Even before I went to college I wanted to go to seminary. In my mind I was as good as already there. Unfortunately, not everyone I discussed it with felt the same about seminary in general. I distinctly remember having a discussion in college with a friend about going to seminary. He was not a fan. In fact, his answer for not going left me speechless. It was an answer I would hear many times in college. “Seminary kills your passion for ministry,” they would say. It was a statement I just couldn’t process at the time and never identified with while in seminary. I do believe that a person could go to seminary and have their passion for ministry dwindle but this is NOT the norm and does not have to happen to anyone. My experience in seminary, and that of many others I know going to different schools than myself, did nothing but fuel my passion for ministry. This is not to say that I, or others I knew, never fell prey to some of the pitfalls seminary can present. But in the end, I came out the better for having gone and would encourage others to do so as well. Going to seminary requires a delicate balance of living life.
Realizing the need to help seminarians understand and balance on this delicate tightrope, Paul E. Pettit and R. Todd Mangum have teamed up to write Blessed are the Balanced: A Seminarian’s Guide to Following Jesus in the Academy. Both seminary grads themselves who now work at seminaries, Pettit and Mangum guide prospective and present seminary students through the complex challenges that seminary presents. The challenges of our spiritual, academic, relational and ministry life mix together to make seminary life challenging and us in need of balance.
Through six chapters the authors set out to “explain how to avoid some of the common pitfalls that can lead to spiritual burnout when one enters into an academic study of God and the Scripture,” and seeks to show how “students of God and the Scriptures can achieve a healthy balance between both rigorous academic scholarship and a growing piety.” (8) In chapter one the authors put before the reader the key to balancing their time in seminary – by becoming a mature Christian through growth in Christ-likeness, producing the fruit of the Holy Spirit and walking in the light of God’s truth. (21) This, the authors rightly argue, can be done while in seminary. Balance can be achieved in seminary like in any other place in life.
Chapter two explores the dynamic relationship between learning more about God and applying it to living more for God. Unfortunately, there is not an automatic correlation between our knowledge of God and our walking with and living for God. We must, by the grace of God and work of the Spirit, out into practice what we are learning. Seminary is a unique pitfall in this regard because most of the classes are focused on learning more about a certain subject whether it be Greek, theology or history. There is an exponential growth in knowledge in seminary and it is hard to know when and where to put it into practice. Many times you cannot put a lot of it into practice until you are done and in your first ministry. This “knowledge dump” that you receive in seminary is not a waste. “The training is not purposeless, but the training is for purposes that are beyond the training ground itself,” the authors perceptively state. (55)
Chapter three outlines disciplines for your spiritual and academic life that are basic but not always apparent when entering into seminary. For the spiritual life the authors discuss things like confessing sin to God, fasting, fellowship, prayer and worship. For the academic they suggest things like eating right, exercise, being diligent in your research and honest in the citation of your sources.
Chapters four and five offer a lot of good spiritual advice and biblical counsel in regards to some of the negative effects that a burst in knowledge, when not kept in check, can have on a person training for ministry. For instance, there can be a tendency to use ones knowledge as a power tool to leverage ones own agenda and keep the voice of others drowned out. The authors wisely advise that “if the minister can use his or her knowledge and abilities to strengthen the voice of others, then that knowledge, ability and skill can be a source of service, rather than a source of power or domination.” (102) Another challenge those entering the ministry have is that they are moving from a more academic setting to a more practical ministry setting. It is hard at first not to preach like you are teaching a language class. While seminary is a time when knowledge is dumped on the minister-to-be, the first few years of ministry can be a time when the minister is dumping their knowledge on their congregation. One must try to avoid this.
The final chapter briefly address the value that friendships in seminary can have on you. The key concept here is to be grounded, and cultivating a variety of friendships in a variety of places are the key to keeping yourself grounded in real life. Seminary, like college was, is not an ideal or permanent setting to spend ones entire life. It is meant to be temporary. But even during this temporary time in your life you need to cultivate friendships to help bring your head to the ground. In doing so, you will find that many of these friendships will help to keep you balanced and will carry with you beyond your time in school.
Blessed are the Balanced is the kind of book I wish were around when I was in seminary. While I had a good experience, there are things I was blinded to that were never brought to my attention. The authors have helped you think about things that you will not on your own. Unlike the salesman who tries to sell you something you didn’t know you needed – that you in fact do not need, they give advice you didn’t know you needed – but actually need. I see this book being useful for three kinds of people. First, for the person considering seminary (whether sure or not). It will give you a more realistic vision for what it can be like. Second, for the person already in seminary to open their eyes to the world they are living in now. If you follow their advice and counsel you will save yourself, and those you minister to in the future, some trouble. Finally, for the person who is done with seminary and in the beginning of their ministry. It is never too late to change and having already completed school you will be in the best position to understand what the authors are saying and see what needs to change in yourself.
I received this book for free from Kregel for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”