Recently I read a helpful post on “Choosing the Right Seminary” by Kevin DeYoung. As a former seminarian and one who believes strongly in the need for theological education for all church members I found myself resonating with several of his thoughts regarding choosing the right seminary. DeYoung is correct in his assessment that seminary is not for everyone. However, I would add that even if someone is not entertaining seminary for vocational preparation, like a pastor or missionary I still believe it has value to the Christian who desires to grow in their understanding of Scripture and theology. The route one takes to obtaining a seminary education may be different under these circumstances. Someone may consider sitting in on a class as a non-credit student (otherwise known as auditing a course). I actually attended seminary with an older gentleman who had taken over 100 hours of seminary training as a non-credit student. He did so to equip him to serve his church as a deacon. In addition, several seminaries now make such classes available through MOOCs (massive open online courses) that are generally free of charge except for any books one may have to purchase. Other seminaries are making it even easier for the average church member to engage in quality theological education by taking the seminary on the road and offering classes at times convenient for working class professionals. I would encourage anyone who wants to grow in their understanding of Scripture and theology to consider taking advantage of the opportunity to learn from the highly trained and qualified instructors of a theological seminary.
I would also strongly encourage you along with DeYoung to consider a seminary’s stance on the authority and trustworthiness of the Bible. There are several seminaries and graduate programs that do not consider the Bible to be the inerrant and infallible Word of God. This does not mean that there are still not some faculty members who adhere to the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture at those institutions, but it is not something that is foundational to a particular educational institution. In counseling potential seminary students I encourage them to consider an Evangelical seminary, one that takes seriously the belief that the Bible is God’s Word to humanity and that it is authoritative for our lives. This is important because of what one will encounter in seminary, which is a deeper level of thinking and dialogue about God’s Word. This is not the time to be confronted with ideologies that undermine the sufficiency of Scripture, but rather uphold it. What a student who feels called to handle God’s Word faithfully as part of their vocation needs is to be instructed from a basic theological foundation built on the truthfulness of the Bible. I am less concerned with the particular confessional stance of the school, although that is something to consider, since a schools theological convictions will make its way into every aspect of the curriculum. However, after one has graduated with one’s first graduate degree (either an M.A., M.Div., or Th.M.) from a theologically conservative institution, I do not believe it is as important to attend a similar institution should one consider a doctoral degree. Hopefully, the seminary will have given one a firm foundation for handling the scriptures and for believing and defending the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture that will stand up under the pressure to compromise those beliefs either from doctoral instructors or other doctoral students.
One thing that DeYoung does not mention that may be worth considering is the area in which the seminary is located, particularly if enrollment in a seminary is going to mean moving to a new area. Why is this important? I think it is important for at least a few reasons. First, there is the consideration of cost of living and the local job market. Does attending a particular seminary mean you will be spending most of your time working on the side, which results in little time given to your studies? Will you or your spouse, who may be supporting you financially, be able to find work that will meet your needs while you focus largely on preparation for vocational ministry? A second consideration is church affiliation. Are there churches with which you find yourself to have similar theological convictions located near the school? If you are already a member of a particular kind of church (think denomination) and desire to serve in such a church, is there one near the seminary in which you can serve?
If you are considering seminary or some form of theological higher education I commend to you DeYoung’s list of questions. For those out there who have already attended seminary, what other questions might be helpful for an aspiring seminarian to ask before they enroll in school?