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Is Seminary Necessary for Ministers?

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Michael Patton (MP): Welcome friends, to Theology Unplugged. We are in studio at Credo House and being joined by another special guest, although you’ve heard her a couple times recently—it is Carrie Hunter. Carrie…

Carrie Hunter (CH): Hello!

MP: Don’t be shy, don’t be shy like you were last time!

Sam Storms (SS): Assert yourself, Carrie.

MP: Assert. You have made a seat at the table.

SS: Express. Articulate. Opine. Declare.

CH: Hello.

MP: You have made a seat at the table for a reason.

SS: That’s right! We’re glad you’re here.

CH: Thank you. It’s good to be here with my boss and my pastor.

MP: And you know what the reason ultimately is? Because God wants you to be here.

CH: Yes, that’s true.

MP: So, He has something to say.

SS: Michael, I do have one question though. Since we are at the Credo House, and we want people to come and visit, you’ve got to tell them what it is that you’re drinking there, because it looks intriguing.

MP: Well, this is a pour-over. If you go to our website and see all of our good ratings—this is an iced, is it an iced pour-over Carrie?

CH: Did you do the cold-brew?

MP: Yeah.

CH: So, that would just be an iced coffee.

MP: Okay. Iced coffee. Get the iced coffee. It’s actually the strongest drink, if you were to get full drinks, and you wanted the most caffeine early in the morning, whether it is hot or cold; get the cold-brew.

CH: The cold-brew. That’s right.

SS: Bottom line folks—these people are experts.

MP: We are. Carrie is.

SS: They are experts. They know what to serve up.

CH: Yes, thank you.

SS: So, come to Credo House!

MP: Hey, also, we need you to respond to us at TheologyUnplugged@credohouse.org. We need you to, because that’s the only way for us to get feedback. We don’t get feedback through telephone calls; we don’t give the phone number out. We get people who come in here and talk about the program, but we know that there are thousands and thousands of people all over the world—just got a text from a guy in England that is a follower of Sam, and follows the podcast because of that, and is possibly putting this program on many stations in England, alongside R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Chuck Swindoll, really good…

SS: Who are those guys?

CH: Not BBC 4.

MP: Because, what I asked him, I said, “Are we your only Yanks that will be on the program?” And he goes off on a big list—Adrian Rogers…Yank, after Yank, after Yank. Basically the Bot Radio.

SS: Although Adrian is now in the presence of the Lord, he’s still being broadcast in England.

MP: And J. Vernon McGee.

CH: And Adrian is from the South. He would take exception to being called a Yank.

MP: Yeah. Well, listen guys. I want to talk about something a little bit different here. Just a one-time of, (I think it’s going to be a one-time of), but I want to talk about the issue of going to seminary and the necessity, or non-necessity, of going to seminary. It is our 4th-ranked blog as far as visited traffic, consistently, and I wrote this in 2008. So, it still gets over a thousand brand new viewers a day looking at this, trying to figure out: “Should I go to seminary? What are the questions I need to ask about going to seminary?” And the main thing is, do people…I guess the broader thing is: questions to ask while going to seminary. How can we advise people? Sam, you and I in particular, who have been to seminary, how can we advise people in asking questions about whether to go to seminary or not? Not to leave you out, because…

CH: That’s fine!

MP: There’s things that you could say: “Well, here’s what I would ask.” Because you’ve thought about going to seminary before.

CH: I have.

MP: And my particular question is this: do you need seminary or formal education in order to be a minister of God?

SS: My opinion in this is there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to that. It literally is a, I think, a case by case basis, because I have known individuals who know more of the Bible in their little finger than most seminary professors do in their brains; individuals who are self-taught, who are highly motivated, who read voraciously, who have taught themselves the Biblical languages, who are articulate communicators, and they’ve never even visited the campus of a seminary. They’re individuals who are, for whom that question is “No, they don’t need it,” but then for others, it’s essential.

For others, they find it absolutely crucial to their development. So, I think we almost have to say, it’s not an answer anybody wants to hear, but “It depends.” It depends on the individual; it depends on the need; it depends on…you know, I have a friend, I won’t mention his name; he graduated from high school, he had one semester at the University of Missouri, and then he dropped out. And he knows more Scripture at the drop of a hat than anybody I know, he has read more widely than most seminary graduates could ever dream of, he’s an incredibly articulate preacher; so in his case, I would say no, I think seminary probably would have been a waste of time and money for him. But for others, it’s absolutely crucial.

MP: Okay. We have Clint Black in studio. Clint Black, as you know, you’ve probably heard the name Clint Black in many other ways.

Clint Roberts (CR): [singing] Walk a mile in my shoes.

SS: I’m afraid I’m not a Clint Black follower.

MP: “I’m leaving here a better man.” Do that one.

CR: Let me do some throat exercises first to prepare for this. Mi-mi-mi-mi! You know, I’m not up for it.

MP: You want me to do it for you?

CR: Ye…no.

SS: Does he really do Clint Black impressions?

CH: Yeah.

MP: No, but I do.

CH: No.

SS: Let’s get back to the topic at hand.

MP: [singing] I’m leaving here a better man.

CR: He’s been looking for a chance to do this.

CH: Should pastors who think they can sing go to vocal school?

MP: [singing] Knowing you this way.

CH: Seriously…

SS: Rein him in, please.

CH: Well, it sounds to me like what Sam’s saying about that is that for some people, if they went to seminary, that might be inhibiting, because they—well not to interpret you that way Sam—but that they can learn just as well independently than if they were in a seminary setting. But I think the key here is that education is a factor; and maybe that’s kind of the of root of it, is like, should pastors actually pursue a rigorous education? Because oftentimes you do encounter that, to where people think that they don’t need to do that; they don’t need to study, even the languages; you can find that they just have the Bible and that’s good enough. So, maybe that’s a factor that could be addressed.

MP: Well, you had no formal theological training outside of the Theology Program. Now, let me ask you this: if you had not had the Theology Program, what would be different?

SS: She would have been a heretic by now. Certifiable.

CH: Well, just because my interest before the Theology Program, before I encountered that, was apologetics, that would have been my emphasis, and there’s a good possibility I would have just continued wading in the deep waters of apologetics without any kind of theological training. And once I did receive that training it all came together; you know, it provided this solid foundation for my apologetic.

MP: Because you knew what to defend now.

CH: I knew, not only, yeah…I wasn’t accurately defending the faith. Or, I was accurately giving an accurate defense of the faith, with good arguments and all of that, and true, and sound arguments. But I wasn’t necessarily defending an accurate faith. I wasn’t established in just the basics of the Christian faith. And that’s definitely what just that amount of training served to do—it grounded me. And then from there, I pursued other interests, other areas of theology, like taking the Theology Program. I decided to pursue other areas that piqued my interest—soteriology being chief of them.

SS: So let’s be clear, maybe, I don’t think you’re suggesting this, Michael; I’m not suggesting that it’s not important for pastors and church leaders to be educated—I think they should. I don’t think ignorance will get anybody anywhere. Unfortunately, there are some people in the church who actually would say that education is a hinderance. They say you just kind of need to spontaneously go with the flow of the Spirit and speak whatever lands in your heart, and if you actually read widely, you’re going to corrupt your mind, you’re going to corrupt the Spirit. And I just want to go on record as saying: whereas I suppose that is possible—there are always cases where that might be true—that education is essential. Knowledge is essential for effective ministry. Now, whether or not formal education in a graduate school that is accredited by the United States Department of Education and that charges you five or six hundred dollars a credit hour, that’s another matter entirely.

MP: Clint?

CR: When Sam preaches, all that matters is that he has his D.H.G.—Doctorate in Holy Ghost! Which I think I actually heard Kenneth Copeland saying one time.

SS: We’ve just taken a new turn in the Theology Unplugged program!

CH: And somehow, I didn’t even flinch when you said Kenneth Copeland.

SS: That’s the first time Kenneth Copeland’s name has ever been dropped on this program, and we trust it will be the last!

CR: Well, speaking of impressions, just for you I can do the [as Kenneth Copeland] whole rest of the podcast doing Kenneth Copeland’s voice.

MP: By the way, Clint is a special guest over from Apologetics Unplugged, and you can check out Apologetics Unplugged just in your iTunes and you will hear him, and he is in a different form than he is even now.

CH: It’s good stuff.

MP: Listen at your own risk!

CR: I’m a woman, on that.

SS: He identifies as such.

CH: Gender fluidity.

SS: Come on, let me just bring this back. Michael, you went to Dallas Theological Seminary. Are you glad you did? What were the benefits of it? I mean, there are people listening to our program who are contemplating going to graduate school. Would you do it again? What were the pluses? What were the minuses? What was your experience?

MP: Well, right before I went to Dallas Seminary I was at, I was in a discussion with a guy who was going in the exact same direction as me. He was excited; he wanted to share the Gospel, and he wanted to share the Gospel now. He did not want to wait four years in seminary—although not all seminaries are four years—Dallas was. He did not want to wait four years in seminary to get this going. After going through seminary, and as I have seen people who have not been through seminary, I find—here’s a general characteristic, and you guys correct me if I’m wrong, ok? But I find, generally speaking, people who have not formed a serious, and here’s another thing, on-campus—that’s how strict I’m going to go here—on-campus engagement in seminary, and have not just done the online version, are much more disciplined, much more humble, and much more able to articulate their faith with honesty and effectiveness than those people who are otherwise. And the reason for this is because, what you do is, you gain your education. Maybe say, you’ve been through thirty years of theology. You already know what you know, and then you go to seminary, and you’re just there correcting your professors because you’ve studied for so long and you know everything. Or, you don’t go to seminary and here’s what I’ve seen, and I’m not going to name any names, but there is a very popular radio broadcaster out there that never did go through any formal type of seminary training.

CR: Just one?

MP: Well, this guy in particular, and he is arrogant, and he does not deal with things in an honest way. He builds straw men about everything, because one of the things that I got when I was in seminary, was I got massive beat-downs; and I think that those are absolutely necessary.

SS: The source of your experience on Theology Unplugged.

MP: Somebody that is above you that will say what you have to say, that will give you an F. Now, if you go to seminary and you get all As, that’s not seminary to me. Unless you’re really legitimately getting all As, like Sam Storms got. But when you go through and you legitimately get all As, fine. But you need an F, and you need to be told why you got an F. You need to go to preaching school, and in the preaching department, when they say: “Listen, you really sucked because you were all over the place with your text. You had no focus. Here’s the focus you’ve got to stick with. Here’s the central point you’ve got to get back to. It’s not about whether you’re a good speaker and everybody’s saying you’re a good speaker. It’s: we’ve got certain things. We have been doing seminary for a long time; we know how to train people.” And I know not all seminaries are this way…

CH: DTS can say that because they have some wonderful pastors. DTS has got it down.

MP: In the exegetical department, which I feared more than anything else, and I don’t know if you feared this more than anything else, but doing an exegetical was the scariest thing. Especially when you were under Dan Wallace because you would get ripped to shreds, and you would not get the grade you think you’re supposed to get, (and it was all legitimate criticism), and in the end, you had to correct yourself, and you had to humble yourself. And unless you’ve come out of there beat down enough…and what I find that people who don’t go to seminary, or do not have formal education, I’m not saying everyone has that available so that’s a different exception, but if you have it available, go!

SS: You know who graded Dan Wallace’s very first textual criticism paper at Dallas Seminary?

MP: Did you beat him down?

SS: I did. No, I was absolutely terrified and overwhelmed by it.

CR: How can that be true, being so young as you are?

SS: I was the grader and the teaching assistant for Dr. John Grassmick, and I can still remember getting these textual criticism papers, and they were all pretty pathetic, until the one that I opened up, and I’d never seen anything like it in my life. I went back to Dr. Grassmick; I said, “I have no capacity whatsoever to grade this guy’s paper.” It was Dan Wallace. So, Dan was about two years behind me at Dallas.

CR: He’s going to do big things.

SS: Yeah! In fact, Dan is actually in Athens, as we speak, photographing Greek manuscripts.

MP: And it was all due to your tutelage.

SS: Due to me! That’s right. I sparked him; I motivated him; I game him an F on the…no. And there he is.

You know, here’s another thing when people contemplate seminary: it’s a different world today just in terms of the cost. When I started Dallas Seminary, it was thirty dollars a semester hour; thirty dollars. I think most seminaries now are somewhere between five and six hundred dollars a credit hour, and it’s almost made it prohibitive, where people can’t go to seminary, which is tragic.

But, you know, I look at my experience at Dallas and I’m very glad that I went. I don’t know that I would have ever been able to study and grasp Greek and Hebrew the way that I did if I hadn’t been at Dallas, if I hadn’t the forced discipline of class and memorization; so I was very grateful for that. I also agree, Michael, the experience of being on campus sitting for hours over a meal, or after class, dialoguing with fellow students who’ve gone through, who are going through, transformation in terms of their thinking, the forming of their theological perspectives, was invaluable.

The one thing that I look back—and I know Dallas has made some changes, and I know other seminaries, we’re not just focusing on Dallas, but other seminaries are very good at this—unfortunately, the training and the practical dimensions of being a local church pastor were very, very weak when I was there. So, I know they’ve made some adjustments since then, and other seminaries do a lot more in terms of training. But sometimes the issues that come up in pastoral ministry, you just have to experience them, you got to jump into the deep end of the pool, and learn how to tread water.

MP: Well, I remember Audrey Maufers who said that, while I was there in 2001, my last semester, and he said that exact thing. He said, “You will learn how to interpret the Bible. You will learn how to critique. You will learn how to learn Hebrew, and Greek, and the original languages. But you will learn very little on how to deal with these individual issues.” But wouldn’t you say most of those have to be lived in life?

CH: Just through immersion.

SS: Yes, absolutely. You know, just getting back to the question of whether all should go to seminary, I’ll just give you one concrete example; again, I won’t mention names. There was a church here in Oklahoma that was looking for a pastor, and I know this church and I know the leaders, so I recommended an individual to them. He has his college degree, but he never went to seminary. He’s a superb preacher, an expert theologian, a great thinker, loves the Word of God, incredible pastoral interpersonal skills. But they were determined to hire someone with a lot of letters after his name. And so, the individual they eventually hired had not only been to seminary, but he also had, I think, a Doctorate in Ministry degree. And I told them, I said, “You’re going to regret this decision. It’s not this man you’re looking at is a bad person, but you are putting more weight on the fact that he has a graduate education than you are the actual skills, and pastoral giftings, and theological insights that this other individual has.” And sure enough, it’s been a couple of years since they made that decision, and I think they regret it.

CR: A lot of churches see it as a status thing, you know: “Our Guy,” they put his name on the marquee, they want to put letters after it. I went to seminary at not DTS—but close enough, right down the road, right down there at Southwestern, and I have to say, I loved it. I loved it, but that’s my thing. I thought: this is great! I’ve got scores of people, we sit around, we debate, we talk about this stuff; and I ate it up.

But to me, it’s sort of like you were saying earlier—in a perfect world, we would have a whole lot of totally competent autodidacts (that’s for you, Carrie; she likes big words), bunch of people who could, sort of like some people used to do back in the old days, they really would train themselves. And then, if they do it, who cares if it’s institutionalized, but that’s hard.

So, to me, and I see this in higher education across the board, what it really does for people, I think, if they get the most out of it is, besides just what you learn there, the content-wise, it’s sort of like they teach people how to learn, where to go to learn, how to make it a habit, but really I always tell people, “If this isn’t a lifelong process, you’re going to forget all this anyway.” You know what I mean? To me, if you ask me, “What did you really learn in seminary that you remembered?” I could probably, if I thought about it, name a select few things and a lot of facts and stuff; but it’s kind of, what stuck with me is I know how to learn. I know how to teach myself. I know where to go, where the resources…

CH: Develop those habits too.

CR: The habits, and not to be intimidated by it.

SS: Yeah, and I would just say also, to those who are listening, and perhaps they cannot afford to go to seminary: one of the things you should do is you need to find a mentor. You need to find somebody, whether it’s a local church pastor, or somebody who has been formally educated, that you can study under. Let them direct your thinking and the direction of your educational experience.

So, again, we just want to make sure—we’re not suggesting that it’s absolutely essential that you go to seminary. It’s great if you can and you can afford it, and there are numerous seminaries we can recommend. But we do urgently—at least I do, I don’t know if I’m speaking for the rest of you—urgently exhort and encourage people to pursue education. If it’s self-promoted, self-initiated, or under the direction of somebody who’s well-educated. But by all means, immerse yourself and educate yourself in the Word of God.

DISCLAIMER: All quotations are transcribed as spoken by the participants. They have not been checked for accuracy or citation.

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