Well folks, I'm done with my masters degree and seminary is officially a thing of the past. I look forward to reading and writing on my own terms again. There's so many choices!
I suppose a brief reflection on the past two and a half years is in order. I guess I'll keep it simple. Here's five lessons I've learned in pursuing a master's degree in theology.
1. The importance of understanding church history is second only to understanding scripture.
As I have seen the church move in and out of different trends, whether awesome or heretical, those that were on the negative side usually came about through an ignorance of the past. There is nothing new under the sun. If you think you've had a brilliantly original thought about the Christian faith, you're either standing on the shoulder's of great minds and don't know it, or you're probably a heretic. Sorry, originality is not inherently virtuous. Tradition is not inherently evil. Speak the unchanging truth. You might find a new way to say it once in a while.
2. You can know God's word without knowing God, but you can't know God without knowing his word.
Ok, I'll be honest, I stole that quote from Tim Keller, but it's proven true in my life over and over. Is there a danger of becoming so obsessed with the Bible that you forget the God who inspired it? Of course, but that's not the danger in Evangelicalism today. Not by a long shot. Show me a Christian who worships the Bible and I'll show you ten who worship their cell phone. Rejecting the authority of scripture does not let God out of a box. It's a vain attempt to escape the box he himself has put us in.
3. Theology Matters
If you think your not a theologian, ask yourself if you've ever had a thought about God. Is that a yes? Then you're a theologian. The only question left is, do you desire to be a biblical one or not? Even in seminary, while there were some very serious students, there were also students who cared only about the piece of paper they were pursuing and the future they would have in “practical” ministry. As I've said before, those who trade true doctrine for practical doctrine will soon have neither. What could be more practical than having a worldview that corresponds with the way God actually is? That truly is the ultimate goal of good theology—at least it should be.
4. Humility and uncertainty are not synonyms
In fact, I would argue that humility presupposes a measure of certainty. In order to have a healthy doubt of self, you need certainty in a standard of measurement you can fail to measure up to. In order to humble yourself before a Holy God, you must be certain that God is Holy and have some understanding of what that actually means. Where God has spoken clearly, we should not act as if we lack understanding. Feigning confusion in the face of clarity is arrogance, not humility.
5. I am fallible, he is faithful
The only reason I was able to remain faithful enough to complete a master's degree was because of God's faithfulness to me. I can think of at least two times when I seriously considered stopping. He got me through. While I know I've learned a great deal, I know that I am ignorant in many areas. While I know that I have grown, I've never been more deeply aware that I am still a sinner. Still, I have hope for the future because I know that it is in the hands of God.
6. (bonus fact!) It's possible to attend a largely Methodist seminary and and still come out a Calvinist!
That speaks for itself I suppose...