I recently read a book called Surviving and Thriving in Seminary by Daniel Zacharias and Benjamin Forrest.
Nearly 40 years ago when I went to seminary, I had no background in theological studies other than a few summer courses when I was on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. So I could have used a book like this one.
The authors do a good job of discussing things like trying to avoid going into debt, working while in school, spending time with your wife and kids, having personal devotions in addition to your seminary studies, taking care of your body (sleep, exercise, diet), starting assignments early, planning well, deciding what is worth reading carefully and what should be skimmed, etc.
However, and this is the point of my blog today, their chapter on how to choose a seminary was an afterthought and is not even found in the body of the book. It is Appendix 1. Choosing a seminary is the single most important decision a person can make.
In addition, Zacharias and Forrest do not give good advice on how to pick a seminary. They have three main suggestions: 1) study the school’s doctrinal statement, 2) ask, “Will a degree from this school help me get a job?” and 3) ask, “Can I afford it?”
The problem with this advice is that for many if not most seminaries today, the doctrinal statement no longer means anything. I heard one professor from my alma mater say at the annual ETS meetings about 15 years ago that the seminary doctrinal statement is a “community document.” He went on to explain that any given point in the statement is capable of being understood in four or five different ways. As long as a given professor holds one of those four or five views, he “agrees” with the doctrinal statement.
That means that professors today no longer are restrained to teach only what the doctrinal statement teaches.
A friend of mine said at the annual Pre-Trib Study Group Conference a few years back that he was duped by the seminary he attended. He called it bait and switch. The school promised one thing in its doctrinal statement and publications. But it delivered something radically different in the classroom.
If you plan to go to a resident seminary, pray for wisdom. Ask the Lord to guide you. This is a big decision.
Second, interview recent graduates of schools whose doctrinal statements reflect a conservative view of the Scriptures. See if they found the professors to teach what the doctrinal statement says. Did they ever say things like, “Now you know that three different authors wrote Isaiah, but you can’t say that when you go to pastor since laypeople are ignorant and would not only not understand, but they likely would fire you”? A friend told me he was told that by his OT professor.
Third, call the leading schools on your list and conduct brief interviews with some of their staff and faculty. While they are likely to be guarded, you might say something like, “Is this school more on the fundamentalist or evangelical side of things? Is it ultra conservative, or is more moderate in its approach?”
Fourth, you might check out recent publications by and about the faculty. An online search may be very helpful in this regard.
Fifth, ask if the school teaches spiritual formation. If so, are students who disagree with contemplative spirituality required to attend? Or can they opt out and do something else instead, like attend a Bible study at church? Personally I would not go to a school which required me to be indoctrinated in contemplative spirituality.
Sixth, once you narrow your search to two or three schools, I would strongly recommend anyone considering seminary to go and spend at least two days on campus. Sit in on lectures in at least four of five classes. Interview students in the student center. Visit with four or five professors.
And don’t do this for just one seminary. Visit two or three.
If you plan to get your seminary degree via an online program, then follow the first four steps outlined above. One thing I’d want to know for an online degree is whether I’d be free to defend a conservative view of the Scriptures. Would I be required to use and to defend higher critical approaches? If so, I’d mark that one off the list. If I was required to learn higher critical approaches, but not use or defend them, then I’d be okay with that.
There are schools where you can get a Th.B., an M.Div., and even a Ph.D., totally online for about $6,000. Of course, to get the Ph.D. online from an accredited school you first need a master’s degree from an accredited school.
From a Free Grace perspective there are not many choices. The only accredited Free Grace School is Grace School of Theology in the Woodlands, TX. Some Southern Baptist seminaries are tolerant of Free Grace Theology and many professors at those schools would not penalize a student for holding those views.
GES has an unaccredited school, which we call Grace Evangelical School of Theology (GESOT), but it has been dormant for years. We may resurrect it if there is sufficient interest, but the costs involved are enormous.
Are you trying to find a seminary? If so, be very prayerful and very intentional. Recently I was visiting with a faculty member over at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth. I told him about my concerns about a particular seminary that has drifted and is no longer conservative. He told me that SWBTS get students all the time from that school. They go for a few semesters, realize that the teaching is not consistent with a high view of Scripture, and then transfer into SWBTS.
There is always that option. It is much better to transfer than to keep on being indoctrinated by moderate to liberal views of the Scriptures. But it is even better to pick a school with a high view of the Bible in the first place.