On the Dangers of Seminary (Pt. 7): On the Danger of Being THAT GUY

This installment is the last one in which I deal with the dangers of seminary (although I plan to follow up with a post speaking to the many positive aspects of seminary). I am certainly not saying that there are no more dangers. In fact, more than a few of you have pounded my inbox with suggestions for additional “dangers” that could be mentioned. Some of the suggestions were serious, but most of them were…not so much.

Actually, I have collated many of your suggestions and expressed your sentiments under the heading, “the danger of being THAT GUY.” Often, THAT GUY is the one who has only recently come to a new theological position and is positively obnoxious about it. You know, the guy who nobody wants to have a conversation with because of the axe he has to grind. A lot of attention has been given to “cage stage” Calvinists (these are freshly minted Calvinists who ought to be locked in a cage for a couple of years until they can stop referring to four-pointers as “quasi-Pelagian” and start learning to utter sentences that do not contain the phrase “the doctrines of grace”). But there are cage-stage anti-Calvinists too (and they can’t claim that God ordained them to be obnoxious).

And don’t forget the Contextual Seminarian (this guy is similar to the second type of dork to which I refer in an earlier post. He’s the guy with the wounded poet look, emerging church glasses, girl jeans, and a soul patch. And he doesn’t even have a prescription for the glasses). Or the “Courting Only” guy (I’d like to offer him a cold compress for his fevered brow). Or Mr. “Home-School Only” (If one more person at the SBC comes up to me and tells me that it is ungodly for me to send my kids to public school, I think I’m going to strangle him with a floral-patterned jumper).

Other times, THAT GUY is the one who can’t seem to keep his mouth shut in class. He is always pregnant with an inane question. Are you THAT GUY? If so, you are probably blissfully unaware. Did you know there is a Fantasy Seminary League? Are you aware that some of your fellow students choose the names of their favorite THAT GUYs at the beginning of the semester, and form their own Fantasy Seminary team? That’s right. Every time you start into another 4.5 minute question, the guy who picked you gets a point. If you ask three or four of those questions, he gets three or four points. If the teacher ignores you, reprimands you, or pokes a little fun at you, they get double points!

“Oh, no,” you opine. “I’m not THAT GUY.” Really? Well, here is a test: Do people groan and roll their eyes when you start showing off your knowledge, attempting to disguise it in the form of a question? Do you like to bring up your pet theories in every class, struggling to adapt them to interrogative form? Are you personally committed to uttering, in the form of a question, every stray thought you’ve conceived during the lecture? Do your questions start with the phrase, “But don’t you think that…?” Does your teacher get an odd look on his face when you raise your hand? Do your fellow students ever tell you that every time you talk in class they feel like a hamster swimming in a bucket of Thorazine? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might be THAT GUY. And if you are THAT GUY, stop it. Stop it right now.

Still other times, THAT GUY is one who idolizes a particular man in the ministry. Usually, THAT GUY imports his idol’s interests, theological convictions, pulpit mannerisms, and sometimes even his clothing preferences. Take, for example, students who idolize John Piper (I call them “Pipettes”). When they preach, they try to imitate Piper’s intensity and earnest demeanor, and even his intonations, but instead they look like they are in great pain and might implode on the spot.

But it is not just Piper. Our campuses have students who seek to impersonate any number of other ministry figures. When I first started preaching (waaaaaay back in 1993), I had discovered James Merritt’s sermon library and started preaching his messages to my youth. Verbatim. Soon, I discovered Adrian Rogers and started preaching his sermons. I tried to imitate his voice and intonations, and even the Adrian Rogers “chuckle” at the end of my (his) jokes. Seriously. Of course, there is nothing wrong with looking up to certain men and women who have walked with the Lord longer than we, and who have much to teach us. However, any time we admire a man inordinately we are in trouble. Ultimately, we are called to emulate Christ (and not our heroes) and hold Him and his Word supreme (rather than some man’s theological system or methodological distinctives).

OK, enough of that. I hope that you are not offended by the warning not to be THAT GUY. I’ve tried to be candid, while staying on the nearside of disrespectful. On a more serious note, others suggested that I include the danger of burnout: Seminary brings with it many challenges. There are financial pressures, intellectual challenges, family responsibilities, and church commitments. It is not easy. Likely, you have never had to try to juggle a 30-hr. per week job, 12 hours of class, and 60 required books per semester at the same time that you try to love your family and serve your church.

The real question here is how to juggle the multiple callings God has given you: family, church, and two workplaces (seminary and job). This challenge is not easily met, and it continues throughout life, but two insights are particularly helpful: First, recognize that faithfulness should not necessarily be equated with excellence. Being faithful to your seminary studies is not to be equated with making A’s in your studies. This might be a season in life when the best thing for you to do is to make A’s at home and B’s and C’s at school. Second, recognize that there is a reason that the Lord gave us a day of rest. Enjoy your church’s fellowship and worship time, devote several hours to reading and reflecting upon Scripture, and if possible take a nap.

As for the dangers of seminary, this concludes my reflections. In the final installment, I will speak of tremendous assets of the seminary context, of the way in which it can be a catalyst for spiritual growth, theological maturity, and methodological creativity.

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  1. Gabe   •  

    I am deeply offended Bruce.

    Mostly because I tend to be THAT GUY.

    Who has five points and two thumbs? THIS GUY.

  2. rynoyak   •  

    We had a version of “This Guy” at SEBTS – “The Red Herring.”
    The Red Herring would inevitably ruin any/all class discussion by-
    1. Affect unsurity and ask the same question the professor asked to start the discussion
    2. Answer this question themselves stating the professor’s position as if it were original
    3. Attempt (and fail) to draw a bridge from this to their own topic completely unrelated to the discussion at hand

    You know who you are!

  3. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Gabe, you’re out of control man!

  4. rynoyak   •  

    Wait, did I actually call somebody out? What was I thinking? How can I delete that?
    Oh, well.

  5. Donna B   •  

    Brings a smile to my face. Men can be THAT GUY and wives can be THAT WIFE. Seminary subculture can easily sway the committed disciple to imitate [insert admirable believer’s name here]. We forget as we try to maximize our life for Christ that we need to BE like Christ.

    Two years overseas on two different continents and we are still learning what it means to BE like Christ.

  6. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Rynoyak, LOL. But I did edit the name out…

  7. Art   •  

    THAT GUY is nothing new. [In a class I once had] THAT GUY ranted, “Only songs written before 1940 and in the Baptist Hymnal are worth singing.” Then he started quoting Gaither songs. I laughed out loud before LOL was popular. Last year, a new [seminary] grad brought me two papers he had written…insisting that I read them. He insisted that teaching the principle of tithing was bad pastoring. Soon after, he dropped out of church all together…which caused 3 families to do the same. But THAT GUY is in the minority. Thanks, Bruce, for investing in Kingdom Warriors who have both passion and compassion.

  8. Skwirl   •  

    I think I USED to be that guy. Like one time I was asked to give a short devotional for my friends “Skate church.” I made it into an impromptu greek fest. Also I was asked to teach about Jonah at VBS and exegeted the entire book for 30 minutes. No joke. That really happened. I’ve gotten better though in part because it’s hard for me to be so obnoxious in French.

  9. Brad Williams   •  

    Aw gee, and here I was hoping everyone had happily forgotten about me!

    Poor Dr. Sailhamer. Blessings on that man for not shooting me dead, which he probably should have done.

  10. Jay Bailey   •  

    I got a chuckle out of this installment as I thought about people who fit the descriptions that I have known. The truth is we have all been that guy to a certain degree at times in certain settings. If you think you haven’t you are probably guilty and clueless. This is another one of those self examination moments where too few of us look critically at ourselves. Not being Seminary trained I am just giving a simple observation from many years in Universities and overall human behavior. My hope is we would all especially me become better encouragers and servants to one another while being able to debate and learn the doctrines set before us. Thanks for the topic and for stimulating thought on this subject.

  11. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Jay, hey friend! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. You are spot on: all of us are THAT GUY…

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