The Adventure of Choosing A Seminary
Perhaps you, or someone you know, is in that special season of life trying to decide which institution would be the best for them to obtain a seminary education. I am turning the corner about to finish my Master of Theological Studies degree looking to have it on my completion list by June of this year. After that point, Lord willing, I want to complete a Master of Divinity degree. Considering I am still at a time when I can vividly recall how this journey began, I thought I would detail some points to ponder when one is trying to consider what institution to attend. My hope is to give you some guiding advice as you travel down this adventurous path.
1. Doctrine . . . Doctrine . . . Doctrine
Doctrine is front and centerpiece the most important consideration for you when deciding to attend an institution. Now, I don’t just mean confessional statements, I mean you must consider the doctrine of the faculty members. Looking at confessional statements is important, but it is not the end of the journey. I ended up deciding to obtain my Master of Theological Studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary after hours of listening to podcasts, sermons, and reading books from the faculty. Primarily, I chose MBTS because of Dr. Owen Strachan’s presence at that institution (when I first enrolled) and Dr. Jason Allen had been clearer on many issues than several other seminary presidents. I also heavily considered going to The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but decided individuals like Dr. Strachan were far clearer on important issues going on in theological debates. Point being, I didn’t just look at what the seminary said they believe, I actually dug deeper into what the faculty taught. If you want to know what kind of an education a seminary is going to provide, look beyond the website to the individual professors. What do they believe about the Bible? Do they hold to Reformed Theology or are they more Arminian? What are their views on the family? How about current issues like Critical Theory and LGBTQ? I need to know what the faculty is going to be teaching before I decide to invest a ton of finances and time in obtaining a degree through that institution.
2. Professional ability
However, it is not just doctrine, but also an eagerness to mentor and a professional mindset that must be present. If you are faithful doctrinally, but never return my emails or calls when I have inquiries about the institution, then I am going to at the very least have major questions about coming to you for an education. Doctrinal fidelity should lead to excellence because you understand all that you do is to be done for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). So, basic professional consideration should certainly be demonstrated. Of course, anyone should understand a smaller seminary is not going to have the staff of a larger institution to respond quickly. However, basic professional reliability should be demonstrated. If it is not, then be wary of that place. I would not necessarily immediately check it off the list as it may just be one person, but I would proceed with caution investigating further.
3. Look at Class Structure
When contacting seminaries, you should absolutely ask for syllabi so that you can see the structure of a course. Personally, I would recommend you try to see the syllabi for every course you can, but at the minimum try to get the systematic theology, church history, missiology, and language courses. Notice how they structure the classes. If you are someone who primarily grows through writing but the institution has mainly closed book exams, then you are either going to have to change yourself or your target seminary. Take a look at the books for the courses. Many institutions let you know that you are free to disagree with the textbooks so long as you prove your case respectfully. Therefore, I wouldn’t automatically count out a seminary that has a textbook with which I disagree, but I would make note of it. As one example, when I took the apologetics class at MBTS the work of Dr. William Lane Craig was featured prominently in the readings and lectures. I hold to presuppositional apologetics which would mean I disagree with Dr. Craig on many aspects of apologetics methodology, and frankly several other areas of theology as well. However, MBTS made it clear that I was free to disagree with Dr. Craig so long as I robustly demonstrated my thoughts with a respectful attitude. I found it very beneficial to spend 8-weeks critiquing the approach of someone with whom I disagreed and my professor never deducted my grade for holding the presuppositional approach instead of the classical method held by Dr. Craig. A course syllabus will allow you to get all kinds of information like this, so dive in and get every detail you can in the process.
4. Talk To Current Students and Alumni If Possible
Visiting with those who have graduated from a seminary I am looking at is good, but I personally found it more helpful to ask questions of current students. The reason for that is an alumnus may have graduated 5, 10, 20, or even more years ago. In that time, massive faculty changes will most likely have transpired, course structures can change, and academic levels of excellence can fluctuate. Not only that, but someone who went to seminary 30 years ago is probably not going to remember as much about specific aspects like how long it took the professors to get your grades back as someone who is currently taking a class. So, yes, talk to alumni if you can, but current students have a unique window of insight into an institution because they are actually on the ground. A student who is in the middle of classes can tell me aspects such as how much the professors are willing to correspond, how many hours they spend on school per week, and detail the strengths, as well as the weaknesses of the institution. That being said, I would ask older individuals about one important area and it is doctrinal drift. Alumni who graduated 10 years ago will know the doctrinal positions the institution used to hold, but now have abandoned. Many pastors keep up with this area as it pertains to the academic realm. Find a few good older pastors who keep up with seminaries and ask them which ones have wavered. Both current students and alumni have insights to give, just know they each will provide different benefits.
5. Connection To A Local Church
I saved this one for last because I know it is very important. At the very least, you want to go to a seminary that is going to tangibly encourage you to be highly involved in the local church. Notice the word “tangibly” that I used. I don’t just mean that the institution says they love the church, I mean they take concrete steps to place students in different situations in the local church. I think seminaries like Grace Bible Theological Seminary and Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary ,who are actually run out of local churches, do a phenomenal job on this point. At MBTS, in every course, I am encouraged to interview an individual with much ministry experience about the course and how it applies to their ministry. For example, when taking missiology (the study of missions) you might interview a local pastor and seek to understand how the local church can both support and engage in missions and evangelism. However, at MBTS, there are also courses that put you in contact with a local pastor every week. My point, this institution takes specific actions to put you in the local church to learn from people who have been in the ministry. Undoubtedly, I have gleaned so much wisdom from men who have been pastoring for 15, 30, or even 50 years who have chosen to invest in me. A seminary that does not encourage that, or take steps to make it happen, is not one I am going to be interested in attending. We are training for ministry in the local church, therefore, our training should most certainly include the local church!
I know there are so many other areas we could consider for those trying to find a seminary institution. If that is you and you would like to hear about my experience, contact me via this page, or shoot me an email at [email protected]. I’d love to help as much as I can. Ultimately, there are no perfect seminary institutions, so you are going to have to find the best one that fits what you personally need. I pray God will give you wisdom as you are going down that journey!