On the Dangers of Seminary (Pt. 2): The Danger of Losing Your First Love for God and Your Love for the Lost

Revelation 2:4: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen.”

Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!

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In the summer of 2000, I returned home from having spent two years in a predominantly Muslim context in Central Asia, where I found opportunities to share the gospel nearly every day. It was my experience in Central Asia, just as it had been during my college years, that contact with lost people was good for my soul. My love for God poured out naturally into a love for the lost around me. But the reverse was also true: my encounters and relationships with the lost spurred on my love for God. There is something beautiful and indeed powerful about seeing a lost man cry out to God, be saved by God’s grace, and walk in newness of life. Our love for God and his gospel results in a love for man (one does not commend that which he does not cherish), but also our love for God’s image-bearers results in a yet deeper love for God and his gospel (the more we proclaim and embody God’s love, the more we love Him and recognize his unsurpassed worth).

Upon returning home from Central Asia, I threw myself into Ph. D. studies. I preached the gospel, especially during the summer breaks, but for the most part I studied. As the months and years passed, I found that I rarely had conversations with unbelievers. I lived on campus, taught on campus, and worshiped with believers on Sundays. Rare was the day that I had a meaningful conversation with someone who was not a believer. Even worse, I felt like I was slowly losing the impulse to share the gospel. As a result, not only was I was withholding life from men and women who are dead in their trespasses, without hope and without God in this world, but also I was losing one of the very things that fired my passion for God.

Ironically, I was attending a seminary that confessed absolute confidence in God and his gospel and encouraged evangelistic zeal at every turn. For over a decade now, under two different presidents, this has remained the same. And yet retaining my affection for God and a love for the lost remains a struggle for me. I suspect that I am not alone, and I offer some advice for those those who may find themselves in this situation-seminary students and employees, pastors, employees of SBC entities, etc.: Do whatever it takes to break out of the Christian bubble within which you live, and take the gospel of life to those who are dead. In an attempt to do this myself, I have designated a few days each month during which I do my work (research, writing, email, whatever) at a coffee shop or student center at UNC, Duke, or one of the other college campuses in our area. Here is another idea: Try coming home from work or from the library before 10:00 p.m., and in so doing you might actually meet some of your neighbors who are lost. A final idea: Instead of listening to that next Tim Keller sermon, put down the iPod and actually do what it is that Keller is talking about-share the gospel.

In conclusion, don’t resent your time “in the bubble.” Don’t reject the great opportunity God has given you to lay the foundation for a lifetime of ministry. Don’t feel guilty that you are here. Seminary is your calling at this time in your life. Take advantage of your classes, your professors, your fellow students. Make the most of your studies in church history, theology, or missions. But while you are at it, don’t allow yourself to lose your first love for God and your love for the lost.online game

On the Dangers of Seminary

[Note: This is a revision and re-posting of an eight-part series published at Between the Times in 2009.]

This post is a confession of sorts, a confession that I hope will be beneficial to some who read it. In essence, it is about one thing-the fact that God’s grace toward me has been overwhelming and that at the same time I often have not lived in a manner worthy of his grace. The particular focus of this post is God’s calling on my life to study and teach in a seminary context.

From 1996-98, I had the opportunity to study for the M.Div. on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. After serving in Central Asia for two years, I returned to Southeastern to study for a Ph. D. which I completed in 2003. Those years of study were a gift from God. I was able to study the Scriptures, read widely, debate important doctrines and ideas, and learn to proclaim and defend the faith. Don’t get me wrong: there were times that I wanted to be “out there” preaching full-time rather than laboring over the Hebrew language or the intricacies of theological method.

In fact, it was during my first year of seminary that I went to a certain seminary president and informed him that devoting three years to seminary was possibly a waste of my time since there were people somewhere to whom I could be preaching and ministering. After allowing me to unload my brilliant idea, he opened the bottom drawer of his desk and pulled out a little blue bucket full of sand, complete with teddy bear imprints and a pink sandbox shovel. He asked me if I could see what was in the bucket. “Sand,” I said, confidently. “That is correct,” he said.

It was at that moment he pointed out that the apostle Paul took a few years in the desert (which has more than a little sand) to prepare for his upcoming ministry and that, as far as he could tell, I was no better than the apostle Paul. For this reason, he said, he was requiring that I carry this blue bucket of sand (and the little pink shovel) everywhere I went for the next week. It was a good reminder to me of the importance of laboring in God’s Word in order to prepare for future ministry. And it brought with it a dose of humility: I remember showing up for Systematic Theology the next morning (taught by the same seminary president) with a bucket, teddy bears, and a pink shovel in my hand. All eyes were fixed on me and my ridiculous accessories. I might as well have been wearing nothing but a purple unitard and a pair of Christmas socks. But I learned my lesson, as Dr. Patterson used me as an illustration to remind the class of their need not to think too highly of themselves.

But back to the point. During the dissertation stage of my Ph.D., I began teaching theology and philosophy full-time at Southeastern, and have continued in teaching and administrative capacities from 2002 until the present. Having been on campus now for 13 of the past 15 years,

I can say that life in a seminary context has been good in many respects. It is a place where I learned to study God’s Word and relate it to all aspects of His world. I was introduced to church history, systematic theology, apologetics, and much more. I formed friendships that will last for a lifetime, and was taught and discipled by men who had walked with God for many more years than I. It is easy for me to recognize God’s grace and goodness to me in this calling.

In spite of the blessing it is to live and teach on a seminary campus, however, I have recognized that this context brings with it certain attendant perils. I recognize these potential pitfalls partly because I have seen myself succumb to some of them. Knowing that I am not alone in struggling to live in a manner worthy of my calling, I will mention a few of these dangers in the hopes that others may benefit. In upcoming posts, I will write about the dangers of: (1) losing your first love for God and your love for the lost; (2) allowing seminary to replace church; (3) becoming a seminary dork; (4) seeking to impress the academy; (5) becoming an arrogant, narcissistic, hyper-critical jerk; and (6) perhaps a few others.game online mobile rpg