On the Dangers of Seminary

This post is a confession of sorts, a confession that I hope will be beneficial to some who read it. In essence, it is about one thing-the fact that God’s grace toward me has been overwhelming and that at the same time I often have not lived in a manner worthy of his grace. The particular focus of this post is God’s calling on my life to study and teach in a seminary context.

From 1996-98, I had the opportunity to study for a M.Div. on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. After serving in Central Asia for two years, I returned to Southeastern to study for a Ph. D. which I completed in 2003. Those years of study were a gift from God. I was able to study the Scriptures, read widely, debate important doctrines and ideas, and learn to proclaim and defend the faith. Don’t get me wrong: there were times that I wanted to be “out there” preaching full-time rather than laboring over the Hebrew language or the intricacies of theological method.

In fact, it was during my first year of seminary that I went to a certain seminary president and informed him that devoting three years to seminary was possibly a waste of my time since there were people somewhere to whom I could be preaching and ministering. After allowing me to unload my brilliant idea, he opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a little blue bucket full of sand, complete with teddy bear imprints and a pink sandbox shovel. He asked me if I could see what was in the bucket. “Sand,” I said, confidently. “That is correct,” he said.

It was at that moment he pointed out that the apostle Paul took a few years in the desert (which has more than a little sand) to prepare for his upcoming ministry and that, as far as he could tell, I was no better than the apostle Paul. For this reason, he said, he was requiring that I carry this blue bucket of sand (and the little pink shovel) everywhere I went for the next week. It was a good reminder to me of the importance of laboring in God’s Word in order to prepare for future ministry. And it brought with it a dose of humility: I remember showing up for Systematic Theology the next morning (taught by the same seminary president) with a bucket, teddy bears, and a pink shovel in my hand. All eyes were fixed on me and my ridiculous accessories. I might as well have been wearing nothing but a pink unitard and a pair of Christmas socks. But I learned my lesson, as Dr. Patterson used me as an illustration to remind the class of their need not to think too highly of themselves.

But back to the point. During the dissertation stage of my Ph.D., I began teaching theology and philosophy full-time at Southeastern, and have continued in teaching and administrative capacities from 2002 until the present. Having been on campus now for 12 of the past 14 years,

I can say that life in a seminary context has been good in many respects. It is a place where I learned to study God’s Word and relate it to all aspects of His world. I was introduced to church history, systematic theology, apologetics, and much more. I formed friendships that will last for a lifetime, and was taught and discipled by men who had walked with God for many years more than I. It is easy for me to recognize God’s grace and goodness to me in this calling.

In spite of the blessing it is to live and teach on a seminary campus, however, I have recognized that this context brings with it certain attendant perils. I recognize these potential pitfalls partly because I have seen myself succumb to some of them. Knowing that I am not alone in struggling to live in a manner worthy of my calling, I will mention a few of these dangers in the hopes that others may benefit. In upcoming posts, I will write about the dangers of: (1) losing your first love for God and your love for the lost; (2) becoming an arrogant, narcissistic, hyper-critical jerk; (3) allowing seminary to replace church; (4) seeking to impress the academy; (5) becoming a seminary dork; and (6) perhaps a few others.

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  1. Deek Dubberly   •  

    Thanks for the post. Enjoyed it and anticipate related upcoming posts. Really liked Dr. Patterson’s object lesson. Would’ve liked to have been there that first day in class. Would’ve enjoyed your explanation, I’m sure.

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  3. Bekah Mason   •  

    I may need to serve some self imposed bucket time. While having a desire to be “out there” serving is a good driving force (one that drives us to complete our studies well), I know that sometimes my desire to serve is really just a prideful desire to show off what I’ve learned. Thanks for the reminder that it’s the long years training in the desert that make us vessels worthy of service for Him.

  4. Jackson Bowen   •  

    This will be something that will be great for me to hear. Thanks for taking the time to share your expierence O’Wise One. (But Seriously, I can’t wait to see the continuations to this blog!)

  5. Big J   •  

    A little more time at the witch doctor’s house or with Ahmet in the banya probably would have helped! :)

    Looking forward to the future posts.

    “Big J”

  6. Andrew Battah   •  

    Wow…demystifying to say the least. Your work continues in this one remotely.

  7. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Deek,thank you for reading the post. I just checked out your blog today. good stuff.

    Bekah, Jackson, and Andy: Don’t make the mistakes I’ve made… thanks for reading and commenting.

    Joey, you really didn’t have to remind me about Ahmet and the banya. Really.

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