Surreal. That’s really the only word that comes to mind. This evening, after family and friends had left and I’d had a little time to unwind by watching this week’s episodes of “Community,” “The Office,” and “Fringe,” I sat on the couch with my wife and realized that I really am done with the M.Div. I’ve spent the last four years working towards this degree and today all that work came to its conclusion. Surreal. Relieved. Grateful. Incredibly blessed.
Seminary was a war of attrition for me. There were times when I was deep in the bowels of a Greek or Hebrew class where I felt like failure was imminent. I am not good at the Biblical languages at all. Still, God was faithful in my weakness and saw me through the 22 hours of Biblical languages that I took in seminary.
Seminary was a challenge because I got tired of seminary people. I really don’t want to spend all of my time with people who get great joy out of debating the finer points of substitutionary atonement or endless Calvinism/Arminianism debates that dominate so much of Baptist academia these days. On my first day of seminary the president of Southwestern told a room full of bright eyed and fresh faced seminary students that they would meet their best friends at seminary. For whatever reason, that was not the case for me. I met the best friends of my seminary years in Sunday School. Lawyer, Accountant, and Film Director are the occupations of some of the guys that brought a lot of joy and dead zombies to my life as I was trudging through the doldrums of seminary. I also came to appreciate even more my best friends from my college years. You guys know who you are and your support and friendship over the time and distance since finishing up at OBU has been a great blessing.
Did I learn a lot in seminary? Yes, I did. Did I buy a lot of great books that I can use for decades to come? Oh yeah, I’ve got the beginnings of a fine theological library. Did I grow in my faith? Not at first. I went through a pretty hefty spiritual dry spell early in seminary. That changed dramatically in the last 18 months as my wife and I faced the possibility of being unable to have kids only to witness God’s miraculous provision. So I guess you could say that my greatest spiritual growth in seminary did not come from classes or chapel services but from witnessing God at work within my own family.
But what were the most important lessons I learned in seminary?
1. Family comes first (after Jesus, of course). There were nights when I had papers to write and verbs to parse but Laura needed to talk after a long day at work. There were times when presentations were demanding attention but it had been awhile since Laura and I went out on date. What is more important? My family. I know guys who would spend all their time and energy studying and would have nothing left to offer their families. That’s not right. I would rather drop a letter grade on a vocab quiz than miss an opportunity to strengthen my relationship with my wife. An M.Div is 3-4 years while a marriage is 6-7 decades. Often seminary happens in the early years of a marriage and it is vital that a spouse not be neglected because a systematic theology book is calling. My first ministry is to my family. It’s good to remember and practice that in seminary.
2. Have friends outside of seminary. As I said before, this was the saving grace of my time in seminary. It’s so nice to have friends who I just do life with and who don’t feel the need to bring up the latest N.T. Wright/John Piper debate on Paul’s theology justification every time I see them. I know not all seminary friends are like that, but it’s nice to have a break from seminary and seminary people because so much of your life is immersed in all things seminary.
So there it is. Another milestone completed. Another mission accomplished. What’s next? Well, I should be an Army National Guard Chaplain in the next month or so. Hopefully sometime before JTK is born I’ll be able to find a ministry position. Until then, I’m going to enjoy a little time off. I’m going to get caught up on some reading (for fun!). I’m going to spend time with my wife. I’m going to buy a Dodge Viper. Okay, that last one is a dream. Maybe someday.