Praying For Our Seminaries

Today marks our fall commencement exercises at Southeastern Seminary. In a couple of hours, I’ll sit with my faculty colleagues as we proudly watch our students walk across the stage and receive their diplomas. I’m so thankful for these students, dozens of whom I’ve taught in my classes. It will be an exciting day.

Graduation always reminds me of the strategic importance of theological seminaries. Southeastern Seminary is part of the Southern Baptist Convention, an ecclesiastical tradition that doesn’t require a seminary education for ordination or ministry placement. The educational requirements for pastors and other ministry leaders are left up to the autonomous local churches that call them. Nevertheless, most Southern Baptists agree that seminaries are beneficial; that’s why we fund six of them through our denominational budget, the Cooperative Program.

In his excellent book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, John Piper includes a chapter titled “Brothers, Pray for the Seminaries.” In that chapter, Piper lists twenty-one ways that he prays for seminaries such as Southeastern.

  1. That the supreme, heartfelt and explicit goal of every faculty member might be to teach and live in such a way that his students come to admire the glory of God with white-hot intensity (1 Corinthians 10:31Matthew 5:16).
  2. That, among the many ways this goal can be sought, the whole faculty will seek it by the means suggested in 1 Peter 4:11: Serve “in the strength which God supplies: in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
  3. That the challenge of the ministry might be presented in such a way that the question rises authentically in students’ hearts: “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16).
  4. That in every course the indispensable and precious enabling of the Holy Spirit will receive significant emphasis in comparison to other means of ministerial success (Galatians 3:5).
  5. That teachers will cultivate the pastoral attitude expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:10 and Romans 15:18: “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. . . . I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles.”
  6. That the poverty of spirit commended in Matthew 5:3 and the lowliness and meekness commended in Colossians 3:12 and Ephesians 4:2 and 1 Peter 5:5-6will be manifested through the administration, faculty, and student body.
  7. That the faculty might impress upon students by precept and example the immense pastoral need to pray without ceasing and to despair of all success without persevering prayer in reliance on God’s free mercy (Matthew 7:7-11;Ephesians 6:18).
  8. That the faculty will help the students feel what an unutterably precious thing it is to be treated mercifully by the holy God, even though we deserve to be punished in hell forever (Matthew 25:4618:23-35Luke 7:4247).
  9. That, because of our seminary faculties, hundreds of pastors, 50 years from now, will repeat the words of John Newton on their death beds: “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Jesus is a great Savior.”
  10. That the faculty will inspire students to unqualified and exultant joy in the venerable verities of Scripture. “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalm 19:8
  11. That every teacher will develop a pedagogical style based on James Denney’s maxim: “No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save.”
  12. That in the treatment of Scripture there will be no truncated estimation of what is valuable for preaching and for life.
  13. That students will develop a respect for and use of the awful warnings of Scripture as well as its precious promises; and that the command to “pursue holiness” (Hebrews 12:14) will not be blunted, but empowered, by the assurance of divine enablement. “Now the God of peace . . . equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20).
  14. That there might be a strong and evident conviction that the deep and constant study of Scripture is the best way to become wise in dealing with people’s problems. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  15. That the faculty may not represent the contemporary mood in critical studies which sees “minimal unity, wide-ranging diversity” in the Bible; but that they will pursue the unified “whole counsel of God” and help students see the way it all fits together. “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).
  16. That explicit biblical insights will permeate all class sessions, even when issues are treated with language and paradigms borrowed from contemporary sciences.
  17. That God and his Word will not be taken for granted as the tacit “foundation” that doesn’t get talked about or admired.
  18. That the faculty will mingle the “severe discipline” of textual analysis with an intense reverence for the truth and beauty of God’s Word.
  19. That fresh discoveries will be made in the study of Scripture and shared with the church through articles and books.
  20. That faculty, deans, and presidents will have wisdom and courage from God to make appointments which promote the fulfillment of these petitions.
  21. And that boards and all those charged with leadership will be vigilant over the moral and doctrinal faithfulness of the faculty and exercise whatever discipline is necessary to preserve the biblical faithfulness of all that is taught and done.

You can read the entire chapter online for free at the Reformation 21 blog. Also, be on the lookout next year as B&H Academic releases an updated and expanded edition of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.

I hope you’ll pray for me, my faculty colleagues, and our students at Southeastern and other similar schools. And if you think about it today in particular, pray especially that the Lord will use our graduates to boldly proclaim Christ, advance his church, and make disciples of the lost here, there, and everywhere.

Seven Reflections on the Dangers of Seminary

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, several years ago I published a blog series entitled “On the Dangers of Seminary.” Also knowing that a new batch of students are confronted with these dangers each year, I am republishing the blog series by linking to it below.

Through the following links, one can read about:

The Danger of Losing Your First Love for God and Your Love for the Lost

The Danger of Allowing Seminary to Replace Church

The Danger of Becoming a Dork

The Danger of Seeking Academic Acclaim

The Danger of Becoming a Punk

The Danger of Being THAT GUY

The Danger of Missing Out

Q&A 17: What does it take for a pastor to be intellectually vibrant and well-read in the pastorate?

Question: What does it take for a pastor to be intellectually vibrant and well-read in the pastorate?

Reply:

I believe nothing is more valuable in achieving this goal than that one would commit himself to be an expository preacher. That approach to preaching will keep one in the word week by week. I have found it to be a wonderful way to nourish my own soul as I allow God to teach me from his Word in preparation for me teaching others. In addition, I would encourage a wide program of reading in a variety of areas. On an annual basis I would try to read something in the areas of New Testament, Old Testament, Church History, Apologetics, Ethics, Theology and Missions. I have particularly been blessed and strengthened by biographies of great Christians, especially those who have served our Lord on the mission field.

I would also add that nothing is more valuable in this context than having a band of brothers who can both encourage us and hold us accountable as we seek to walk faithfully with the Lord Jesus Christ. I am also a big fan of listening to good Christian music. In that context, I am not talking about styles. Each of us has our own particular taste in terms of music. I am talking more in terms of good solid content that helps nourish my soul spiritually and theologically.

I believe that God calls us to be life long learners. Seminary can only acquaint you with the playing field and the necessary tools. If one stagnates after leaving Seminary, then they will dry up in the ministry. Hopefully, seminary pushes you in the right direction, and you keep running that race keeping your eyes fixed on Jesus until you cross the finish line (Heb.12:1-2).