I receive a letter like this two or three times a month and thought it might be a good idea to jot down a brief response. First, the letter; then, the response.
My name is [Kip]. I’m a recent graduate of [America’s Finest University]. I’ve been thinking a lot about going
to graduate school or seminary in the next couple of years and I’m
wondering where to start the search. I’ve heard interesting stuff about
Biblical Seminary, where I know you’ve been a visiting professor some.
I’ve also heard positive things about Mars Hill Graduate in Seattle and
Regent in Vancouver. I’d like to get your opinion on seminaries and
graduate schools and I’d like to ask it two different ways: one more
general and one more specific to myself.
1. If you were going to seminary/graduate school in the next two years what would be the top 5-7 schools you would consider.
2. I’ve really developed an interest in first century history. A lot of
this interest has been generated by reading stuff from N.T. Wright and
listening to guys like Rob Bell.
3. I also have a
lot of interest in some of the central figures of the Emergent movement. … I’d like to go
somewhere that will prepare and enable me to pursue a career as a
professor either in seminary or university program.
Here’s my response:
First, everyone interested in going to seminary needs to read Derek Cooper’s So You’re Thinking about Going to Seminary: An Insider’s Guide.
This is the kind of book that draws this kind of response: (1) why didn’t someone write this book already? (2) I wish I had known this stuff before I went to seminary. (3) This book will save almost everyone weeks of worry and wondering. This books covers everything — balanced and fair and clear and organized and practical.
Second, the single-most important element that guides one’s choice of seminaries is knowing what you will do when you graduate. If you want to pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church, the denomination that sponsors our university (where I teach) and our seminary, then you will want to go to that seminary. In other words, choose the denomination where you will serve.
If you want to be a professor and you know what you want to study, then your seminary/graduate school can be narrowed down to where you will be most prepared for what that specific field of study. We need to get more specific: PhD studies are narrow studies — one does Old Testament or New Testament or the Ancient Near East, and then within that one chooses a specific field or discipline — say Pentateuch or the 9th Century BC or Historical Jesus Studies or the Dead Sea Scrolls or Hebrews.
Third, the reality is that the majority who are in your shoes are still discerning but are prompted to move forward into seminary studies. This means that you will need to explore your options while in seminary and you may lose a little time in the exploration phase but it is what most do.
Fourth, be open to new leadings. There is no reason to lock in and lock down and not reconsider your options. Some come to seminary to become pastors or missionaries and sense they are gifted for professor-ing. Others come to seminary thinking of becoming professors and find themselves pastoring and loving it.
Now, brother, I’d rather not list my favorite seminaries but you are right that I have a special relationship with Biblical Seminary in Hatsfield, PA — I really like what they are doing with a missional focus. I’ll return back to the big point I’d like to make: To decide which seminary to attend it is wisest to begin with what you want to do when you are done.
I’m game to hear the advice of others.