How I’ve Changed in Seminary

About 2 weeks ago, I graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with my MDiv. I’ve been thinking about the past three years, getting to know classmates and professors in class, the late night study sessions for exams (usually Dr. Gagnon’s), trips to Five Guys or Sharp Edge, the mission trip to Southeast Asia, and a multitude of other experiences, and it’s got me to thinking about the ways in which I’ve changed because of my experience at PTS. So, in no particular order, here are some of the ways in which I’m a different person than what I was 3 years ago.

1.) I no longer call myself conservative. Granted, a lot of people would probably still call me conservative, but I don’t like the label. When I started seminary, I proudly called myself “theologically conservative” and (since I also considered myself reasonably intelligent) expected to win every debate with every “theologically liberal” person I ran into. The (first) problem (among many) that I realized with this was that I had no idea who the “theologically liberal” people were. In my mind, a “liberal” was someone who consistently and across the board had the opposite views I held to. I began to realize that no such person existed. The more I learned, the more I understood that I was thinking in very two-dimensional (maybe even one-dimensional) terms. Coming out of Grove City College, a school with a considerably theologically homogeneous religion faculty, “liberal theology” was an abstract concept of which I knew no adherents. When I arrived at PTS, which is considerably more diverse theologically, I grew frustrated when I would talk with a person and learn that they had a low view of Scripture and yet still believed in the exclusive Lordship of Jesus Christ, or supported homosexual ordination and yet was pro-life. I began to realize that people were much more complicated and three dimensional than the labels “conservative” and “liberal” allowed. I also began to notice that the labels are way too polarizing to be using in the Church. So, though some may still call me conservative (though I suspect fewer would now than when I started seminary) I’m no longer one of them.

2.) I’m more capable of an original thought. When I started at seminary, I relied a lot on things I had heard before. In college, I had read and heard a lot of Christian teaching that was apologetically focused, so I thought that I was equipped with an answer to everything. Those answers lasted about 1 term. I soon found myself being challenged to think beyond the simplistic, cut-and-paste answers that I had memorized. As a result, I had to think for myself.

3.) Consequently, I’m more confident in my own abilities. I managed to get by on memorized answers for a very brief time. Once I had to move beyond that, though, I had little-to-no confidence in my ability to do so. I remember some of the early papers I wrote. I had convinced myself that the paper sucked. I remember just a couple days after turning in my Prophets and Psalms paper, I actually had a nightmare about it. In it, I got the paper back with the comment from the professor: “Why did you make me waste my time reading this?” Thankfully, I learned that I was lying to myself when I got positive feedback (and grades) from professors and I eventually learned that I actually am capable of writing a good paper.

4.) I better realize the value of friendships. I’m not certain why, but when I started seminary, I viewed the people I was meeting as future colleagues, and only that. Of course, those classmates are all colleagues in ministry with me now, but I (for reasons I’m still not sure of) failed to view people at seminary as friends also. Consequently, I found conversations with classmates usually limited to theology or ministry issues, and really didn’t open up to friends in seminary until this year. I’m really glad I noticed that I was making this mistake partway through and intentionally worked on correcting the problem. Otherwise, I suspect this blog post would be a lot more negative.

5.) I’m planting a church. Even though church planting was something that interested me before seminary, I NEVER in my wildest dreams thought I would actually be called into it. Before coming to PTS, I had considered some other seminaries. Had I gone to another one, I don’t think the church planting would be happening. So many of the puzzle-pieces that came together to form this calling fell into place because I was at PTS. Working in the Korean Church, getting to be good friends with Chris, being able to network with Don, Vera, and others in Pittsburgh Presbytery, and a bunch of experiences that aren’t immediately coming to mind have all contributed to this calling, and I thank God for it.

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