There are 3 realities (that I can think of off the top of my head) that will be helpful to try and accept before you arrive at seminary. If you cannot accept them, at least keep them in mind.
1. You will not be able to read everything that is assigned to you.
- Prior to coming to Princeton Theological Seminary, I took a few masters lever religion classes at a local seminary. This was helpful in many way but the biggest way was definitely that taking those classes helped me get over this hurdle. When I started taking classes I had a few people tell me, “You aren’t going to be able to read everything.” I tried to receive their advice, but it was hard because I wanted to read everything! Slowly but surely, reality set in and somewhere along the way I accepted it as a reality. It should be said, however, that accepting this reality does not mean that you decide not to try to complete the reading. Rather, it helps you prioritize your reading in such a way that if you don’t get to read something, it doesn’t have as much of an impact.
2. Some of the most important things you learn will not be in a classroom.
- I suppose it’s a bit audacious for me to include this ‘reality’ when I have not even completed my first year of seminary, but I think maybe the classes I took before arriving also helped me come to this conclusion. Everyone wants to do well at grad school. And it seems that this is even more so at seminary since there is this crazy idea that how well you do in classes is some how an indication of either one’s ability to do ministry or one’s spiritual maturity or both. I think those of us in seminary also feel as though we have to prove to others that we really are called to ministry as if good grades will appease the nay sayers. Let me first say that God’s call does not have to be proven or defended. That’s probably a whole post in and of itself so I will leave it at that for now. Secondly, there are folks who will leave seminary having achieved an ‘A’ in every class they take. And that might be all they leave with. Since seminary is school for the mind and for the heart and soul, there are many things that God has to teach us that aren’t written in our text books. It’s as if God is Mr. Miyagi and we are Daniel-son. Mr. Miyagi asks Daniel-son to do a lot of crazy things that don’t seem to apply to learning karate (and let’s face it, Mr. Miyagi wants to save on contracting fees) but in the end, the time Daniel-son spent working at Mr. Miyagi’s house served him well in the end. (By the way, I don’t think saving money on contracting fees is part of God’s agenda. All analogies fall apart at some point.) So we must strive to be good sons and daughters of The One who calls us and not sacrifice the lessons God has to teach us out of the classroom so we can impress people inside the classroom. It is true that these two things are really not mutually exclusive, but it has been helpful for me to consider this as I continue here at seminary.
3. If you can answer the question, “Even if this is true, can I still believe in Jesus?” with a “yes” (which most of the time seems to be the case) you will be more open to learning what the profs have to teach you.
- If you are headed to seminary (or are already there), you have more than likely had at least one person caution you not to “loose your faith” in seminary. Throughout your time at seminary you will most likely be confronted with ideas that conflict with the beliefs you hold, things you have not yet begun to think about, and points of view that will make you wonder what planet people are from (just kidding on that last one…kinda). For instance, it is a common belief held by New Testament scholars that the story of the woman caught in adultery found in John 7:53-8:11 was not in original manuscripts. This is, in fact, annotated by brackets and a footnote in some Bibles to include the NIV and the NRSV. It is possible that this passage was added later. While that doesn’t necessarily mean it didn’t happen it is still challenging. And yet, to a certain degree it doesn’t have to be. So in this case I would say to myself, “If this is true that the story of the woman caught in adultery was not actually in the original versions of the Gospel of John, can I still believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” In this case I can say, “Yes.” This means that I relieve myself of much of the pressure to believe one way or the other.
- I must stop here to say that this does not work for everything. If I was presented with the idea that Jesus was never really bodily resurrected, the outcome would be different. If this is true my faith is in vain. So what do you do if the answer to your question is “no”? Well, that could mean a few things. It could mean that you outright reject the idea and refuse to consider it further. If however, you may be tested on the possibility of this idea or what scholars say about it and why, that’s probably not a good path to follow. In this case, it would probably be a better choice to engage the idea with a critical eye and accept it for what it is: an idea. Accepting something as an idea does not mean you have to agree with it.
- Okay…so this could probably be a post on it’s own, but I will leave it here. Before I end however, for those of you who are wondering why the heck I have included this, it is because I have heard stories of people who have completely stressed themselves out over these types of things. I’m not saying anyone on the planet is capable of never getting stressed out. Stress and crisis’ of belief can be healthy and make us stronger. What I am saying is that it seems to me we often work ourselves up about something that in the end doesn’t change the outcome of the story: Jesus is the Son of God. And this reminds me of the time when we were a little kids and cried so hard we got a stomach ache and sometimes even threw up. Wrestling with God is one thing…beating ourselves to death is something completely different. For one thing, wrestling with God often leads to increased understanding while beating yourself up often leads to…spiritual black eyes.