Matthew R. Perry

Seminary Students Know Everything, Right? (From the Archives — 2.1.06)

In For Seminary Students on May 16, 2007 at 10:43 am

It seems too often some seminary students seem to feel they are an authority on everything! How does this come to be? Does being accepted into a school of graduate level academics cause one’s head to swell with pride and grand a feeling of elitism? Does being in seminary mean that someone has attained the ’super-spiritual status’? Does hob-nobbing with world-class seminary professors who know you on a first name basis when they see you in the hall bestow upon you some great inside track into the evangelical world?

It’s easy to let happen, that’s for sure — and it is something that we must guard against. I know that I’ve seen this happen in various blogs and articles written by seminary students that show this type of elitism. Mr. and Mrs. Grammar and all their offspring tend to lurk these pages in SBTS blogdom, and often feel it necessary to correct misspellings and misuses of terms and various phraseologies. One friend of mine had a seminarian (actually, he hadn’t started yet) who felt the need to chastise him over a misspelling of Samuel Alito’s name (he spelled it Olito). Here is what he wrote:

Sorry. I saw you misspelled the recent Supreme Court nominee’s name “Olito” and I was unable to read the rest of your post. I have become like my curmudgeony old History professor who said, “If I get hung up on your grammar or usage, I can’t even evaluate your argument.” of correcting papers. I will try in my mind to substitute “Alito” and reread your posting.

If this fellow was an old history professor, maybe. If this fellow was actually grading a paper, then I would understand. But this is an almost fellow seminarian who, rather than saying, “Good post! Just thought you might want to know, but his name is spelled with an “A” rather than an “O” — otherwise, a good post!” — he speaks this. We have to be careful of eminating an aura of elitism even amongst our peers.

Now, contrast that with a mistake I made and then see the response:

Thanks for the plug. Small correction: the blog is Provocations and Pantings. Not a big deal calling it Panderings, especially since I get ragged by my friends as “Provocations and Panties.”

See what a difference in approach makes? “Timmy” corrected me, but mixed in a word of gratitude sprinkled with humor (I actually laughed out loud).

Having said all that, let me say this. Having graduated from a Bible college in 1994 (Palm Beach Atlantic University) and twice from Southern Seminary (M.C.M. in 1997, M.Div in 2003 — currently pursuing a D.Min. in Expository Preaching), I certainly felt a sense of accomplishment. But that lasted for about five seconds. Heaven knows that I would not have gone to seminary had not God explicitly laid that calling upon my life. I ran from His calling for years — desiring to attain my accounting degree then pursue my theological studies. But when God called, He actually expected me to respond immediately, not on my timetable. So off I went to college, then to seminary. Every day I am out of seminary is another day I realize that I do not know hardly anything at all! Books? Yes. But do I know my God? Do I love those around me? Do I truly understand the inner workings of my own heart?

I began to see that I really know very little and I need to get to work to know my God, love my people, and to guard my heart.

But I believe the battle over one’s pride and other areas of fleshly behavior really come to the forefront at seminary. Seminary, for all its wonders, is a very lonely place even when surrounded by 2000+ other students (as is the case at Southern). If you take a full-load (12-15 hours), you spend the majority of your time studying … and studying … and studying. And after a while, it begins to wear on the average person.

One of the first things I noticed when I first came to seminary was the fact that very few people walking down the hallways looked happy. They didn’t even look content — not even close. Very few said ‘hi’ unless they knew you. At first, I didn’t understand, but now I do — seminary, for all its wonders (have I said that already), is a lonely place and very hard work. When one first arrives on campus, one may feel they have reached the zenith of their spiritual walk. But many leave disillusioned because the vibrancy of a once active spiritual life has been relegated to mere academia, mere knowledge-crunching, a mere exercise in short-term memory on the highest level to get by on tests.

Seminary, if we are not careful, can turn even the most outgoing student inward. We cocoon ourselves from outward distractions so none of those Greek words we’ve worked so hard to parse leak out of our porous brains. We wrap ourselves up so we can remember the birth and death dates of Benjamin Keach and the advent of the Philadelphia Baptist Association. As a music student, I barracaded myself in my dorm room and the piano practice room for two days prior to Dr. McElrath’s hymnology exam so I wouldn’t forget the 50+ hymn tunes I needed to know for the upcoming test.

What’s the solution? First, to remember 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. [27] But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; [28] God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, [29] so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. [30] He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. [31] Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

God places His calling on the ones that the world deems unfit. Yet, it seems that even with this we want to seem ‘fit’ before the world. We should desire to be ‘fit’ before God rather than strutting around our gifts and talents so the world will notice. The Pharisees did this, and they had their reward of applause than immediately came (Matthew 6:1-8).

Secondly, as seminary students, love one another and take care of one another. When you walk down the hallway, smile and say hello to someone! That may be the first encouraging thing they have heard in days because their seminary classes and other relationships may have been burying them in a heap! If you see someone sitting alone in the cafeteria, pull up a chair and have lunch with them and start a conversation! Help bear the burdens of one another (Galatians 6:2). Do something for someone else, rather than spend all your time telling of how well you are doing in your classes. That may come up, but we are called to build up one another in Christ (Ephesians 4:11-16). We can speak the truth (like the fellow who pointed out that Alito was spelled with an ‘A’), but make sure the truth is spoken with love! We will learn the truth at seminary, but we must seek God with all our heart to help us maintain the attitude of love in our hearts toward Him and others!

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  1. Thanks for the timely post Matt. I just completed my first full year at SBTS and had moments where I felt like I was in fact more spiritual than other Christians. Thankfully, by God’s grace those feelings didn’t last too long. It is something I have to guard against constantly though.

    I agree with you about smiling and saying hello. For whatever reason(s) many students seldom speak even when I say hello in passing.

    I’m from southeast KY and we typically speak to everyone. However, I’ve been surprised by the number of folks I speak to that look at me as if I’m crazy and keep walking. I thought we were all in this together?

    Thanks again!

  2. Remind me to link to this article if I don’t in the next few weeks.

  3. You have the majority of seminary students pegged right. I attended SAGU nearly 20 years ago and I saw the exact same scenario you described here. Actually, after a couple of days on the campus, I was convinced that ‘attitude’ was about all that my classmates had.

    The ‘bug’ finally bit me too. I found myself scrutinizing every syllable of the pasator’s sermons. Checking every reference in the original language, and etc…
    Somewhere along the way, when I had taken the summer off and gone back home; my dear grandmother ‘called me on the carpet’ for my harsh assessment of that morning’s sermon. Nothing like a saintly granny to bring a smart alek student down to earth.

    Many things I learned in Bible school are long forgotten. But the lessons I learned from Granny still guide me today.

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