When one first enters seminary, there are usually high expectations of exciting coursework ahead and interesting lectures that will deepen knowledge and spiritual life. The student will browse the degree completion plan and his or her eyes will quickly spot those classes considered the most necessary or relevant for the desired or current ministry call. Some people, those who often leave their favorite part of the dessert for last, will take all of the boring ones first and leave the best for last. Others are the kind of people who eat the filling first and leave the crust for later, if they are still hungry. These are the ones who will snatch all of the great courses first and then try to hang on for dear life in those final months of Seminary. Which approach is best? None. Both approaches are wrong and can lead to taking less advantage of your degree. After all, the purpose of attending seminary is for more than earning a degree, but preparing oneself for a lifelong ministerial service unto God and people, right?
Your seminary will have a suggested degree plan, with ideas of which courses to go for first. But let’s be honest: Who follows those faithfully? Some people do, I am certain, or they would no longer be making them. However, all of the people I know base their decisions on interest or schedule instead. Many will also take courses based on their perceived current spiritual or ministerial needs. But an intelligent choice is needed, one which will assist the student in solidifying his or her learning throughout their seminary career. The first course, or the first few courses on takes in seminary may assist a student in absorbing all others’ contents not to mention assisting in obtaining and maintaining a high GPA.
My unreserved suggestion for a first course to take in seminary is Hermeneutics. Hopefully, your seminary will offer more than one Hermeneutics course. Stick with the most foundational one, especially if you did not take one during your undergraduate studies. The reason for this suggestion is that Hermeneutics will assist you in knowing if your biblical interpretation is what it is because this is how you and your church leaders have done it all your life, or if it is based upon solid Scriptural knowledge. The Bible, after all, is the inerrant, sufficient, and inspired Word of God, but this only applies to the lives of those who can interpret it correctly, which can be done by following hermeneutical rules. After all, many cults use the Bible, but do not possess the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
If you take Hermeneutics first, you will have a greater chance at quoting verses correctly in your research papers, choosing the right sources for papers, and critiquing the content of your learning in an educated, spiritual manner. You will also be more equipped to ascertain which of your pre-conceived thoughts regarding the Bible and ministry should be maintained no matter what, and which should be cast aside for a proven Scriptural view. Seminary is intense, and the learning we receive in it is relevant not only in a professional level, but on an eternally personal level. A good Hermeneutical foundation will help you make the best of it.
Now, your seminary might disagree, and if so, I suggest you ask if there is a reason why. Some institutions will put thought into their suggestive order of coursework, but others will just arrange it by amount of work you will need to put into each class. If this is the case, I personally do not agree that one should necessarily begin with the easiest ones and work up to the most difficult and time consuming courses. There should be an intellectual and spiritual ladder that builds upon knowledge that has previously been acquired, much like in Mathematics.
I hope that you will take your choices in the order of courses you take in seminary seriously, talking to your advisors, reading course descriptions, and prayerfully considering your choices. If you are reading this article, I suppose you are taking it seriously, so good for you! After all, if you make your decisions solely based upon current need or appeal, you may waste an excellent opportunity to maximize your learning.
Written by Luciana Damascena. Luciana is a student at Liberty Baptist Seminary, currently in the M. Divinity program. She is a full time career missionary with BCM International and is serving in Portugal along with her husband and two children.