01 April 2012
Staying Christian in Seminary
Posted by request of our friends at Desiring God
What's the secret to soul-health while in seminary?
There are many good things to be said. Stay prayerful, be involved in the local church, cultivate meaningful friendships, fight for sexual sanity, find a brother to confess your sins to, get enough sleep, don’t neglect your wife if married. All important.
But above all else I would say two things to a young man given the privilege of seminary: you are justified by another, and you are strong in weakness.
1. You are justified by another.
Fallen human beings are walking courtrooms.
Internal, tense, anxious, emotional scurrying about will define your seminary experience if you do not settle the astounding truth that for those united to Christ the courtroom verdict over your life is now a past reality rather than a future one. It’s behind you, not before you. A period, not a question mark. You are justified.
In a strange and wonderful text in Isaiah 28, God declared that the inscription on the cornerstone of the future temple would be, “Whoever believes will not be in haste” (Isa. 28:16). Have you tasted that?
The unanswered questions of the heart not at rest are: Am I ok? Do I matter? Who am I before others? How do I measure up? Am I significant? What’s the judgment over my life?
But when Jesus came he didn't tell us to provide self-generated answers to these questions. He said he came to give rest (Matt. 11:28-30). He came to stop the haste. Paul even took Isaiah 28 and said Jesus is that cornerstone so that whoever believes in Christ will not be in haste (Rom. 9:33; 10:11).
In seminary as much as any time in your life you must remember that the sigh of the soul you so desperately desire is yours, freely, abundantly, as you trust in Christ, the radiant Friend of screw-ups. United to him, you are co-justified with him. For you to be un-okayed, Jesus would have to be un-okayed. His verdict is in, and therefore yours is in.
That’s hard, strangely hard, to remember. For various reasons it’s especially hard to remember in seminary. While studying the Bible as a full-time student I found I could write a paper on justification by faith alone and then seek to be justified by its publication.
At Covenant Seminary I startled myself with how quickly I slipped into impress-mode around professors I admired. I forgot the verdict was in. I was bolstering what God thought of me with what others thought of me. Justification plus. Haste.
The pressures of seminary will force you either into greater rest or greater haste. One thing determines which way you go: regular heart-bathing in the gospel of a secured, irreversible verdict won by the now un-condemnable Christ.
His unflappable hug, his undentable favor, is impervious to your mediocre grades, fickle human approval, up-and-down marriage, number of Twitter followers, or how long it’s been since you abused Youtube.
How do you stay Christian in seminary? Above all else, defibrillate your heart daily with the invincible favor of God shining down on you because of the love and sacrifice of another.
Only the doctrine of justification by faith alone will enable you to experience seminary as joyful, relaxed ministry training rather than frantic, fretful impressing.
2. You are strong in weakness.
Few things bring our weakness to the surface like seminary. Spending all day with classmates who read faster than you, memorize paradigms more easily than you do, and preach better than you do pours gasoline on the flames of our insecurity. Ongoing moral failure--for young men in today's hypersexualized world I am thinking especially of sexual failure, though spiritual pride, laziness, envy, intellectual haughtiness, and a bent toward divisiveness also reveal our weakness.
Seminary gathers up all our latent insecurities and forces them before us. We begin to ask questions of ourselves.
Am I supposed to be here? we wonder. Shouldn't I be better at the languages if this is where God wants me? Shouldn't I be able to preach in front of 8 brothers in a homiletics practicum without my eyes being chained to my notes and my palms sweating? Shouldn’t my finances be less strapped if seminary is the Lord’s good purpose in my life? Shouldn’t I be able to finally kick that habitual sin if I’m spending so much time pondering God and the Bible?
Brother: those soul-squeezing questions are your friends. Without them you would coast through seminary and graduate a shallow, twaddling little man with no depth and trite answers.
God’s grace is sufficient for you. Get over yourself. You are weak. You are inadequate. You always will be. And the story of the Bible is God’s delight in taking weak, inadequate men and doing the unthinkable. Stop insulting the Holy Spirit. Your weakness is the single crucial prerequisite for him to make your life a miracle. To think “I don’t have what it takes” is precisely what it takes. Don’t try to overcome your weakness. Leverage your weakness into a lifetime of 1 Corinthians 2:1–5 ministry.
God’s power is made perfect in your weakness.