that, frankly, I didn’t want to be associated with five years from now. I’ve realized that those things matter, especially if you are going to a confession-run institution. This really helped make the decision emotionally easier for me. I’m really not going to miss the place that much. I will miss the people, the talks, and a few of the professors that are on their way out there, but not the institution. Ask yourself: Is it seminary per se that I am enjoying at this particular institution or just the people, readings, and a few conversations; and if the latter, would you miss the actual classroom environment if you lost that one thing but still had the others? Where do you disagree with your seminary and do these differences cause more friction than growth there?

Intellectually

Thirdly, I saw much of my growth intellectually stunted. Or maybe just humbled. Or maybe I just matured some. I don’t know. This was, therefore, God’s mercy to me intellectually. This aspect just now came to me and I haven’t really thought through it much. All I know is that at the beginning of seminary I was working on three albums of music, two plays, four books or so, and many hopeful journal articles. Now – all those have more or less fallen by the wayside. I was just too mentally exhausted by the absurdly superfluous and too-lengthy ad nauseam Francis Turretin readings and subsequent reading summaries we were forced to do all semester. I used to have big plans and visions for how to reach the world with the kingdom of God and how I could do that with psychology. Seminary was supposed to help fuel and facilitate these things. Some classes did (especially first semester), but then my thinking waned in many areas. Seminary is supposed to stimulate us to think in ways we never have and then apply Biblical understandings to these things. Ask yourself: Is this causing me to branch out and take intellectual challenges? It is bearing intellectual fruit, or is it just constant sowing and planting and tilling with no reaping or return? Is it causing intellectual ruts to form?

Spiritually

As I said earlier, I am a very young man. We have come full-circle. My immaturity has been revealed to me so forcefully in this season. I am merely a shadow of the man I was six months ago. I am more steeped in pride and arrogance than ever in spite of being more aware of that fact more now than ever. The grace and mercy of our loving Savior has shown me deep fear of man issues I am only now wrestling with. I’m realizing more and more of my life has been built upon the need for affirmation and to be built up by the people I make my idols. Seminary was yet another means by which I was trying to prop myself up. Everything both good and bad that I had ever placed my identity in has been taken from me: being an academic, in grad school, a successful writer, a well-known thinker, a culturally astute and well-informed individual in the midst of people that aren’t. Now I’m just a seminary drop-out who’s a counselor in suburban Philadelphia who can barely write blog post.
And this is God’s mercy to me spiritually. It’s incredible. I have never felt more my need and dependency for the One for Whom my soul was made, and for the first time perhaps, I’m tasting the Christian life of repentance I’ve only heard of all my life. I feel so weak, so inadequate, so frail – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am more in love with my Savior, restful in His cross, and joyful in His presence than ever, though it’s not in the cheap light fare sort of way. Ask yourself: Is seminary still beautiful? Am I quicker to repent now than two weeks ago? Is not just the workload, but the actual content, revealing my need for Christ? Could I work just as hard at other more fruitful endeavors, perhaps? Am I crying during church anymore? Do I still pray? Do I see my good and God’s glory in this presently?

And maybe that’s the point of this article. More than giving some principles to determine one’s place in seminary. Maybe it’s to encourage you that wherever God has you, it is to this end: that you might see your need for Him and thereby be shaped into His image and your joy. Take heart in a Sovereign, sanctifying God who loves you and is working all things to your good. His will is first and foremost your sanctification and you reflecting His Image more than it is that you go to seminary.

Hold all things with a very loose hand except for the broken body and blood of your slain and risen Lord – hold that very, very dear. Seminary, or no Seminary.

UPDATE: It has been a few years since writing this post. Now, I’m Going (Back) to Seminary.

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