Belaboring a Point Well Taken . . . or is it?

by on January 14, 2009

You go to every blog, you speak to every pastor, you read every book. They all say the exact same thing about seminary. Sure there are varied articulations, but they all have the same heart:

“Don’t lose sight of what matters most.”
“Don’t neglect your spiritual life.”
“Watch for the temptation to edify your mind while letting your heart whither.”
“Don’t just seek head knowledge, but heart knowledge.”
“Keep your focus on the Gospel.”

If you’re at seminary, no doubt you’ve heard these often. Perhaps you’ve even reminded yourself a few times. After a while though, you get it. It has effectively become the quiet soundtrack always playing in the background of your mind. But you keep hearing it from everyone! If we’re honest, it gets old after a while, right? I mean, you’re at seminary and are probably perusing this very site because of an abiding affection for Christ and His Bride and a desire to serve them both well. Does this sound familiar, or am I very lonely here? Sometimes I catch myself thinking this at times and resting in the echo of that soundtrack in my head, comfortable that it’s just there. I get it. I know. I can’t let my heart harden under the pressures of academia. Okay. I’m good.

Enter Judas Iscariot. He’s been bothering me recently. Being one of the twelve, one could say he was in the greatest of all seminaries with the greatest of all professors. Powerful lecturing, hands-on ministry, solid homiletics, and a strong sense of community with the other students are just a few of the things he experienced in his three years of education. He probably heard the same sermons over and over again, observed the same mistakes of the other disciples over and over again, and perhaps got the same advice from Jesus and others. Just being here and knowing my words is not enough. Just knowing the possible pitfalls is not enough. Just preaching to yourself these dangers is not enough. He got it. He knew. But in the end, we have no more reason than Judas to even be saved, much less just come out of seminary still impassioned for Christ.

So what am I trying to say in all this? Seminaries have been around longer than us. There is a long history of men that have come and gone through the halls of whatever institution we belong. There is a solid base of experience for those that repeat that refrain that becomes so dull at times. Don’t grow cold to this. There is a rest for the people of God, but it is not a rest in ourselves, it is a rest in Him. It is a rest we strive and work to enter. We should never rest in the idea that we get it because to a large extent, so did Judas. Christians really can be that deceived about their own lack of intimacy with Christ. I know from personal experience. So fear that we would not enter His rest but rather our own. Examine yourselves lest you be found lacking in the affection that we so want to have: the affection for our only God and Savior Jesus Christ.

Make sure your heart is still sensitive. Here’s a quick test. See what (if any) affectional responses you have to these words: Jesus. Gospel. Grace. Sovereign. Cross. Mercy. Glory (my favorite). At least some times, our eyes should be wet against the beauty of these words, these truths. Read some poetry. Go to an art museum. Dwell in the Psalms. Try and catch a sunrise or sunset. Stand in the rain a few moments longer than you normally would. Eat slower. Read Revelation 20. Journal. Pray. Find those things that stir your affections for Christ and fill your life with them – at whatever cost (even at the cost of seminary). Then find those things that rob you of your sensitivity to those words I said earlier and rid your life of them. This life is a battle not for the mantras that go through your head, or the awareness of the dangers that can befall us, but it is a fight for your heart to be stirred by none other but the lover of your soul.

As we move forward in our educations, please let us not equate affection for Christ as “consistent quiet times.” No apostle, Church father, nor Reformer ever did. It’s about loving Jesus more and unpacking each diamond of the Gospel along the way. It can be nothing less. Right doctrine must lead to both right practice and worship for it to be true Orthodoxy. So, brother and sister, strive to enter the rest that lies before us by partaking in the very real and tangible Spirit of God you are so dependent upon. As the old hymn goes, “all the fitness he requireth, is to know your need for him.” It is our only hope and greatest need; for our families, our people, and ourselves. I pray this serves you well. I’ll leave you with my favorite puritan, John Owen (thanks to fellow GtS contributor Jake Belder for the quote):

“What am I the better if I can dispute that Christ is God, but have no sense of sweetness in my heart from hence that he is a God in covenant with my soul? What will it avail me to evince, by testimonies and arguments, that he hath made satisfaction for sin, if through my unbelief, the wrath of God abideth in me, and I have no experience of my own being made the righteousness of God in him, —if I find not, in my standing before God, the excellency of having my sins imputed to him and his righteousness imputed to me? Will it be any advantage to me, in the issue, to profess and dispute that God works the conversion of a sinner by the irresistible grace of his Spirit, if I was never acquainted experimentally with the deadness and utter impotency to good, that opposition to the law of God, which is in my own soul by nature, with the efficacy of the exceeding greatness of the power of God in quickening, enlightening, and bringing forth the fruits of obedience in me? It is the power of truth in the heart alone that will make us cleave unto it indeed in an hour of temptation. Let us, then, not think that we are anything the better for our conviction of the truths of the great doctrines of the gospel, for which we content with these men, unless we find the power of the truths abiding in our hearts, and have a continual experience of their necessity and excellency in our standing before God and our communion with him.”

About

Frequenting the coffee shops of Philadelphia while employed in social work and finishing up a Masters of Divinity from the Newbigin House of Studies at Western Theological Seminary. He serves Liberti Church as a deacon and seminary intern. Paul blogs at the long way home and tweets as @PaulBurkhart_.

Comments

“Jesus. Gospel. Grace. Sovereign. Cross. Mercy. Glory (my favorite). At least some times, our eyes should be wet against the beauty of these words, these truths.”

How true! I was moved like this today in a class. I consider it a bad day at seminary if this doesn’t move me close to tears at some point during my activities.

Paul, excellent post. Thank you so much for your contribution. It’s not just seminary, but the whole experience of living in our comfortable society that can numb us, I think. Two things we can do in addition to all the great suggestions you’ve offered us is to constantly remind ourselves how blessed we are to be able to study in an environment like we do, being able to delve deep into the Word and to learn how to mine the endless treasures it holds for us and for the body of Christ; and second, to remember that we are pilgrims, that life is not about getting all the answers right, but instead is a journey. Then we can learn to stop holding on to what misdirects our affections and focus on the only thing is at the same time the reason for and the end of this journey—Jesus Christ.