I had coffee this morning with a person getting ready to leave for seminary, and we discussed the pros and cons of his new undertaking. I shared three things in favor of obtaining a seminary education. I am sure there are more, but I am putting these out there for others who are thinking through whether they should go to seminary.
Of course, I should quickly disclaim that I don’t think that everyone in ministry must go to seminary or that one is necessarily at a disadvantage for not having a formal theological education. I know many faithful self-taught brothers and sisters serving Jesus all over the world just as they should. Some of my pastor-heroes were self-taught. So seminary isn’t a hard prerequisite for all vocational ministry.
With that out of the way, here are three benefits I can see of a seminary education.
First, seminary helps a person become better acquainted with the theological conversation in the wider church. Seminary isn’t the only way to do this, but it sure helps and it is quicker too. One gets a birdseye view of the many issues, debates, and theological questions with which Christians have wrestled. One also becomes better equipped to discern the proper weight of the various theological issues that the church is dealing with, or has already.
Second, seminary helps a person become more precise in study. Of course, learning the biblical languages and hermeneutics and exegesis all greatly aid in the precision of Bible study (I think increased precision is the reason to study Greek and Hebrew). Also, in a general way, learning to weigh sources is super helpful to sharpen one’s theological study. Seminary pushes students in that direction.
Third, seminary helps a student understand how much he doesn’t know. We don’t realize how deep a lake is until we go swimming. Theology is more like an ocean than a lake, and seminary, if done rightly, helps us see how small and how close to the surface we are and how deep and vast the ocean really is. This is immensely helpful for one’s life-long pursuit of learning. It is also very humbling, which is a good thing.
As I said, seminary isn’t for everyone and it shouldn’t be required in all cases and for every context. What would my pastor-brothers in remote Asia do if it were? Seminary isn’t even an option for them. But here are three good reasons to consider seminary if you believe God is leading you into a life of vocational ministry.