I’m glad to hear that you think the Lord is calling you to be a minister. As you know, two years ago I felt the same way. I had to choose between a big-name seminary that had long ago abandoned trust in the Bible and an evangelical seminary that still held the Bible as its real source of authority. Since you are facing that decision now, I’d like to suggest some biblical guidelines.
1. Sound seminary training should be directly and explicitly based on the Bible.
“All scripture is inspired by God [literally, “breathed out by God”] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that [or “in order that”—shows the purpose for which Scripture is inspired] the man of God may be complete [or more precisely, “exactly fitted to his job”], equipped [or “completely furnished”] for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).
“I have more understanding than all my teachers, for thy testimonies are my meditation” (Ps. 119:99).
“But his [the blessed man’s] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night [“law” here can apply to the whole Bible]” (Ps. 1:2).
“If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:46, 47). A seminary that claims to believe Christ but not the Bible is really not believing Christ at all.
2. By contrast, there is much “theology” that is non-biblical and anti-Christian. We are positively commanded to avoid it.
“See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).
“Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith” (1 Tim. 6:20, 21).
“But Jesus answered them, ‘You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God’ ” (Matt. 22:29). What had they done wrong? Read the context and you will see that they had asked the wrong question; Jesus says that men who don’t know the Bible don’t even ask the right questions.
“Like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings which are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Eccl. 12:11, 12).
From all this, Jerry, I think you can see that to go to a seminary where the Bible is not upheld would be to act as though you yourself thought lightly of the Bible’s value. This would be serious, for God doesn’t treat it as an optional matter; he has sometimes judged people for their rejection of his Word. See, for instance, Isaiah 5:24, 25: “They have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and have despised the word of the Holy One of Israel. Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and smote them.”
3. True theology is rightly done only with and by believers.
One reason for this is that we need good Christian fellowship to grow to Christian maturity.
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (Ps. 1:1).
“He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov. 13:20). A “fool” in the Old Testament isn’t necessarily unintelligent; he is a person who doesn’t know the Lord.
“I am a companion of all who fear thee, of those who keep thy precepts” (Ps. 119:63).
But an even bigger reason than Christian fellowship for choosing a seminary true to the Bible is that our real teacher in the things of God is the Holy Spirit. In seminaries that reject the Bible, many teachers don’t even profess to be Christians. How can the Holy Spirit teach through them? Their wisdom cannot be called true wisdom, for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10), and “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7).
God has given some the gift of teaching “for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). In Second Timothy 2:2, Paul tells Timothy how to build the church: the teaching he received he should “entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
You probably still have some questions in your mind, Jerry, and I think I can anticipate a few of them.
1. Would an evangelical seminary be too restrictive?
No, it would be more free. Free, that is, in the true sense—the freedom that comes from living in obedience to God. As Psalm 119:45 says, “I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought thy precepts.” Of course, there would not be the pseudo-freedom of the unbeliever, which is really rebellion against God. In Psalm 2:3, for instance, men who set themselves against God’s will cry, “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.”
For me, this question was answered when I asked myself whether the Bible itself is too restrictive for me. It certainly isn’t, and neither is a seminary that remains faithful to it.
2. Wouldn’t it be better to go to a more liberal seminary where you could oppose false teaching? Wouldn’t this have the double advantage of strengthening your own convictions and perhaps helping to change the minds of some professors or students?
I think the testimony of Scripture that I quoted above is sufficiently clear on this point. Let me add some practical considerations.
This argument assumes we should tempt ourselves and thereby tempt God (putting him to the test to see if he will preserve us even when we seek out adverse environments). But Jesus tells us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation” (Matt. 6:13), and says, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Matt. 4:7). Our job is to obey God, not to make faith a “work” that we do to gain merit with him or to increase our self-confidence and pride.
This argument also falsely construes the nature of a seminary. The purpose of attending seminary is to learn through positive training. You don’t go to law school if you want to become a doctor. To do so might strengthen your conviction that you want to be a doctor, but where would it leave you? You’d waste a lot of time getting training that would not be of use to you, and you’d have no positive training at all in your chosen field. Similarly, you don’t grow strong by starving yourself.
The second “advantage,” the prospect of convincing others, is just not realistic. A man who has taught a particular brand of theology for twenty years has heard all the arguments any student could think of, plus a few more. He has come miles to get where he is today; if a student moves him a quarter of an inch, it’s pretty amazing.
The situation is not much more promising with students. For every fifteen minutes of conversation you have with a student, the school gets from fifty to a hundred for teaching its position. And it has the advantage of the student’s background and inclinations, which made him choose that particular school.
If you want to minister now, then go minister to the hundreds of people who are eager to hear the Gospel. But if you want to prepare now so you can minister more effectively later, then it doesn’t make sense to choose a seminary for the sole purpose of trying to minister there. This could only be justified by some kind of extraordinary calling from God. I might add that God certainly doesn’t begrudge the time you spend preparing to minister. Remember Jesus, who “when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23).
3. Wouldn’t an evangelical seminary give its graduate much less prestige, and thus less effectiveness for the Lord?
I think this is one of those questions that lurk in the back of our minds, never quite bringing themselves to verbal form. For to ask this question directly almost embarrasses us before God. Our job is to obey God, not to win gold medals for him.
I wouldn’t want you to go to an academically deficient school, of course, but I don’t think that is the case with most large evangelical seminaries today. On the contrary, it is the evangelicals, for instance, who have continued to insist on solid training in Greek and Hebrew. They care what the Bible says. Liberal seminaries have by and large thrown out language requirements.
When we obey God, he makes us effective in the way he has chosen. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree, planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season [that is, it produces the specific results God ordained for it, at the specific time God planned], and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Ps. 1:1–3).
Whose approval are we seeking, anyway? See Second Timothy 2:15, which in the King James Version reads: “Study [or “eagerly strive”] to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing [or “rightly handling”] the word of truth.”
I’ll continue to pray that God will guide you to the right seminary, Jerry. Meanwhile, I want to encourage you to seek out more Christian men who know you and know the seminary situation, and get their advice. I hope to hear from you soon.
YOUR BROTHER IN CHRIST,
Wayne Grudem is a student at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia. He has the B.A. from Harvard University, where he was president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship. This summer he is assisting at Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Westfield, New Jersey.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.