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Nine Pointers on Being a Seminary Student at a Great Commission Seminary

The following notes were taken during Dr. Brush Ashford’s chapel lecture on March 5, 2013 — a lecture which served as something of a statement of vision for Dr. Ashford’s tenure as Provost at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I found the remarks challenging and insightful, and believe they should be broadly helpful to seminarians and collegians at a variety of institutions (even those that are liberal or secular), and many of them to the general public. Enjoy!

  1. Treat Scripture as the primary source and the supreme norm of all your studies. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)
    • Other issues pale before the sufficiency and inerrancy of Scripture – if you give it up, you will eventually lose everything else.
    • There are ways we can deny the doctrine in practice while affirming it with our lips.
      • We can be embarrassed by its teachings – the necessity of Christ for salvation, or its moral stance on sexuality, or so forth.
      • We can undermine infallibility and inspiration when we approach a worship service or a pedagogical tools. We bank on pragmatism instead.
      • We can study the Bible merely as an academic object.
    • Memorize Scripture!
  2. Seek continual renewal and revival during your time here. (Revelation 2:4–6)
    • The qualifications for elders are a matter of virtue, not of intellect.
    • Do not lose your first love – the worship of God.
    • We must remember that the Spirit carries us along and speaks to us through the Scriptures. It is not merely academic.
    • If we lose our love for God, we lose our love for our neighbors.
    • If your seminary experience has dampened your desire to share the gospel with others, something has gone terribly wrong.
    • Treat everything in your seminary experience as an act of worship.
    • Read authors who stir up your heart (without idolizing them).
  3. Do not allow seminary to replace church. (Hebrews 10:24–25)
    • Don’t let seminary activities and your social life .
    • The church you join is more important than the seminary you choose. The church is the primary context of spiritual formation and education.
    • We need to be shaped and formed by older believers in the church. (Don’t go preach every weekend.)
  4. Put in the hard work to be a solid theologian. (2 Timothy 2:15)
    • Seminary is a call by God and an opportunity to honor him.
    • Seminary is hard work.
    • Don’t work hard in such a manner that it displaces your other callings – to your church, or to your family. How tragic would it be to lose your family’s hearts because you trampled it with your studies?
    • Do I love my studies more than I love Christ?
    • Do I depend on some other writer or thinker for our spiritual good over and above Christ?
    • Does your emotional well-being and your self-worth rest on the grade that you receive?
    • A grade is not a grade of your self worth; it is just a grade. Make your work an act of worship.
    • Watch out for idolatry worship.
    • Some broad advice:
      1. Pray for wisdom in discerning the priority of your callings (family, church, work, seminary).
      2. Distinguish between faithfulness and excellence. Your primary calling is not to do things with excellence – it is not bad, but it is not ultimate – but rather to do things with faithfulness. God often grants excellence, but we must seek faithfulness.
      3. Take a day to rest and worship. Enjoy your church’s fellowship and worship time. Take a nap. Break the rhythm of relentless work.
      4. Life after seminary probably won’t get any easier.
  5. Avoid becoming a seminary dork. (John 17:15)
    • The world is ontologically and structurally good – attributes not affected by the Fall. We are called to live in it!
    • We will live in a physical, material cosmos in our resurrected bodies.
    • The world is corrupt, fleshly, and carnal.
    • We are called to be in the world, but not of God.
    • “Dork”: quirky, socially unaware – two types:
      • The person who manages to be entirely socially and culturally unaware. Can tell you about Cyril of Alexandria and parse Greek verbs no problem, but is unable or unwilling to have a conversation in a coffee shop. Loves his books but not his neighbors. This person is not of the world or in it.
      • Socially, culturally savvy above all things. The hair on his face is carefully designed, dressed hiply but nonchalantly – this person is in the world and of it.
  6. Approach your studies with a desire for the nations to come to Christ.
    • The biblical narrative from Genesis onward surges toward the day when God will have worshippers from every kind of people that have ever lived.
    • We will worship him together in a new Jerusalem with no pain and no tears, where we will not even need a sun because we will have the Son.
    • God is not a tribal deity, but the King of the Nations.
    • Three truths to hold in tension:
      1. Salvation comes through Christ alone.
      2. There are several billion people that have no chance of ever hearing the gospel.
      3. We, the American church, have the financial resources to go ourselves and to equip others to go and do.
    • A word of encouragement:
      1. Be willing to write the Lord a blank check to steer your course wherever he will. (Do not decide ahead of time what God has called us to do.)
      2. Build Great Commission churches – churches that have an eye for the nations.
      3. Give generously.
      4. Teach your classes in light of the kingdom, in light of the Biblical narrative, in light of the need of the nations. Hold theology and mission together.
  7. Desire that this nation would come to Christ. America is one of the nations.
    • We must confront the facts about the SBC: we are increasingly segregated, middle class, white, and declining. The US is increasingly diverse ethnically, economically, and culturally.
    • Imperatives
      1. We must approach pastoral ministry cross-culturally. We must care about our own context just as missionaries do: thoughtfully and in a contextually appropriate manner.
      2. We must reach out across many more lines.
        • Reach outside the South.
        • Reach out to the down out and out, the marginalized, those trafficked in the sex trade, those with HIV.
        • Reach the cities (for those who don’t). Reach the suburbs (for those who don’t).
        • Reach the cultural elite (drop your reverse snobbery).
      3. Our mission must be multifaceted: we must proclaim him with our lips and promote him with our lives.
  8. Focus on gospel essentials and avoid factionalism, tribalism, slander, backbiting, and warfare between camps.
    • Because we take doctrine seriously, we can face a temptation to be divisive, unnecessarily tribal or factional. Discussions and debates are good things, but can become critical in a bad way even with people who are theologically very like us.
    • A prominent example: Calvinism. Ashford is an Amyraldian. He has many friends who are on both sides of that spectrum theologically. Both sides have done ill by each other.
    • “Cage stage” seminarians – whatever the idea – who ought to be locked in a cage until they settle down a bit. This plays out even on the Convention floor, where people smear each other publicly. This is sinful.
    • How do we solve this problem? The bottom line is this: if someone affirms salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and can affirm the BF&M, we are on the same team in the SBC.
    • Theologically, not all doctrines have equal priority:
      • Some of them are essential; we have no fellowship (apart from personal friendliness) with people who get them wrong.
      • Secondary issues of polity, baptism, and so forth lead us to separate our churches, but not to withhold fellowship.
      • Tertiary issues like the timing of the Rapture or which Bible translation to use should be left on the table – free to disagree about.
    • Historically, the SBC exists because of a willingness to put aside tertiary issues and work together for the advance of the Great Commission. Let us continue to work that way. All categories are not equally important.
    • It is not that we avoid conflict at all costs. Nor is it that secondary and tertiary doctrines are insignificant – but that not all are equally significant. We must avoid both fundamentalism, in which every doctrine is equally important, and liberalism, in which all are equally unimportant.
    • When we disagree with people, we have a bad tendency to misrepresent them – that is, to slander them – to carry the day in our arguments. How dare we? God hates it when we bear false witness against each other.
    • For the sake of billions who have never heard the gospel, we must end fundamentalist infighting: it sidetracks and possibly even shipwrecks us, contradicting the gospel we proclaim.
  9. Let your life be marked by Christian love. (Colossians 3:12–17)
    • Love your professors. Don’t mock or offer disrespect to them. Take the posture of a learner, not a critic: you’re not ready. Don’t make quick judgments about professors’ character or abilities.
    • Love your fellow seminarians: don’t just hang out with the cool/pretty/smart/hip people. Value each other whatever your backgrounds.
    • Love your church. Value the body of Christ. Simple believers who don’t even have a college education but walks closely with God may know him better than you. Be a servant, a foot-washer.

Pipe up!

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