I finally did it! I graduated from seminary.
Last Friday, after three years and 93 credit-hours of theological study, discussion, and reflection, I walked across the stage and received my Master of Divinity degree. It was a long road that often didn’t seem to have an end, but it was also an amazing learning experience that taught me more than I ever could have possibly imagined. As I’ve been finishing up the last few requirements for my degree, I’ve also been taking some time to think through the big-picture things that I learned while I was in seminary. What better time than now to share them with you?
When I first came to seminary, I wasn’t totally sure what I believed about a lot of theological issues. Sure, I knew what I had been taught growing up, but as a young adult, I had started to think for myself and find that many things I was taught as a child just didn’t work for me. In college, I spent a lot of time deconstructing those beliefs and examining why I didn’t agree with them, but I hadn’t spent an equal amount of time and energy reconstructing new beliefs.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how much it all mattered. I like to think of myself as an open-minded person, which means I’m averse to saying that any particular view is downright wrong. I can see the strengths in a variety of theological beliefs, and this makes it hard to affirm just one. Before seminary, I sort of functioned with a live-and-let-live mentality. I thought, “If multiple views have value, does it really matter whether I pick one or not?”
But my seminary training has taught me that what I believe does matter. Not only does my theology have practical implications for how I live my life, but it also matters on a less pragmatic level. The truth is that God cares what we think about him, and thus it is our duty to be discerning and to think the right thoughts about theological issues to the best of our abilities. This is not just for ourselves, but ultimately for the glory of God.
I’m not saying I have it all figured out or that anyone who disagrees with me is necessarily wrong. But through the processes of learning and growing that I experienced in seminary, I learned to take an informed stance on theological issues because theology does matter.
Theology is hard.
But figuring out what one should believe is not an easy process. There are a wide range of theological viewpoints available to us. In fact, there are more than I ever could have imagined, and many of the views I studied in seminary were views that I might not have even considered “Christian” before studying them. The truth is that theology is a difficult subject, and it only gets harder the more you learn.
There is no such thing as a perfect system of theological beliefs. No matter what viewpoint one affirms, someone else can always come along and poke holes in it, pointing out issues in the view that someone who adheres to it might never even consider. We have a multitude of theological views because when we study theology, we are trying to understand something that is far beyond human comprehension. The best thing we can do is come up with a system of imperfect metaphors that attempt to explain our experience of God.
And so we have to choose the theological views that make the most sense given our experience, and then we have to live with the problems that inevitably come along with those views. As hard as we might try, we can never explain away every issue that someone might find in our theology. The best we can do is be true to our own convictions and pick the theological solutions with problems that we can live with.
There is room for diversity of thought.
And that is going to look different for different people. Some might be willing to live with theological issues that I simply cannot stand. As someone who takes theology seriously, I am seriously affected by the implications of the beliefs I affirm, and I want to pick the best ones. But even in the midst of that, I acknowledge that I am not perfect, and thus my theology will never be perfect, either.
In seminary, I had classmates who found themselves all along the theological spectrum, and we engaged in some pretty intense discussions surrounding theological issues like divine foreknowledge, human suffering, and free will. But never in my seminary career did I come across a student who was insincere in his or her faith and commitment to following Christ. Even though we were all there for the same purpose, we came to different theological conclusions.
I’ve come to accept that well-meaning, Christ-following, God-serving people will not always agree with me on every theological issue that arises, even the big ones. Because we’re dealing with something so far beyond our ability to understand, it is inevitable that we are going to disagree. And even though theology does matter a great deal, it is also acceptable to leave room for diversity of thought within theology.
We can debate. We can disagree. We can even come to a point where we simply have to agree to disagree. And that’s OK, because ultimately, we are all serving the same Lord who has given us each the intellectual capacity to think through these issues for ourselves in our pursuit of him.
At the end of the day, theology is all about glorifying God, and I am so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to study theology for the past few years. I look forward to taking what I’ve learned and applying it as I move into full-time ministry and continue to pursue learning more about God through my work and personal study. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported and encouraged me through this process and to thank you for allowing me to share what I’ve learned. It’s been an incredible journey, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.