When I left the Christian security blanket of Hannibal La-Grange College for the supposed secular cesspool of the University of Missouri, I had well-intended friends who were worried about whether my faith would wane in its confidence. While I had no such worries, I without a doubt did wonder what ways I would come out the other end a different man. After all, all worthwhile education ought to transform the student in some way or another.
But although friends articulated such apprehension at my attending a secular school, I actually may have amassed more words of alarm when I departed for seminary. Indeed, I cannot even add up the amount of times I heard the axiom “seminary is cemetery.”
Such outspoken angst in both instances made me wonder if Evangelicals often just don’t have a fear of higher education – as Mark Noll more than hints at in his 1995 book “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind,” where he prophetically calls the American church out on her anti-intellectualism.
But in the end, my concern in this post is to lay those fears to rest. Yes, of course, in my education at both the University of Missouri and Asbury Theological Seminary, my life has been dramatically changed.
Being at Mizzou didn’t ruin my faith – it informed it, fleshed it out, confirmed it, and challenged it to think more deeply about the this-worldly, everyday aspects of my theology. I wouldn’t change my time there for the world. I still engage the world with some of the valuable lenses I was given as a graduate student at Mizzou.
And as a graduating seminary student, I can tell you that my seminary experience has also been anything but death for my spiritual life. Seminary has helped me see the value of orthodox theology and orthodox practice for the everyday things in life. I don’t think anyone who spends any time with me would say that seminary was cemetery for me. In a lot of ways, seminary has brought new life to my Christian walk – new life that will encourage and challenge me throughout the rest of my life.
So if anyone tells you that seminary is a cemetery for good Christians, they are either ignorant or foolish. I don’t doubt that some people have bad seminary experiences. And I don’t doubt that there are bad seminaries out there. But let’s not take the exception to the rule and apply it like it’s a universal axiom.
The Christian faith is not anti-intellectual. The Christian life is a place where, as Asbury says it, “head and heart go hand in hand.”