Many of you are facing difficult decisions in your lives. Some of you may be considering seminary as an opportunity among many. Others may consider seminary to be the thing that just makes sense. Others still may believe that they have been called to seminary and that nothing else seems as clear as that fact. I have met many wonderful seminarians who have come from any one of these various possibilities. At some point, however, each of these people had to make a decision about where they were going to attend seminary.
After graduating college I took some time off to live the life of a beach-bum. As the graduate of a small Christian college in Santa Cruz, California I felt the need to spread my wings outside of my college community and experience some more of life. In this time, I often found myself on the beach after work with a lawn chair, a book, and a cold beverage. In time I fell in love with the works of Soren Kierkegaard and as my fascination with his theology and philosophy grew so too did my desire to stretch myself more in terms of my spirituality.
I had grown up in church and spent a lot of time evangelizing, leading VBS programs, and even serving as a missionary for a summer for the Southern Baptist Convention. To a large extent I felt like I no longer fit into the communities I had grown up in – both Baptist and Pentecostal. I decided to apply to several seminaries on the advice of my undergraduate advisor, friends, and family. As I did so, I made prayer an essential part of my discernment process. I needed God to make it clear where He wanted me.
Like most people considering graduate school or seminary I drew up a list of programs that interested me. I started and almost completed the application processes for Gordon-Conwell, Yale Divinity, Palmer Theological Seminary, and Princeton Theological Seminary. As many of you will find out, each of these great schools has a different deadline and application process for admission. The school with the earliest application start-phase at the time I applied was Princeton. So after I sent in my completed application I prayed and decided that if I was accepted and offered a competitive financial aid package I would attend Princeton, if not then I would mail in everything to the other schools once they started accepting applications.
Luckily, Princeton sent me an acceptance letter before I was ever even able to apply to Yale or any of the other schools. In that package, I found a financial aid offer that most other schools would not be able to match. For me, this was a clear sign that my decision had essentially already been made for me. God had a hand in the process all along. My undergraduate advisor had gone to Princeton and in many ways it matched my spiritual need to explore Reformed theology to a greater extent.
In undergrad I transferred to another school for a year to study theology. At this institution they actively taught five-point Calvinism and were quite adamant in their affirmation of this doctrinal system. I soon found myself in a spiritual crisis when reading John Calvin’s Institutes. I had difficulty understanding the tension between God’s love and certain elements of predestination and in many ways this intellectual problem manifested itself emotionally and spiritually in my life.
After I had transferred back to my school in Santa Cruz, I attended a barbeque at a professor’s house. In the course of our conversation I explained how upset and torn I felt because of the theological dilemma I was facing. My professor listened to my plight empathetically and then briefly explained Karl Bath’s solution to the dilemma I was facing. At that moment I found a new interest in Reformed theology and in some sense had already had my path to Princeton set before me.
People come to seminary from a great variety of paths and in most cases these are legitimate and powerfully moving experiences. It’s okay to come to seminary because you’re not sure where you are at in terms of your calling. Your classes, field education placements, and personal relationships will help you grow immensely in your time at seminary. If you have even a modest sense of call and recognize that a seminary degree will not necessarily get you a job in finance, then I hope that you will follow the call of God – even the subtle call. God works in many mysterious ways. From the strange old person who stopped you once to tell you that you would be a good pastor to the liberating feeling you get when you discover a theological insight in class – God is at work. Listen to the Spirit and you will be led. Find His voice and all things will follow.
Written by Kadin Williams. Kadin is presently in his third year at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey. He has served as an intern in American Baptist, Southern Baptist, and RCA churches. He is presently seeking ordination with the American Baptist Churches USA. You can connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.