This has been a weird summer for me for several reasons. The first is that it is the first Summer since I became a teacher when I am not working several days a week. It is also the Summer during which I take an extremely difficult version of Calculus in order to prepare for an Engineering program I start in the Fall. The point is that I’ve had plenty of time to revisit books I bought while in seminary but never finished. It’s been good to read Anselm, Aquinas, Augustine, and Barth. Reading these guys got me to thinking, though. In seminary strange things can happen.
- You start to read books and come away with this or that author’s perspective on this or that subject. So you get Anselm’s perspective on the ontological argument, or Aquinas’ view of justification, or Douglas Campbell’s view of Paul’s view of justification. Or you could get Alister McGrath’s view of Aquinas’ view of Paul’s view of justification. In one sense this is good. An author writes about a subject, but what is written isn’t the subject. But nevertheless, if Christianity is true, there is more than this or that perspective on things. There is a truth and it is out there, beyond my perspective, beyond this or that author’s perspective, and that truth takes time to find and humility to hang on to and further understand.
- Studying Scripture becomes a chore for a grade (this never holds true if I’m reading in Greek, I can still get lost for hours in the Greek New Testament or the LXX).
- Talking to Christians with a more popular understanding of the gospel can become awkward. I have several friends who never went to seminary but who read deeply and broadly in Biblical studies and church history who have this problem too. You end up trying to find quick ways out of conversations without glazing over or rudely stopping somebody when they say something weird rather than looking for an opportunity for the “body to build itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16).”
- You can become accustomed to talk about what Scripture says over against what God has done. This one is tricky because it is, in most ways, a good. To speak of the revelatory text, what it says, and what it means is a salve for idolatry. You avoid speaking ill of God because you’re sticking with what God has inspired. Even if you’re wrong, but you point toward love of God and neighbor, the Scripture’s purpose has been met (which is a major point in Augustine’s theory of interpreting Scripture). Nevertheless, the Scripture itself gives warrant to those who wish to speak of God’s work in their lives to do so (see the Psalter), although it does seem to favor speaking about the Apostolic witness (Acts 2:42-48).
- Seeking after God and his kingdom can begin to seem illusory when your career is tied up with the process. If you’re having career trouble, it can be so much the easier for you to see the church or a parachurch ministry purely in terms of personal economics. This is why it’s important to pursue skills in another field prior to the seminary.
- You can graduate with such a narrow field of interest or such a small skill set that you’re not much use to others in conversation or actual physical help.
- Similarly to point 6, you can be so narrowly interested in one particular theological group or camp that you lose the ability to tell when people are saying the same thing with different words. You could also be so narrowly focused on one aspect of things that you actually start believing certain in-group caricatures of people outside that group.
The biggest solution I see to this problem is to make sure that you live outside of the realm of concepts. Feed people, learn to cook, learn to solve physical problems, etc. The other solution is to remember that despite all of the perspectives, despite the extreme importance of exegesis using linguistic and socio-rhetorical tools, at the end of the day it isn’t just about what this or that person thinks. At the end of the day studying Scripture remains a task for who Jesus is, what he said, what he did, and thus what he reveals about God to the church in all ages. I’ll post more on that closing thought in the future.