For Dale and Tamara Chamberlain, an epic journey recently came to an end. We graduated from Talbot School of Theology, each of us with a Master of Divinity degree.
Life has changed a lot since we started. Before seminary, we hadn’t met. In the course of our 5 years there, we went from study partners, to dating partners, to life partners and expectant parents.
We’ve also learned so much. We’ve spent years of study in the bible, in theology, in leadership skills, and in the biblical languages of Greek and Hebrew.
But here’s the funny thing. When I started seminary, I thought that I’d be way more spiritually mature than I am by now. I thought I’d be smarter too. While seminary offers invaluable training, it doesn’t fundamentally change who you are as a person. Only Jesus can do that.
Before I went to seminary, the whole thing seemed like a great mystery to me. Having been through it has demystified it for me. So I’d love to share some things that I’ve observed.
Here are 5 surprising truths about seminary grads.
1. They aren’t necessarily more spiritual than you.
It’s a big mistake to believe that someone is “more spiritual” than you just because they have a theological degree. Theological knowledge doesn’t equate to spiritual maturity. Life transformation does.
Here’s how Paul describes spiritual maturity.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
You don’t need to know Greek or Hebrew or any fancy theological terms to have the fruit of the Spirit growing in your life.
Sometimes, we can hide behind our knowledge of the bible as a cover for our spiritual immaturity. Knowing things about the bible doesn’t necessarily mean that you know Jesus deeply.
While it’s true that you need to know certain truths about who Jesus is in order to faithfully follow him, truth is meaningless unless it leads to transformation. A person can know nothing more than the simple message of Jesus and still be deeply spiritual.
2. They don’t know everything there is to know about the bible.
Even after literally hundreds of hours of study across five years under the guidance of world class biblical scholars, seminary grads still don’t know everything there is to know about the bible, about faith, and all things spiritual.
Recently, someone asked me a theological question that had to do with some archeological findings. I said offhand that I didn’t have a good answer. I’d have to look into it more deeply. The person immediately replied, “Don’t they teach you this stuff in seminary?!”
For people who haven’t gone to seminary, it can seem like this black box that students disappear into, only to emerge a few years later with infinite wisdom and endless knowledge. But try not to give us so much credit.
During my years in seminary, I learned so many things that I love sharing. But I didn’t learn literally every single thing. I’m still learning, and I’ll continue to learn for the rest of my life.
And that’s the beautiful thing about following Jesus. Whether you’ve been following him for two days or two decades, and regardless of whether you have a third grade education or a PhD, you are called to continue learning from Jesus as long as you live.
3. They aren’t always right when it comes to important questions of life and faith.
Sometime a seminary degree can seem like a trump card in a disagreement over an important question of life and faith. The person with the advanced theological training automatically wins. Their word is infallible, because they know Greek and Hebrew and you don’t.
Again, this is giving seminary grads way too much credit. Like I said, we don’t know everything.
When it comes to important questions about faith and the bible, not even all seminary grads always agree. On certain issues, you can have one person with a PhD argue one position, and another person with a PhD argue the exact opposite position. Both of them love Jesus, both of them highly intelligent and incredibly well trained.
And as long as they both agree on the essentials of the faith, it’s okay that they disagree. The bible isn’t always as clear on everything as we’d like it to be. So there’s room to disagree on certain things.
While it’s good to hold our convictions with passion, we need to also hold them with humility. Anyone who tells you that their position on a non-essential issue of faith is the only faithful way to understand it isn’t being intellectually honest.
What’s more is this. Even without a seminary degree, you still have the Holy Spirit. And any person with the Holy Spirit and the bible has everything they need to grow into full maturity.
Here’s the promise we hear from Peter (who, by the way, was an uneducated fisherman and who preached a sermon so good that literally thousands of people gave their life to Jesus in a single day).
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3)
4. They are still in process.
Seminary grads are still broken people, just like you. They still struggle with their sins. They still have doubts and fears. Their faith is still a fight, just like yours.
Don’t put people with theological training on a pedestal. They might know a lot about the bible, but they haven’t arrived. They’re fallible. They need support, help, and grace. They make mistakes. They’re learning.
Seminary doesn’t spit out perfect Christians. It gives training to Christians who are very much still in process. Many of us are still waiting for our spiritual maturity to catch up to our theological training and expertise. This is a lifelong process.
5. Their training and education does give them unique insight that can build up the church.
None of this is to say that seminary degrees are worthless. They’re deeply important, and the people who hold them are valuable assets to the church.
Seminary grads might not have all the answers, but they do know how to help you look for them. They know how to help you wrestle with the questions. One of the things I value most about my education isn’t the answers it gave me. It’s that I learned to ask better questions.
While seminary grads aren’t perfect people, they have spent a lot of time studying the bible, church issues, and theological truths. And if they really are followers of Jesus, all those things have left an indelible mark on their souls. So they have a lot to share with the church. Value them. Respect their insight.
I’m so thankful that God blessed me with the opportunity to attend seminary. And I’m ready to continue learning in new and exciting ways.