Going (Back) to Seminary

by on March 2, 2015

My last post on this site, years ago, was a fiery little piece called “Realizing Seminary’s Not For You“. At the time, God had powerfully and clearly led me to a place of realizing that seminary was not the place He had for me at the moment.

I had just finished my first year at a well-known Reformed Evangelical seminary in Philadelphia. Coming out of that first year, I was not the man I was when I went in. I don’t know how to describe the changes without making them sound hyperbolic and overly-dramatic, but suffice it to say: I was in a place ripe for God to make big moves.

These are times we need to listen for God.

Fast forward five years. I’m now engaged to an amazing woman. I’ve been working fulltime in social work since leaving school, seeing the highs and lows of the human heart. I’ve been serving faithfully and consistently in a local church which I joined around the time my seminary days ended. I have since been ordained as a deacon at this church.

It seemed like one of those times again where God might be moving. And he was. I got back into seminary.

Today, I want to go through those criteria I talked about almost six years ago, to see how those same things came together to bring me back to where I’m at today.

Financially

My first go around with seminary began to unravel when I continually couldn’t make my rent while waiting tables, and my parents couldn’t help me as much as I kept asking them to. On a purely practical level, I simply couldn’t continue seminary

Now, however, I’m in a blended distance program. This means that it’s primarily online, though three times a year I have to spend a week doing face to face time in Michigan and California. This allows me to continue working my full-time 9 to 5 job while doing school. Yes, I had to take out loans for tuition, and I have to take most all of my vacation time for school, but I’m still able to pay for my own rent, airfare, books, and food.

Theologically

One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever come to know these past six or so years has been the gift of a peaceful Christian conscience. By the time I left seminary, my theological convictions had changed so much that neither myself or my seminary would surely want me to have a degree from there. My church as well was in a different place theologically than I had come to be. This caused me to be so distressed and frustrated by my time in those places. Critiquing, debating, and disagreeing kept my conscience ill at ease.

But then I found a church and a denomination where I could rest. This was a place with a like-minded ethos where I found much agreement doctrinally, and where there were those in disagreement: there was charity.

It was through this church that I got connected to this denominational seminary, and the freedom and learning and flourishing has only continued from there. To be in a place of charity, even in the midst of irons sharpening one another is a great gift to behold. It certainly attracted me back.

Intellectually

In the original piece, I pointed out how the grueling pace of seminary had stunted my growth intellectually. The school seemed (at least for where I was at the time) far more interested in filling us with theological exactitude from their tradition than forming you into a thinker in and of yourself.

Since then, my intellectual engagements have flourished. I’ve spent the last five or so years continuing to read and study. I’ve been blogging nearly daily. I put together a Bible Survey class for my church. I wrote a series of daily fiction pieces. As I’ve worked in social work, my political, and societal engagement have grown and enhanced. I have a fuller view and connection to the world, culture, and life into which to press my new theological education.

It has been in this environment that I re-entered seminary. And it has only fed my thinking, growth, and ideas all the more. Further (and this is key), it’s not just my classmates that facilitate this, but the classes themselves.

Spiritually

This is a weird one to write about. Six years ago, I was a good bit more melodramatic. I can’t say I have figured my spiritual life out or anything, but I’m certainly in a different place now as then. Probably, at the time, I was angsty over being single. Perhaps being engaged has settled me down a bunch. Maybe it’s the counseling I’ve been in the for the past two years. Maybe it’s the higher liturgical tradition I find myself in and see myself being shaped by.

Whatever it is, I am finding myself more rooted in Christ. There is less tumult, if that makes any sense. And it’s in this (relative) stability that I felt a freedom to move forward back into the unknown.

And so I’m back in seminary. Back to writing on this blog. Back to trying to discern the subtle movements of a God who leads us down paths unknown. My hope is that my story and discernment process might help you on your own.

About

Frequenting the coffee shops of Philadelphia while employed in social work and finishing up a Masters of Divinity from the Newbigin House of Studies at Western Theological Seminary. He serves Liberti Church as a deacon and seminary intern. Paul blogs at the long way home and tweets as @PaulBurkhart_.

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