Staying Humble in Seminary (Part 2)

By: Matthew Emerson

On Tuesday, I shared some stories about how God used my seminary experience to show me my pride. I shared that my Meyers-Briggs personality type is ENTJ which means that, left unchecked, I can have a tendency towards overconfidence, arrogance, derision toward those who disagree, and tactlessness. Let’s say you’re not an ENTJ, though. Maybe you don’t struggle with some of what I’ve mentioned. Seminary can still be a place that gives your pride a voice. How do you avoid that? Some suggestions:

  1. Pray. This probably sounds like a trope, but seek the Lord’s face. Understanding God’s kingship and your own place in his kingdom is the first step to humility. Ask God to demonstrate this to you.
  2. Get involved in a local church. I don’t mean just attend a church; I mean let the pastor, staff, fellow members, get to know you at more than a surface level. Biblical counseling, confrontation of and warnings about pride, take place first of all in the local church. Put yourself under good preaching, but also make yourself available to needed, intentional relationships that provide the opportunity for brothers or sisters to speak the truth to you in love.
  3. Get a good anthropology and ecclesiology. God is the source of all the natural talents with which you were born and the spiritual gifts you received at your new birth. You cannot accomplish anything – reading fast, writing well, preaching that shucks the corn and shells the peas – without the help of God Almighty, and you do not exercise those talents and gifts apart from the context of the larger body of Christ. Recognizing that is a big step toward humility.
  4. Listen more than you talk in class. Ask good questions, but don’t just say stuff to say it. Sit at the feet of those who are the experts. Don’t assume because you’ve read one book on a subject that you can now demonstrate to your professor where their oh-so-obvious error is.
  5. Peruse the library. I don’t mean that you should take a nice stroll to clear your head, and because many of us are theo-nerds the place to do that is the bookshelves. I mean, go walk around the library and see how many people have thought deeply, carefully, and thoroughly about biblical studies, theology, practical disciplines, and the like. As the writer of Ecclesiastes tells us, there is nothing new under the sun, and this includes whatever magnum opus you plan to write for your Theology II research paper. Or your dissertation. Get a good dose of academic humility by meditating on what others have done before you got here.

Humility is in many ways about perspective. We need to see our own place in God’s story, we need to see how God has gifted the brothers and sisters around us, and we need to see all the hard work that scholars in our various fields have put in before we got here. All of this gives us perspective about our own place, our own abilities, our own ideas. Humility comes from knowing ourselves in light of who God is and who we are in the midst of the rest of his creation. Maybe some of you will be able to take that advice and stay humble, or maybe some of you will be humbled in spite of your own blindness to your pride, like I was. Either way, God is faithful to conform us into the image of his Son through the power of his Spirit. Praise him for that merciful grace.

Dr. Matthew Y. Emerson is Dickinson Assistant Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Baptist University. He received a bachelor’s degree from Auburn University and an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.