Most of what we learn in life is determined by the questions we bring to it. As a young seminarian, fresh out of college, I don’t have significant pastoral experience. In my classrooms are older men and women, several of them in their sixties, who know quite a bit more than me about the work of the pastor and the life of a church. When I sit with them in church history class, I’ve noticed we think in different directions. While I’m often trying to figure out who, of all the various Christian traditions that span the lifetime of the Church, has it right! Perhaps that’s a fool’s question. The people with more experience are asking questions like, “How can my church, today, contextualize itself to reach the culture while staying true to the gospel?”
Here’s my main point: The quality of my seminary experience will be determined by the questions I bring to it. Here are four places I recommend looking for questions:
1. Ask your professors. Ask them what their burden for your class is. Of course your syllabus has a list of expected outcomes for credentialing purposes, but what do they really hope you’ll learn? Which intellectual wrestling matches do they think will actually pay off? They’ve seen a lot of students come through, and they can tell the difference between fruitful and fruitless intellectual labor.
2. Ask you family. Between submissions of my theology of marriage paper, I went home for Thanksgiving. Not all of my papers need to be addressed to lay audiences, but my understanding should be able to speak to them. What do you say to aunts and uncles who aren’t experiencing intimacy anymore? In what ways does the idea of Christ loving the Church speak to our marriages? Does the historical emphasis on childbearing as the purpose of marriage bear any weight today? So long as you love and listen to your family, you’ll begin to take on their questions and enrich your studies.
3. Ask your pastors. They deal with practical, day-to-day questions all the time. Once we’re serving churches more regularly, no one will ask us to write another academic paper. So in the mean time, while we are working at academics, are we engaging with the questions which are addressing our churches? If I become convinced that the Bible has certain things to say regarding same-sex marriage, you can answer the question, “What does the Bible say?” but you also have to ask, “What’s a faithful and gracious way forward for my church?”
4. Ask yourself. One of the things people told me before coming to seminary was to make sure my faith didn’t dry up. I have to catch myself sometimes as I’m parsing Greek verbs, analyzing Hebrew idioms, and tracing ideas back to their origins throughout history, and ask what the Word of God is for me. Are their areas of fear, disobedience, or hardness in my life? Am I rejecting God’s grace and kindness in certain areas? I’m reminded of this question from a favorite novel of mine, from an old preacher, “You must be sure that the doubts and questions are your own, not, so to speak, the mustache and walking stick that happen to be the fashion of any particular moment.”
May God give you grace as you love and seek him in your studies.
By Jack Franicevich Jack is an MDiv student at Denver Seminary. His interests range from the doctrine of the church, theologies of friendship and work, preaching, hymn-writing, and grassroots ecumenism to competitive table tennis, cooking for large groups, classical literature, and organizational development.