Below you will find an interview conducted with Paul Louis Metzger, PhD (professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture, Multnomah Seminary, Portland, Oregon), who answers my questions concerning pros and cons of Seminary.
What is your response to those who feel that Seminary is in fact the “cemetery” of Christian faith? Do you find there to be merit to such concerns? Is this simply a caricature?
Metzger: While I do not consider seminary in and of itself to be a cemetery, it can be in this or that situation based on how the various stakeholders operate. Often this concern is bound up with fears of arid intellectualism. However, spiritual pride and the accompanying deadness can result from boasting in one’s spiritual experiences or one’s commitment to spiritual disciplines. So, while the charge is too sweeping, the danger is real, and the problem can occur. One of the grave dangers we face in the church and seminary today is compartmentalized spirituality: one leaves one’s faith in the pulpit or sanctuary pew, or at the lectern or in the classroom chair. Professors and students alike need to make sure that their faith is not simply an exercise or profession or game, but one’s very existence. This is easier said than done. Remaining honest before God and others is certainly key, though there are no easy answers.
When someone tells you that they feel called to Seminary what words of advice do you offer? Or are there questions you might proceed to ask them?
Metzger: I would express my appreciation for their interest, as well as ask them their reason(s) for wishing to attend seminary. There are many good reasons, such as a desire to prepare for the pastorate, the mission field, chaplaincy work, biblical/theological and spiritual grounding, etc. I might ask the prospective student what their long-term goals are, and what their families and churches make of their interest/decision. I would also be asking myself how might the seminary and I assist, even adapt, to best serve the prospective student fulfill God’s purposes for their time with us.
Realizing there are different types of Seminaries that respond to different needs, do you feel there still remain certain “non-negotiables” when it comes to the vision or commitment of a Seminary, or how a Seminary is run?
Metzger: Seminaries should aim to serve the church and its various ministries. There is a difference between a seminary and a graduate school. Theology’s aim in the seminary context is to serve the church, as with biblical exegesis. While the seminary professor should engage philosophical, historical and scientific issues with keen thoughtfulness, the aim is always to be practical: to build up Jesus’ body for service in the world.
What advice do you have for that student in Seminary who is feeling that his or her faith is under assault or is being threatened?
Metzger: Hopefully, I would offer to live their questions with them. Doubts often intensify in isolation. I would also ask the student what is going on in his or her life, beyond simply engaging questions of intellectual confusion or doubt. Often, the issues with which we wrestle that lead to doubt result from many factors, not simply intellectual ones. I might also encourage the student to consider how doubt can serve a greater purpose of refining one’s faith. The Bible does not hide from difficult questions involving faith. Consider the struggles of the psalmists, Job, Elijah, and even Abraham, the man of faith. Their struggles with faith led to spiritual refinement.
Have you been able to find a balance between dry academic rigor and a more Spirit-ual Christianity? If so, do you have any tips for those who find themselves falling into one extreme over the other?
Metzger: Spiritual knowledge is never abstract and distant in that the knowledge of God is experiential. To know God and Jesus Christ is itself eternal life (John 17:3). Of course, there is rigorous content, as the subject matter of Christian faith is God revealed in Jesus Christ through the Spirit in our world. Personally, I try to use the barometer that the more one grows in knowledge, the more humble and obedient one should become. If one wishes to be humble and obedient, one should seek to know God more; if one wishes to know God more, one had better become more humble and obedient. God elevates the humble (James 4:10). The obedient come to know God better (John 14:21). Moreover, knowledge rightly framed is always loving; otherwise, it puffs up (See 1 Corinthians 13). For the Apostle Paul in his epistles, the knowledge of God revealed in Jesus is the ultimate mystery. There is no place for dryness on this account. Thus, the more one grows in understanding, the more mysterious the faith becomes. To return to the point on humility, the more one knows, the more one will realize how little one truly comprehends, and how great our need for the Spirit of Jesus Christ—the Spirit of enlightenment—really is.
Thank you for your time and insight!
The founder and director of Multnomah University and Seminary’s Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins, Paul Louis Metzger has authored numerous books including Evangelical Zen (Patheos Press, 2015) Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World Of Diverse Paths (Thomas Nelson, 2012), and Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church (Eerdmans, 2007). Besides also having written various scholarly articles, Metzger blogs regularly at Uncommon God, Common Good.