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Playing it Safe at Seminary

A few years ago, I heard an excerpt from a speech delivered by Theodore Roosevelt which made a great impression on me. It went like this:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

This little quote captured my attention because it directly contradicts a popular attitude which I see in myself and in many others. That is, we tend to avoid situations in which failure is possible. We carefully tailor our lives to avoid risk. Let’s face it: maintaining the status quo is far easier and much more comfortable, and so that’s what we do. We put our efforts not into overcoming obstacles, but into working out a plan for circumventing them.

Now to one degree, this is a wise attitude. I am not a tightrope walker, and I am not going to risk plummeting to my death just to see if I can walk on a tightrope strung between two redwoods. That is a foolish and unnecessary risk, as (I hope) all will agree.

That said, all risks are not created equal. Systematic risk (from a human standpoint) is a chief mark of a life of faith. One rarely, if ever, has all their ducks in a row when following God. He calls us to step outside of our own resources and abilities, and lean on Him, trusting Him to be fully enough, when we need Him. As Whittier said:

Nothing before, nothing behind;
The steps of faith
Fall on the seeming void, and find
The Rock beneath.

Now that’s risk for you. At least it seems to be, until we learn how completely the Rock can be relied upon.

Also, risk is an indispensable component of personal growth, because it is inherent to stepping outside of our comfort zones. Unexplored territory brings with it the possibility of failure. Yet unless we move out into it, we will stagnate in our own, familiar backyard.
Risk is also intrinsic to the accomplishment of great things. It is not enough to dream of them, to sense a divine call to some noble task. At some point, we will have to put ourselves on the line. We may fail. We may lose everything we hold dear. This must not be denied.

…All of this is rather nebulous and theoretical. What does it look like in the context of seminary?

Risk meets us at every corner of the campus, should we choose to face it. Some risk isn’t worth it – such as the risk of neglecting people for the sake of pushing our GPAs a little higher, for instance. Avoid that risk like the plague.

When it comes to other risks, we should be meeting the challenge they confront us with. Take classes, for instance. Are we doing our best to avoid those that will really beat us up? Perhaps that isn’t the wisest approach. If we want to grow in our weak areas, we should be trying to work into our schedules classes that will help us, even if we don’t do very well in them. For me, that would mean the languages and homiletics. Plenty of opportunities for failure, there. But how will I grow, otherwise? If I just take the subjects I’m good at, I’ll be affirmed in my abilities, but I won’t be deepened very much. And for fellow Bible college graduates – don’t just duplicate your undergrad degree. Learn something new.

There are a plethora of other risky venues available to us, outside of the classroom. Look for a Bible study to lead, or a church to pastor. Pray honestly about serving overseas after graduation. Budget your salary from Starbucks to give generously to your church and to missions. Share Christ’s love with a homeless person. Submit a paper to ETS. Quit studying for tomorrow’s Hebrew quiz and take your wife out to dinner. Do what you’ve never done before – not for the sake of aggrandizing yourself, but for the sake of being a good steward of the potential which God has given you.

The more we risk at seminary, the more we will grow, and the more we will learn to trust God. Don’t be afraid of failure, because you will fail. We will all fall short. If you avoid risk, your falls will be fewer and softer than of those who do risk. But those who risk will know the power of God in their weakness. They will have tremendous failures, but they will also know God’s great triumphs in and through their lives.
Go take a risk (or two…or twenty)!

by Rebekkah Scott. Rebekkah is pursuing a ThM at Dallas Theological Seminary. She has a passion for the fulfillment of the Great Commission, that God might be magnified and all peoples blessed in His Son. When she isn’t struggling to parse Greek verbs, she enjoys exploring the great outdoors, music, and writing.

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