Seminary and Enjoying God
Aug 18, 2008 by Don Payne | 0 Comments
"Theological education" and "enjoying God" are not frequently used in the same sentence. Quite often the experience of theological education ("seminary" for shorthand) provides something of a jolt to a student's spiritual system. New questions, uninvited challenges, painful stretches of one's mental powers and depth of soul (and, not uncommonly, one's finances, time, and physical strength): these are among the forces that can chip away at that fresh sense of intimacy with God and passion for ministry that originally triggered the decision to attend seminary. Can seminary and enjoyment of God find each other again?
Allow me a few musings on this question. Beginning with Scripture (always a good idea), Paul instructed Timothy that overseers "must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience" (1 Tim. 3:9 - TNIV). That is, leaders of God's people must have sufficient confidence in the reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ to rest in it confidently even when exposed to stretching challenges to their faith. Of course, Paul does not overtly use the language of "enjoying God." Still, delight in the Lord is a weighty and magnetic motif in Scripture, close to core of why God made us. Why can that be so difficult for those who are training for ministry?
This line of thought probably deserves more than one installment, so I'll save some for later. For now, consider how seminary can be the occasion for expanding our capacities to delight in God and in the gift of life that He has given. A quick story to illustrate. I heard this on a recorded sermon by the famous Scottish theologian T.F. Torrance some years ago and use it periodically with my students.
Edgar Curtis was a gifted, young American music student who moved to
None of us come naturally or easily by the capacity to deeply, richly enjoy God and the life to which He has called each of us. That capacity comes through experiences that at the time seem antithetical with joy! Seems like that is something of what James had in mind when he said, “Consider it pure joy, by brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4). I don’t think James had seminary in mind when he wrote those words, but they work for any experience that pushes us past superficiality and limits so that we can find satisfaction in the powerful realities of God that require more developed sensibilities and spiritual muscles.
We frequently use the language of “formation” and “preparation” when describing the purpose of attending seminary. At the same time, seminary is about developing one’s capacities to enjoy God and lead others to that mature enjoyment, too. I certainly want those who care for my own soul to have learned how to enjoy God when life is complex and overwhelming! Otherwise, they cannot help me do so.