So You're Thinking About Going to Seminary Review & Giveaway

by on March 25, 2009

Have you ever picked up one of those books and thought, “Man, where was this book at two years ago?!? So You’re Thinking About Going to Seminary (TAS) by Derek Cooper, PhD, Lutheran Theological Seminary, is exactly that book. I can recall wishing I had a manual to use when wading through the rushing waters that is the process of entering a seminary community. Dr. Cooper provides that manual.

Summary

TAS is divided into four parts. The first part, consisting of three chapters, deals with the familiarization of the reader to the seminary community. This part is a basic overview that challenges preconceived notions of what seminary is and what it is not.

For those looking to attend seminary, the second part, five chapters, is most beneficial. In this part, Dr. Cooper discusses in detail what you must consider before attending seminary. For example, how are you going to pay for your seminary and what are the various types of seminaries are considered. Chapter eight, in particular, is extremely helpful with the process of applying to the proper seminary.

Personally, I found part three, dealing with what to consider during seminary to be most helpful. This part is the largest of any of the other four parts in both number of pages and chapters. Dr. Cooper does not sugar-coat what is to come. Chapter nine challenges you to be a good steward of your time in school and with your family as well as maintaining your faith. Chapters eleven through fourteen deal with the different courses and degree programs offered in seminaries. These chapters are greatly beneficial to the student just beginning his studies because they will give him an idea as to what he can do with a particular degree.

The fourth part, in two chapters, helps the student to look toward the future. It is basically a “now what?” section where the student can see what careers are available in the various denominations of Christianity and what is required of those careers.

Finally, there are three appendices that are extremely helpful to understanding the book. The first appendix deals with seminaries past and present. In other words, your grandpa’s seminary is not what it used to be! The second appendix is a list of checklists to be used from the time you begin thinking about seminary to the discovery of a profession upon the completion of your seminary training. The third appendix is a glossary of terms that is useful, especially if you are not familiar with terms from other denominations.

Critique

From tips about trusting the faculty at a particular institution to maintaining your own faith while studying, TAS is full of information that will be useful the entire time you are in seminary. Dr. Cooper offers insight over and over again that will help the student to make the most of his or her time in seminary.

If there is one negative; however, it would be his intentional generalizations regarding denominations. On one hand, the very concept of the book demands he remain neutral and general. On the other hand, it sometimes becomes distracting. For example, in the section on finding the right denomination, he offers four steps to choosing a denomination. Because of his need to remain general, he never mentions doctrinal statements. When choosing a denomination, one must know its doctrine in order to make a better judgment of the suitability of that denomination. Not doing so may lead to devastation in seminary, ministry, and life.

Recommendation

As I said above, this is one of those books that I wish I had two years ago (not that I wish I were attending another seminary!) when I was going through the process of choosing and applying to a seminary. This book will not be a book that will sit on the shelf and collect dust as so many books in a seminarian’s library do! This will become a much used resource. If you know someone who is thinking about attending seminary, So You’re Thinking About Going to Seminary is a must own book. You will certainly not regret purchasing this book for yourself or someone looking to attend seminary.

Giveaway

We are giving away 2 copies of So You’re Thinking About Going to Seminary? To be entered in this giveaway, simply leave a piece of advice in the comment section below for your fellow seminarians. If you’re not a seminarian yet, simply leave a question or thought you have about attending seminary. Winners will be chosen at random from the comment section. The drawing will me on Sunday, March 29.

Comments

My fiance is going to be attending seminary this fall right after we get married, and I was wondering how all of you who are married and in seminary balance your family life with your schooling. Thanks in advance for your input!

Not yet a seminarian – one of the best things I’ve done for myself is to visit the seminaries that I am considering.

Josh, I’ll very briefly respond to your question based on my experience. I’m currently taking classes through the on-line program at SBTS, which I am also obviously doing part time. It has been great so far, but there is a lack of the community that I experienced in college and law school as a result of the isolation from other students and professors. That being said, many classes do offer, and some require, interaction through chats and posts. Also, I believe there is something lost in not being completely immersed in the subject you are studying, which is something you will face in an on-line or part-time program. Despite those drawbacks, it has been a good experience for me.

Thanks for the book tip, just picked it up at the library. I am already in seminary and work in admissions. The best advice I can give is, once you narrow your choice of schools down, visit the campus. Often times this helps students “seal the deal.” You can get a feel for what your life in seminary will look like. Sometimes it is easier to see where God is leading you if you go there. If your admissions department has not already offered a campus visit, contact them. Most seminaries have individual day visits and Preview Weekends. Thanks for recommending this book.

Get into a small group/accountability group. Many seminaries have a program that will help you connect with other seminarians early on and develop these small group relationships that will help sustain your spiritual vitality through seminary. Most (maybe 95%) seminarians don’t take advantage of these opportunities and then complain that seminary focuses too much on the intellect and not enough of the soul.

I want to have further education after I graduate this year, but I want to take a 1-2 year break before I start and work and do an internship between that time. I think that exposure to real life and ministry will give me a better perspective and motivation for when I go to seminary.

Gina, you asked about marriage and seminary. I was married for 6 month before starting seminary. Thankfully, the seminary has a spouse and family ministry. This helped to connect us to other couples (most of whom are newly married also) who are in seminary. Secondly, we made use of marriage counselor in the area. We did not have any “presenting problems” but really the sessions were like couples discipleship. She helped us find ways to continue to grow together both in our relationship with each other and our walks with Christ. The balance is a delicate one. I made sure to work hard in the daytime on class work in order to be available to spend time on nights and weekends with my wife. Seminary has actually helped our marriage to flourish!

I’ve just been accepted to seminary, for me the deciding factors were location and degree. I knew I wanted a Masters in Biblical Languages and as God would have it the closest seminary offers the degree.

Josh, on the the online seminary programs. Here are my suggestions for online seminary. Keep in mind accreditation, especially if your church or denomination has standards for seminary education. Accreditation helps to point to the schools who will provide quality online education. Many Virtual campuses are required to have a residency requirement. I recommend doing “on-campus” hours during the summer, January term, or regular semester intensive classes. You get the credit for being on campus, without spending 5 months away from home. Finally, check on the equipment you will need.

The Association of Theological School’s (ATS) website has a list on Online, or distance learning seminaries you may find helpful.

http://www.ats.edu/MemberSchools/Pages/DistEd.aspx

Manage your time! Put your family and church ahead of your schoolwork and do not let anything take over your life. Sounds pretty simple, but its harder to do than it seems.

What advice would you give a seminary student-to-be on finding a church home during seminary?

I have two seminaries in mind. One is in town (a 45 minute drive) where I would be able to attend one night a week (I am a working husband/father). The other is in the next state over and could require moving. My wife and I had discussed me moving temporarily but that seems too much. However God keeps telling me that this seminary may be the right one. Any advice? I don’t want to do an on-line degree either.

Thank you!

Laura, Yes. Most schools will offer a variety of options. At Asbury, we have work-study positions which open based on your FASFA. Second, we have student worker, which are open to any student. These both pay per hour and tend to allow flexibility with your class schedule.These can supplement your income, but are usually 6-15 hours per week. Third, we have staff positions, which offer a nice benefit of tuition remission, meaning the school will pay for a certain amount of your credit hours each year. Or, if a spouse works as staff, their significant other who is in seminary can receive the tuition remission (usually after a period of service). Keep in mind most staff positions are full time and require a strict balance of work and course load. Some students serve local churches or ministries, who at times, will contribute to the student’s education.

I am not a seminary student but will be soon. Would those of you who have been/are seminary students would you say that the seminary you chose/choose does impact what church you can work in? What I mean by this is, is it seems more so today that the seminary one chooses almost places one in a bracket of the certain churches one can work. I am not even speaking of denominations but ideology, philosophy, vision. Does anyone else see this or even agree with that statement?

Also not a seminarian (hopefully not YET)

Which seminary does the best job in teaching its students the redemptive-historical approach to interpreting the Scriptures?

I have a bijillion questions (give or take) as I look forward to seminary in the fall, here’s one –

How much should academics be valued in comparison to personal health, local church service, family, discipleship/community?

Tim, on seminary and church/denomination choice. The seminary you choose may or may not desire to steer you in a certain direction. Every seminary has a preference based on their theology, history, funding, etc. Some do a better job allowing for multi-denominations to flourish. I came to seminary with at least two possibilities in mind. I am now settled on one, but never felt pressured by faculty or students, which was nice. Some churches/denominations will strongly require you to attend one of their schools. Others will accepts a range. Do you have a particular church/denomination in mind?

Chris Wells: Visit the churches around the school. Ask around the school community to see where others worship. Some common names should surface quickly.

Mickey Sheu: Wow, good question! What does it profit to gain all the academic and loose your family, personal health, discipleship, etc.?? Academics are important, but if you are not serious about self care (personal, spiritual, family) and staying mindful of those around you, burnout is waiting in the shadows. The church must have healthy servants!!

I am not in seminary but I will soon. Is it crazy for a Baptist to attend a Westminster Theological Seminary? What do you guys think?

I think I will have a hard time working in a PCA church that baptizes infants. 😛

I will be starting a 4-year MDiv at Westminster Seminary California this summer. One of my biggest questions/concerns is around how to survive the time with a family of 5 (4 year old, 3 year old, 7 month old). Is there hope for a family man between studies, family, work, and ministry?

Connect with the local church. Though it can be messy, the local church is the pathway to preparing servants and pastors. I love seminary, but because I love Christ’s Bride, and what to see her become all she has been redeemed to be.

Andrew Ong: Northwest Theological Seminary probably id best for the Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutic, but they are not accredited so if that matters to you probably Westminster California would be your best bet.

I have recently felt God place the idea of going to seminary way deep onto my heart. This past week, I stumbled upon this book (a total God thing) and ordered it from Amazon.com, which is being shipped this week to me. What a blessing it is to find this site too! Seems God is really helping me find some valuable resources as I continue seeking out His clear will for my life. Thank you and God Bless, I know I will be around this site much.

I have to agree with Terry’s review… where was this book when I started seminary 6 years ago. I only have 1 year left, but with the economy in the state that it is in, I am hoping that I will have enough money to finish my last year….I am looking forward to reading this book, especially the part about looking ahead once you are finished.

what are some concrete ways of transitioning from a Christian seminary to the secular world (phd programs)? What can I do to be in preparation for this?

Hate to be a fanatical grammarian, but your blog title, So Your Thinking About Going to Seminary?, ought to be: So You’re Thinking… Or it could be, So Your Thinking Is About Going to Seminary (although then it’s not a question anymore). The title of your book has it right.

Oh, and I have a MTS from Drew Theological School. Great, fun, interesting two years. Helped me get my views on Christianity crystal clear!

What are the advantages to going to a seminary where you strongly agree with the theology but may not challenge you in those respects, versus going to a place that you’ll disagree with but will make you grow in your understanding of Scripture and doctrine by challenges?

How have you guys balanced the differences between the confessions and practices of denominations. That is, why did you choose which denomination to affiliate with.

As someone who will be going to seminary next year, the last few weeks have been very overwhelming in terms of realizing that with my hopes of someday getting a Doctorate, im going to be in Seminary for forever and raking up the bills. My question would be how easy/hard is it to stay afloat, as in are there options out there for financial aid if you dont make it as a GA?

Wow! I am amazed at the response in the first couple days of this giveaway! I have also appreciated the questions. Sorry I have not been able to interact with everyone—I try to keep up with the dialogue especially on my posts. For what it is worth, I would love to hear more from Brian Johnson—he has much more insight into this than I do.

@Josh Garrington—I have found the pitfall to part time seminary to be a loss of urgency and excitement. I have gone part time the past two semesters and have found it to be radically different from the full time experience I had the year before. The same was true when I took an on-line course many years ago.

@Gina—first, congrats on the marriage! Second, I will be honest, the balance is very difficult. What I have discovered is that there are seasons while in seminary where studies must come first (see mid-terms and final exams) and there are times when family must be first (see anniversaries, birthdays, and other important dates). However, what must never fall out of the ultimate first is God. This may seem like a “duh” statement, but it is extremely hard to keep God first when the pressures of seminary, family, and work start coming in.

@Justin Schell—great call on the accountability groups. The seminary I attend has shepherding groups where you can meet with four other students and a professor once a month during the semester. Another thing I have discovered is that the Lord will provide you with brothers/sisters in Christ who will naturally gravitate towards you and you towards them. This leads to exactly what you are talking about.

@Chris Wells—I agree with what Brian said, but would take it one step further. I would ask your admissions counselor for a list of churches (preferably of your denomination) that are in the area and begin to look around. You could ask your pastor at the church you are leaving if he knows of any churches as well. The best advice is to just attend and allow the Lord to show you where you are to serve. SOAP BOX MOMENT: If you are going to seminary, do not attend a church and not serve! You are attending seminary to be a leader of some sort in the church. Use this time to serve with the help of a mentor so that when you “get out on your own” you will not be completely lost!

@Tim—I attend the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and have already been greeted by the “fact” that I must be a Calvinist because I attend a certain seminary. Whether or not that is true, it is what many churches automatically think in my denomination of anyone attending SBTS. Is it fair? Absolutely not! However, I did not attend SBTS because of a certain doctrine. I attended SBTS because 1) God called me here and 2) the faculty and education I would receive was, in my opinion, second to none and if I were to get accepted, I was going to jump at the opportunity. Truth be told, I do not regret my decision even if people want to label me even if the label may be true. We serve a sovereign God and He will place us in the church that He wants us to be in.

@Mickey—academics should play a roll in your decision of which seminary to attend. However, it is not necessarily a deal breaker. If you are married and your wife is not for your attending a particular seminary, then I would not move. Your personal health is very significant in your decision. Yes, if God is calling you to seminary, He will sustain you. However, when you are in seminary, your health will more than likely take a hit especially if you are working and a husband and a father. Pray through it and be sure you talk with your family about your thoughts and where you see God leading you.

@Kevin—You should be able to attend Westminster Theological Seminary and still serve in a Baptist Church. I know many pastors who attended Covenant in St. Louis and either pastor or teach in SBC churches, schools, universities, etc. The only reason I did not attend Covenant is because I was accepted to SBTS and my wife was willing to relocate.

@David Stember—we are in the same boat! I have a 5, 3, 1 year old and one more on the way. The best advice I can give is to go day-by-day. Some days will require that you spend more time on studies and some days you will find yourself skipping class because of your family. My wife stays at home with our kids. Yes, there is hope for you. The Lord will sustain you if He has called you to seminary. He will also sustain your family as He always does.

@Rowan—change has occurred—I don’t know why I added the question mark? ?

@Walt—I wrestled with this when I was looking at Covenant and a seminary in the SBC. On one hand, if the doctrinal differences are non-essential, and you are mature in your faith, then there should not be much of a problem. More than likely, what will happen is that you will be able to better articulate your own beliefs. However, if it is an essential doctrinal issue, then steer clear. Believe me, even if you attend a seminary where you agree with them, you will still find areas where you disagree. Professors are more quirky than you think!

@Aaron R.—check out one of our sponsor links on our home page. It is from Dallas Theological Seminary and they will compare just about any seminary you want.

@David D—I was actually kicked out of one denomination about a year after the Lord graciously saved my soul. What I did after that was to look at all the “major” denominations and looked at their doctrines and creeds that they adhered too. I then compared all of that to what the Bible teaches as well as much more study and research throughout history. For me, it came down to issues of Baptism and Lord’s Supper as well as what their view of Scripture was. There were some other issues, but those were the main three.

@Ben–yes, there is plenty of financial aid available at most seminaries.

As the wife of a seminary student, I think it’s hugely important to consider the costs/benefits of the pace you take to get through. I’ve seen many families come their first semester with grand ideas of getting through in a year or two while the wife works and he works 2 jobs while balancing a full-time course load…and they fizzle out and something dies–either their marriage, their jobs, or his GPA. My advice: go easy your first semester and get your feet under you–then evaluate if you can handle more classes or a second job.

I am a seminary student & the decision I made upon choosing a seminary was not based on location, etc. It was based on where does God want me to go? I made that my prayer & upon visiting a southern baptist seminary I was very happy to know that they were not just interested in me attending but in my obedience to where God would have me study. The staff/faculty said this in a forum for prospective students – “If you think we are rolling out the red carpet this weekend to entertain you & sway you to come here, you need not think so. We are hosting this weekend to show you what we offer and whether or not this will be your home for the next few years of study. As much as we would love to have you, we want you to be obedient in the YES or NO…as to whether or not God would have you enroll here.” I was really impacted by this because God has a place for every ministerial student to study. They must ask Him where He has for them to go and be obedient in the YES for that place & be obedient in the NO for the other places.

Monica, there is a chapter in my book that discusses options for those who are considering a PhD. Although it is written from the perspective of seminary, it generally applies to secular schools as well. Two things to consider: Prepare diligently to get the highest score on the GRE that you can. Then try only to do a PhD if you get a full (or at least partial) scholarship.

I am thinking of going to seminary since I know that my calling is thus.I came to U.S to earn and going to ministry was the last thing in my mind,when the Lord called me out of the blue.Right now I am a transportation Engineer with a Masters from a U.S institution.But I know that I am going for anther Masters,this time in Theology.

I always wondered..How my skills in real life would be of use to Him in ministry life.Like the Lord when He called Peter he commissioned him to be “Fishers” of Men..God calls,God equips with whatever we have in hand.I am excited to know what is in my hand first of all! and how is it be going to be used for His kingdom!

I checked this out of the library and read it in a day! Thanks to the GTS guys for the recommendation. Thanks to Dr. Cooper for the thoughtful examination of the seminary experience.

My advice for seminarians:
Read books and articles written by your professors to get their perspective. Focus on learning for your own spiritual growth, not just to help others grow spiritually. You will minister to others with the same comfort God has given you.

I’m glad I came across the many posts concerning Seminary for there are many who have been through Seminary that have shared valuable insight (particularly on subjects like family and finances). As for myself, I’m a 23 year old single person, looking into enrolling in Seminary. I have a school or possibly two in mind but that’s it. I’m praying for direction and even peace as this will probably be a major transition; I’m just finishing my B.A. at a Bible College. Thanks again.

Become well acquanted with the library. Look up audio, not just books. Find out if they have an interlibrary loan program or if they will order books you need that they do not have.