Reflections on the Seminary Experience
Having just finished my last exam for my Master of Arts in Religion from Reformed Theological Seminary, I’ve been reflecting on my seminary experience. I spent one year at the Orlando campus of RTS, and I’ve spent the last year and a half finishing my degree through RTS-Virtual, so my experience has been somewhat varied. I now have only one paper and my thesis (with thesis defense/integration seminar) left before I graduate, and so I’d like to reflect on my experience.
Seminary is Just an Introduction
One oft-repeated phrase in academia is the reality that when one begins to study a given topic, he quickly realizes how much he doesn’t know (or, if he doesn’t, he quickly becomes the most annoying member of the student body). That has never held true more than in my RTS experience. While many classes were helpful, and while some definitely went deeper into topics than others, all were ultimately only an introduction to a particular field of study.
That’s not to say that I don’t feel like I’ve gained a much deeper knowledge of some subject areas. But ultimately, if one only does the required reading and what is necessary to get by, one only gets an introduction. I have learned the most when I have found a topic that deeply interests me and draws me into further study. Some might legitimately ask then, “Why get a degree from seminary then? Surely you can get an introduction to various topics on your own?” Certainly one can be introduced to a variety of topics, and even pursue further study separately from a degree program. But aside from the reality of career qualifications and presbytery requirements, I do think that my seminary degree has forced me to gain facility in a broader array of theological and biblical disciplines than I would have done on my own, and that is worthwhile in and of itself.
Seminary Can Aid the Growth of Pride
While there are aspects of seminary that are humbling–learning from multiple sources about total depravity, that is, that you are totally and radically corrupted by sin, realizing that your professor knows more than you probably ever will, to name two–it can also provide a great opportunity for pride. Seminary students have the privilege of learning many great theological concepts that many other people don’t know. And even though the purpose of this knowledge is to grow and to help others to grow–in humility even–it has the strange effect of making one think that he is greater than he is because he knows much theology. But the cure is not found in forsaking seminary studies. Rather, it is found in the repeated proclamation of the gospel and the honest words of a wife and good friends.
Distance Seminary Education Can Be Effective
While certainly going to classes on campus and getting to know professors is a great privilege, distance theological education can be quite effective given certain parameters. I have found that taking classes part-time virtually has been the best decision I made about seminary. I have had much (electronic) interaction with professors, I have been able to work full-time in a satisfying job, and I have been able to serve and be mentored in the church. There is no more that one could wish from his seminary education. Obviously, distance education depends on motivation levels, local church context, and probably even previous training in the liberal arts to some extent, but if someone is willing to dedicate time to it and to be involved in the church, both practical and academic experience can combine for an excellent seminary experience.
I will likely reflect more on my seminary experience when I reach the final completion of it, but for now, I must stop, research the New Perspective on Paul some more, and then move on to studying the life and thought of Johan Herman Bavinck in great detail for my thesis.