When I think of the spiritual giants in my life, no one with a seminary degree comes to mind. (Except for my husband, of course. Sorry, honey.) It’s not that I don’t value the seminary degree, I really do. I am of the opinion that everyone in a significant leadership/teaching position in a church should have one. I know I will get arguments over this, but that’s what I think. Yet as useful as I think a seminary degree is, it only gets us so far.
By comparison, my nursing degree only got me so far as well. I have learned far more about health and disease processes since I graduated from nursing school than I ever learned while I was there. Real life experiences have taught me much.
My apologies to my early patients.
When I think of the people who have most influenced my life in spiritual ways, none ever set foot in a seminary classroom. They may not know the Greek word for “grace”, but they know the grace of God first hand. They may not be able to exegete a passage of scripture, but they have tucked it away in their hearts and it speaks to them in their times of great need.
I’m not saying that theology and the study of it has no place. Rather I am saying it has its proper place, but it can become a crutch. Are we pre-mill, post-mill, or a-mill? Do we baptize by emersion or sprinkling? Is Israel still God’s people or not? Did God just know I would choose him, or did He choose me?
Discussions of theology can be fun. My husband and I participated in many of them while he was in seminary. Every day he would come home and regurgitate what had been discussed in class that day. He went to a multi-denominational seminary and was presented with various denominational perspectives on most every point of theology. We had to (or we felt we had to) settle how we felt on each point. We were convinced we owed it to future congregations to have it all settled in our minds. As each issue was presented and settled we could then check it off the list. Done and done!
That all worked out really well…. until it didn’t.
Those early discussions never really did anything to further the Kingdom of God and bring anyone to a saving knowledge of Jesus.
It never fails that no matter how neatly you have things bundled up, eventually you begin to question some of the things you have always believed were decided. You learn that great, Godly men on either side of a theological question will continue to disagree. Someone has to be right. Right? So who is it? I might say that it is me. You will likely say it is you.
It is for these differences that we have a plethora of denominations within the church. I don’t think that when Jesus said to Peter, “Upon this Rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16;18), he intended it to have so many divisions and disunity. Theological disagreements have done more to divide the church than they have ever done to unify it.
I am currently sitting under the teaching of a woman who presents her view of Israel’s significance in Bible times and today. She has spent a great deal of her life in the study of this matter. Whether or not I agree with every point she presents is far less important to me than her passion and love for the Savior. Her love of God is almost tangible. She sent me an email this week that told me she is praying for me by name every day. I feel somehow better knowing that she is praying for me. Not because I agree with everything she teaches in our class, but because she is a giant in the faith.
People are drowning this world of confusion and chaos. They don’t need a debate on theology. They need Jesus to rescue them. Those theological lessons can come later, as well they should. The Bible has a lot to say about seeking knowledge and wisdom. Those theological studies do help provide us with a deeper understanding of our Lord. But even then, we should never expect to understand all things this side of heaven. It’s just not going to happen.
We can paint ourselves right into a theological corner if we are not careful, and we can find we are stuck there. Or we can choose to be life long learners and students in the faith. We can open our hearts and minds to the things he longs to teach us, and we just might be surprised by where and from whom those lessons come.