On the Dangers of Seminary (Pt. 4): The Danger of Becoming a Dork

Dork: [dor’k] noun. USA pejorative slang for a quirky or socially inept person, or one who is out of touch with contemporary trends. Often confused with “nerd” and “geek,” but does not imply the same intelligence level.


In this series of posts, I am dealing with the perils of the unique and sometimes bizarre world of seminary education. Most of the dangers of which I speak are dangers to which I have succumbed at one point another during my times as a student, teacher, or administrator. This post is no exception, as my friends can attest (and would eagerly affirm).

I would like to point out that seminary students in particular find themselves confronted with the danger of becoming dorks. That’s right. Seminaries often attract and produce pencil-necked geeks. These are guys who have lost themselves in parsings and prophecy charts, but have little awareness of their surroundings, and sometimes little or no ability to make conversation with ordinary American citizens. “No,” you opine, “I’m not one of those guys.” Really? Well, here’s a quiz. If you answer yes to any of these questions, you are a certified dork-in-training.

1. Do you know all about Cyril of Alexander and Johannes von Staupitz but are blissfully unaware of the existence of Dwight Schrute?

2. Are you able to immediately find your copy of Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor amongst the 2,643 books in your library, but have no idea how to change the oil on your lawnmower?

3. Are you upset that I mentioned The Reformed Pastor in the last question because you thought I should have spotlighted Why I Am Not a Calvinist instead?

4. Do you wear a bowtie?

5. Do you have a moustache?

6. Do you own a searsucker suit?

7. Is your name David Nelson or Nathan Finn?

But there is another, and equally potent, way to become a big dork: try just a little too hard to be culturally savvy. In order to find an example of this path to dorkdom, I need to look no further than myself. For those of you who know me now, as a coat-and-tie-wearing pencil pusher (a dork of the first type), you might be surprised to know that this wasn’t always my style. Soon after becoming a “youth evangelist” in the mid-90s, I found myself needing to be a lot “cooler.” Before long, I could be found sporting wide-leg pants, fat belts, steel-toed boots, and enough faux-silver jewelry to make Scott Stapp blush. (If you don’t understand any of the ostensive referents in the previous sentence, I’d like to refer you back to the first category of ‘dork’ above.) I was workin’ it like Geoff Moore and the Distance. I fancied that I looked like the frontman of an indie rock band, or some other type of uber-cool cultural icon. But I didn’t. I looked like a Barney Fife double who had really bad luck on his latest trip to the Goodwill store. And I’m not alone. There are others. I’m thinking of any number of Seminary Bible jockeys who came to campus wearing penny loafers and golf shirts but who all of the sudden show up on campus complete with a pierced pre-frontal cortex, faux-hawk, slim jeans, and a little dust bunny on their chins.

So what is the point? The point is that we need to be in the world, but not of it. For some of us, we need to get our head out of our books each week long enough to be aware of our surroundings. We need to meet our neighbors and have conversations with them. We should make ourselves aware of the televisions shows, movies, and music that shape the hearts and minds of the people of this country. We should take a little bit of time to become acquainted with the major moral, social, and political debates of our time. If we don’t, we’ll be unaware of the language people speak and the culture they are consuming. Further, in a sense, we neglect our own humanity. To reject culture qua culture is to reject the God who made us to be cultural (artistic and scientific and social and political) beings. The danger is cultural anorexia.

For others of us, we should be careful lest we become uncritically like the broader culture. Underlying the television shows, music, and even the fashion trends in our country are producers, writers, and designers who do their work from within a particular worldview. If these shows, music, and trends are “the very air we breathe,” then it is likely that we are also influenced by the (nihilistic, relativistic, etc.) worldviews underlying them. If we do not consciously, carefully, and consistently keep watch over ourselves, we will find ourselves being consumed by the spirit of the age. We endanger our own humanity by not allowing Christ to conform us to His image. The danger is cultural gluttony.

Of course, seminary is not the only place where one faces the perils of cultural anorexia or gluttony. But it is a place that offers ample opportunity for the former, which I suppose is what drives some seminarians towards the latter. We seek to avoid the perils on either side by (1) as my former seminary professor put it, “allowing God’s Word to be the grid through which we filter the surrounding culture;” and (2) allowing others to provide correction when we err on one side or the other.

John 17:15: “I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.

Acts 17:22: “Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens’….”

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  1. Steven A. McKinion   •  

    Profane the name of Cyril of Alexandria?

    We should remember the unfortunately middle schooler who wore the fake Member’s Only jacket: he thought he was stylish, everyone else thought I was dork.

    A good post, Bruce. Thanks for providing leadership to our college.

  2. Nathan Finn   •  

    Count Dorkula,

    This stings. The wounds run deep, my friend, and it will take more than a $100 gift certificate to LifeWay for you to win back my friendship (though you can start with the LifeWay thing).

    For the record, here are my answers to your little quiz:

    1. Do you know all about Cyril of Alexander and Johannes von Staupitz but are blissfully unaware of the existence of Dwight Schrute? — I know all about Cyril and Staupitz and I appreciate Dwight Schrute. So there.

    2. Are you able to immediately find your copy of Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor amongst the 2,643 books in your library, but have no idea how to change the oil on your lawnmower? — First of all, I have way more than 2,643 books. Second, knowing where Baxter is located has nothing to do with dorkiness and everything to do with order. Third, I know how to change the oil on my lawnmower. That’s about all I can fix on the blasted thing, but there you have it.

    3. Are you upset that I mentioned The Reformed Pastor in the last question because you thought I should have spotlighted Why I Am Not a Calvinist instead? — I find myself indifferent to this question.

    4. Do you wear a bowtie? — This hurts, Bruce.

    5. Do you have a moustache? — It depends upon what you mean. If you mean moustache in the Magnum P.I. sense, then nope. But technically a moustache is part of a beard, so in the broader sense, yes. But I want to note my beard has nothing to do with dorkiness and everything to do with my genetic propensity to suffer from ingrown facial hair when I shave. Your just upset because you can’t even grow a “dust bunny”.

    6. Do you own a searsucker suit? — Nope . . . but it’s because money is tight in this economy. I want one, though. ;-)

    7. Is your name David Nelson or Nathan Finn? — Now this is just plain nasty, Ashford. You know as well as I do that neither David nor myself are as dorky as McKinion. You’re just picking a fight, and I don’t appreciate it.

    I’d watch my back, if I were you.


  3. DMclaurin   •  

    Shew! I was afraid that I was a dork because I carry my Biblia Sacra to church. It’s nice to know that this is not the case.

    I would give this post twenty Schrute bucks, but someone has encased my wallet in Jello.


  4. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    I have several comments to make:

    Steve: Does it make me more of a dork than you if I pilfered my GRANDFATHER’s Members Only jacket and wore it to school, b/c I didn’t have one of my own?

    Nathan: First, your reply is a riot. I’m not sure I can top it, so I won’t try. Second, your comments about my inability to grow facial hair hurt. I have feelings too, you know. Third, I don’t believe you know how to change the oil on your lawnmower. I just can’t picture it. Fourth, you are right about McKinion. I think I should publish a public apology for not including a paragraph about him or a photo.

  5. Jason Lewis   •  

    Bruce, you are highly qualified to write this article.

    I do affirm and eagerly attest to the fact that, not only did you exhibit dorkiness on the campus at SEBTS, but that you were a dork well before that.

    I also am blissfully aware of Dwight Schrute. Although unlike you, I do not resemble him, which places me a little lower on the dork scale I think.

    And although I have tried to imitate you in many ways for the past 13 years, I have thankfully never insisted on getting my hair done at a salon.

    Baxter’s book, while not on my shelf, is on my wish list. I am in the proces of arranging my books in order by the Library of Congress numbers. Scary, I know. And I do not know how to change the oil on anything despite being shown countless times.

    I also affirm your “off the record” mention of our other two dorky friends in the email. :)

    Just a random assortment of thoughts…

    My two cents,

  6. Charlie Wallace   •  

    Great post. However, I would argue that owning, and wearing, a seersucker suit in the culture that I live in (post-Reconstruction Columbia, SC) would actually make you an anti-dork…in fact, seersucker and bow ties have been “in” for years – especially those summer days with 99% humidity.

    You’re spot on about the mustache thing, though. However, if I grew one it would be of the “crustache” variety.

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  8. Ryan Hutchinson   •  

    Everyone is going to gather together at Dr. Ashford’s house tomorrow morning so that he can show us all his adeptness at changing the oil in his lawnmower.

    Dr. Ashford…hint…most lawnmowers use SAE 30 oil. Just wanted to make sure you bought the right kind.

  9. Steven A. McKinion   •  

    As to the intent of the post (leaving its humor aside), I wonder if you have thoughts about “Christian” music or “Christian” art. Particularly, what of the sense that because Christians cannot be “cool” they should be “knock-off cool”? For example, the game Praise Band as a knock off of Rock Band? Is it being a dork to go the “Christian” way, or is it a valid avoidance of “worldliness”? Your thoughts would be, I’m sure, interesting.

    Thanks for taking the time to help Christians think rightly about life in the Kingdom.

  10. JAN   •  

    I’ll be preaching in my seersucker on sunday.

  11. Sterling Griggs   •  

    I am a balding almost 40 pastor who doesn’t own a Baxter book but I do own seersucker pants and I can seriously rock not just the stache but the full Taliban-style beard yet I can barely tie a regular tie.

  12. Hannah Nelson   •  

    What do you have against bowties and searsucker? That’s what I’d like to know. :)
    No but seriously. I want to know.

  13. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Dougald, thanks for the shout out. and it is clear that you are now aware of the existence of Dwight Schrute? Did you have to go to Wikipedia? or had the Schrute already made an appearance on your TV set?

    Jason L, the IT guys are working as we speak to have you banned from discourse at our website.

    Charlie and Hannah, I have no real beef with the seersucker. I chose seersucker b/c it gave me an opportunity to take a shot at David Nelson…

  14. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Sterling, I have never seen a man rock a seersucker along with a Taliban beard. You win.

    Nixon, the funniest thing I’ve heard on seersuckers: Dr. Galeotti told me one time that if I got any skinnier, my seersucker would only need one stripe.

  15. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Ryan, lawnmowers do need oil changed regularly, right? :-)

    Steve, that is a great point and ripe for an entire post of its own. the Christian music I appreciate the most is not a knock off, but rather the result of a Christian musician’s theologically sound and musically appropriate creativity. Keith and Kristin Getty, for example.

  16. kschaub   •  

    Searsucker suit?! Didn’t even know what that was till now!

    Kevin Schaub

  17. Elizabeth Ashford   •  

    Don’t be so hard on yourself, I thought you looked pretty cool back then, and you def. had a loyal following of all of my 11-year-old friends who thought you looked hot!

  18. Big J   •  

    I had to Google both seersucker AND Dwight Schrute. So does that earn me a net zero in dorkiness points or what?

    I’ve never owned a seersucker…or a “saran wrap” skin-tight custom-made silk suit from Thailand, for that matter.

    In my opinion, Nathan has made dorkiness the new cool. You’re my hero, Nathan.

    Jason, I know where you live…AND that you too spend your free time reading the dictionary.

    Big J

  19. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Betsy, it wasn’t difficult to impress my 11-year old sister was it? :-)

    Big J, I don’t appreciate you using my blog to commence a drive by shooting, aimed at my purchase of a Thai suit FIFTEEN YEARS AGO!

  20. Dougald McLaurin III   •  

    Dr. Ashford,

    I don’t own a TV. But I do own Netflix. And, I do watch the office when its out on DVD. :)

  21. Alvin Reid   •  

    I have spent plenty of time around dorks. My brother, with a PhD in inorganic chemistry and a penchant for lab coats and such, has been my role model for decades. Maybe that explains why I love snakes.

    If you cannot turn a wrench, cannot tell Briggs and Stratton from Smith and Wesson, you are either a dork or a metrosexual, or both which is worse. I suppose if you put product in your hair you are merely a metrosexual, which would be another whole post written by someone else (JD maybe? JUST KIDDING). On the other hand, if you do not own good Baxter (the book, not NAF’s son) or have at least one decent set of commentaries and are a minister, you could be a bumpkin or even worse, a redneck.

    But if you can swing a sling blade and work a slingbox, can hit a knee to talk to a child and yet parse the aorist, and can discuss both American Eagle and American history, you may make a pretty good minister.

    Now after reading all this I am going outside to grab my posthole diggers and do me some manwork.

    Well, and some gloves :-).

  22. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Alvin, I second everything you said, especially the shot at JD. I was going to mention you and JD in the post, but I figured I’d need an entire post devoted you guys alone. Also, I’d be careful throwing around the word “metrosexual” if I were you. Nathan Akin and Tanner Turley are probably more than a little bit offended.

  23. Dawson Jarrell   •  

    Love IT – And realize I too have some dork in me

    Further as someone who enjoyed a dorm room across the hall from the emanate Nathan Finn, I for a fact can attest to him at one time owning a camouflage baseball cap.

  24. Nathan Finn   •  

    Dawson Jarrell cannot be trusted.

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