That’s an excellent question! Maybe you’re wondering this because you’re philosophical and sometimes skeptical person like me. It’s difficult to commit to something if you don’t understand what it, in essence, is. Or maybe you’re trying to explain it to people at home, at school, or at church. They want to be able to imagine what it is you’ll be doing, or they want to decided whether its worth tithing toward! Perhaps you’re like me and have some family who don’t go to church or have a reference for understanding the value of the seminary experience. But whoever you are, unmet expectations breed frustration and disappointment, so it would be good to set our expectations straight. Let me begin by listing a few things that seminary is not.
1. Professional school. Strictly speaking, the point of seminary isn’t primarily to certify students to do the practical work of ministry. If you’re looking for the hands-on training that you don’t yet have, the mountains of books and papers and flash cards are going to catch you by surprise.
2. Graduate school. Don’t get me wrong: if you have friends in graduate programs, you can co-miserate over the laborious, rigorous academic studies, going deeper into a single topic than it seems like any sane person should. But not all of your classes will be that academically rigorous. The goal of seminary isn’t to credential Masters students who can write eloquent and intricate papers and ace detailed exams. In fact, some of the reading may feel light and trite–especially to an academic like I am!
3. Holiness camp. If you’ve been to a Christian camp, in Christian counseling, or part of a church Bible study, a lot of your education experience has focused on immediate individual application. If you didn’t finish your Bible study reading, that may have been okay because you already found an uplifting or convicting “spiritual nugget.” If you’re in a counseling session that takes a surprising turn, it’s often in a beneficial direction, and no one will demand that you answer the particular question being asked. But in seminary, although personal reflection and application are encouraged, you’re still expected to format your papers correctly and complete all the assignments on the syllabus.
The truth is, seminary is some combination of all three: a graduate-level theological education with an eye toward applicability and personal formation. Different degree programs will emphasize either the academic end (like an MA in Old Testament) or the professional end (like a certificate in chaplaincy). The Masters of Divinity serves a generous helping of both ends of the spectrum. Keep all three of these aspects of seminary in mind when you’re explaining it to friends and family, or when you’re setting up expectations in you own mind.
By Jack Franicevich Jack is an MDiv student at Denver Seminary. His interests range from the doctrine of the church, theologies of friendship and work, preaching, hymn-writing, and grassroots ecumenism to competitive table tennis, cooking for large groups, classical literature, and organizational development.