For prospective seminary students…

Please be advised of the following. Failure to observe and apply these helpful hints will deprive your seminary experience. We at Baptist Blogger would have enjoyed a more profitable seminary education if we had heard and observed all these rules. There are four or five or ten wherein we failed miserably and frequently.

1. There is no such thing as a tenant of Arminian theology.

2. There is no such thing as a tenet of Armenian theology.

3. When referencing the sixteenth century reformer, Martin Luther, it is not necessary to tell your professor that he “nailed the ninety-five theses to the church door at Wittenburg.” Your professor knows you are not referencing the 20th century Civil Rights leader. The same rule applies to all major figures in church history. Resist the temptation to explore obvious and overused facts in your writing. Write about something that few men know.

4. John MacArthur’s commentaries are great for stealing sermons. They are unacceptable for exegetical research.

5. Never, ever use an exclamation point for any reason whatsoever.

6. The unexpected death of a church member does not absolve you of weeks of procrastination.

7. Learn Turabian early, and review her often. There is no excuse for submitting research papers with homespun formatting. Trust me, you cannot intuit Kate’s ways.

8. Footnotes serve nobler purposes than mere source citations. Use them to demonstrate that you have interacted substantively with a source by elaborating an explanation.

9. The Holy Bible is inerrant, infallible, and inspired. It is not, however, an occasion for bibliographic buttressing.

10. Have someone other than your wife or roommate edit your major term papers. Ask your professor to recommend a student, and pay him for his labors. An excellent grade is worth a modest sum.

11. Learn to search for journal articles outside of JETS. If you don’t know what JETS is, do not try to find out.

12. When choosing between professors, find one that has published at least one significant monograph within the past five years. Too many seminary professors are woefully incapable of rigorous academic research, and if your professor lists a Winter Bible Study or journal article from his own seminary journal on his curriculum vitae, pass on him.

13. Do not presuppose that you will learn what you need to learn from a seminary education. Seminary, if it serves its purpose, will equip you with some of the tools you will need, not all of them.

14. Find a spot in the library away from high traffic areas and live there between classes. Stay away from the coffee shops. Do not waste your energies rutting with the spring bucks.

15. Purchase a copy of Hans Frei’s The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative and read the first 100 pages every semester.

16. Expand your knowledge base of art, literature, and music. Visit at least one museum a year, and spend the day. Attend a symphony. Read Shakespeare.

17. Serve one year as a professor’s grader. There’s nothing like reading stacks of horrible research papers to teach you how not to write.

18. Refuse to purchase every book your professor requires. Many professors think that their academic respectability among their peers is contingent on large reading lists.

19. Every semester, look over the doctoral reading lists. Spend the time you would have spent reading the frivolous assignments in your Master’s level courses to read the stuff of which Ph.D.’s are made.

20. Listen attentively to the names of theologians — Evangelical or otherwise — most often criticized and ridiculed by your professors with flippant, unsophisticated one-liners. Choose these men as the subject of your major research paper for their classes.

21. Find a well-worn copy of Helmut Thielicke’s sermons on the parables. Devour it.

22. Befriend an international student. Listen to him.

23. Skip chapel most of the time for early lunches off campus with friends. Hooky is liberating.

24. Search for nursing homes and retirement communities that will let you preach or teach Bible studies. The single greatest deficiency in most young pastors is the inability to interact with senior adults. Eat their cookies and pies. Take them flowers. Ask them to pray for you.

25. Write at least one unassigned paper during your time at seminary.

26. Tithe.

27. If you are not pastoring, do not attend the church most frequented by seminary students. Find a church 20 miles out of town and join it.

28. Do not huddle near your seminary president at the end of class or chapel. If you can manage to get through seminary without his knowing your name, you have truly accomplished something.

29. Attend associational pastor’s conferences as often as possible. Drink coffee with older pastors. Ask lots of questions.

30. Date your wife. If you’re not married, date as many girls as will go out with you.

31. Offer to babysit for a seminary couple so they can comply with #30 above.

32. Pay close attention in your church administration class. Keep copies of every handout. Compile a notebook of church policy and procedure manuals.

33. Have a little wine for thy stomach’s sake.

34. Smoke a cigar, preferably this one.

35. Peruse every issue of National Geographic, Time Magazine, and Psychology Today. Cull them for sermon illustrations.

36. Ask no more than three questions in class per semester.

37. Completely fill out all professor reviews at the semester’s end. Write substantive comments and honest appraisals of the professor’s performance.

38. Sneak into chapel alone at odd times and preach a sermon to no one.

39. Wear shorts, flipflops, tshirts, and ballcaps to class. There’s plenty of time in ministry to wear suits, ties, and dress shoes.

40. Cultivate the closest relationships with students headed for the mission field.

41. Avoid “accountability groups” of fellow seminarians at all cost.

42. Contact the chaplain’s office of a local hospital. Offer to visit people who have no minister.

43. Sit in a different spot every week.

44. Invert the seminary course plan. Save classes like evangelism, the scripture introductory courses, pastoral care and counseling for the end of your degree.

45. Join the seminary choir for one semester. Learn to read music.

46. Join a protest — at least once — in front of an abortion clinic.

47. Write anonymous notes of encouragement to fellow students. Slip a ten dollar bill in the envelope.

48. Burn at least one textbook in a ceremony of private dissent. Most books on leadership make for good kindling.

49. Dye your hair or shave your head or both. Do something counter-cultural.

50. Pay all your bills on time.

24 thoughts on “For prospective seminary students…

  1. Ben,

    Every time I begin to think all is in vain and you are on your way to deep Hell you present something like this.

    This is an excellent post and sage advice. For any that cannot agree think long and hard before you condemn it. For any that actually take this advice to heart; (or, at least, most of it) ten years from the time you get out of seminary you will be glad you did.)


  2. #4 is one that I live by – except for the stealing sermons part.

    A lot of your advice is advice that I took. I would add another one: DO NOT work in a church while in seminary. Get a real job – or two or three. If you are going to be a professional minister and you are going to seminary straight out of college like I did, get as much real world experience as you can. Learn what it is like to juggle job(s), school, family, and ministry. Do your ministry because you want to, not because you have to. The experience will be invaluable when you ask your people to sacrifice their time and energy. You’ll have a lot better idea of what they are going through.

    Also, one other thing: Go to seminary somewhere outside the Bible Belt. For Southern Baptists, that basically means Golden Gate. :)

  3. Ben,

    Regarding points 1 and 2, what then becomes of the fool who by an act of free will chooses to live in an apartment somewhere southeast of the Black Sea and southwest of the Caspian?

  4. Ben,

    Loved the post. In response to #4 could you give some thoughts on what constitutes a scholarly commentary? My experience was professors were often telling me the commentaries i found in our library were not scholarly but never telling me what commentaries they thought I should be using.

  5. Ooo, pick me! (Sorry for the exclamation point, Ben.)

    Find an elderly retired professor whom you respect (or have heard good things about) and befriend him. Ask questions, especially, “if you could go back and change one thing about the ministers you trained, or how you trained them, what would it be?”

  6. Do not capitalize the word “biblical”, or the grader will count off 20%. ;)
    I regret not doing #24.

  7. David Hardin, Ben can speak for himself, but I can help answer that question for you:

    See here:

    This is just a starter list, mind you, but it’ll get you there.

    I’d add there is something to be said for Lightfoot’s work. He pulls together information from Judaica you don’t find in most commentaries on the NT today, even in the better critical works. The men from the 18th century were particularly well read in Judaica.

    For the OT Kiel&Delitzch is still a major standard that’s often hard to beat. Ditto for the Hendricksen/Kistemaker set on the NT.

    Also, for the Calvinists among us, it helps to take a peek in the Arminian commentaries. You’d be surprised @ the number of key Arminian texts that their better commentators exegete in a typically Calvinist fashion. I personally like to use them when discussing theology with Arminians. It’s time they took their own commentators seriously. Ditto with Fitzmeyer and other representative Roman Catholics. In short, don’t fear getting commentaries from folks not in your own tradition. If nothing else, it will help you understand the other side of the aisle.

    I would also add something to Ben’s list; Read the classics. By classics I don’t mean Pilgrim’s Progress or Foxes Book of Martyrs. You should have already read them by the time you get to seminary (and you should revisit them periodically). Apply yourself to learning how to navigate men like Francis Turretin, Ursinus, Bullinger, Dagg, Boyce, Chalres Hodge etc. Why? Because I have learned that you’ll learn to think and make distinctions. If you are in your first year of seminary and you don’t know the difference between a necessary and a sufficient condition, for example, you’re in trouble as a theologian. If you don’t know what it takes to write a systematic theology (e.g what the proper principia are, you are in deeper trouble). In fact, there are some “theologians” out there who, when reading their material, one can tell they’ve never made that leap themselves. It’s sad.

    By the way, there has been a resurgence of works on many of those men, reprinting their work in recent years. Baker Academic is publishing the material. The series is Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought. For Calvinists this is a particular series of interest, since it is part of Richard Muller’s goal to get some new monographs out there to contradict some of the older scholarship with regard to refuting the “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” school of thought and its derivatives, some of which we hear when men like Jerry Vines rant on the doctrines of grace. Ditto with Malcolm Yarnell and his “Calvinism is rationalism” meme. It would help some of us take these men seriously if they would actually interact with the work of Muller, R.S. Scott, Carl Trueman and others. Learn your way around it, and learn your way around Baptist history too – regardless of your soteriological stance.

    Read the Puritans. Period. No exceptions. They will teach you seriousness and wisdom. That said, avoid navel gazing.

    This is only somewhat tongue in cheek; read Steve Hays’ better material @ Triablogue. If you can follow what he’s saying, you’re learning something. It tells you something about a person when he is referenced in footnotes in the works of the persons for whom he has T.A.’d in seminary. You’ll also, if you pay attention, learn how to argue your point. Steve is also a master at keeping track of an opponent’s argument for him. Learn, from him and those like him doing apologetics or theological debate, how to frame a response to an unbeliever or a theological opponent on his own grounds, and then, when he complains about your answers go back and show him that all you did was answer him on his own level. This will serve you well when dealing with representatives of other religions and with atheists in particular. It will also mean you will have to familiarize yourself with the inner logic of their own position, and that means expanding your mind. Also, you’ll learn about burden of proof and to recognize assertions bereft of arguments. We run into that frequently.

    Finally, in a similar vein, get involved in internet apologetics. John Frame, I gather, has in times past made his students do that as part of their course requirements. Learn to interact with the people on the Secular Web. (1) It will help you develop your own skills, and (2) it will remind you about what is important. Believe me, when you deal with men who will sincerely say that if they found out God was real, they would commit suicide to go ahead and go to hell, it will put your world in a different light and place things like SBC politics and campus gossip into a proper perspective. It will also keep you away, if you are a blogger, from arguing about Baptist politics more than you should.

    I’m also going out on a limb here, but (a) don’t be afraid to go to a non-Baptist seminary like RTS or Covenant if only to take one or two courses. Try being a Baptist among paedobaptists or a conservative among liberals. It will keep you humble. (b) If you’ve graduated, take an extension course or if there is a school nearby take a course once every 2 or 3 years. Other professionals have continuing ed requirements. I believe ministers should as well. Ditto for seminary professors. This doesn’t mean you have to go for a degree; just take a class. It also doesn’t hurt to revisit a class already taken if you are many years out. Some of us need a refresher in the languages or could do with revisiting a survey course.

  8. #39 is excellent advice, and it really helps a lot with stress. #33 is just literally followng the scripture, isn’t it?

    #14, on the third floor in the library at Southwestern, unless they’ve moved or replaced it, is the world’s most comfortable furniture, in the skybridge above the entrance. I think I slept there more than in my apartment in Seminary village. It’s a great place to sit and think during a raging thunderstorm.

    And I agree with Alan. If I had to do it all over again, I’d go to Golden Gate or New Orleans. NOBTS is surrounded by the Bible Belt, but within a ninety mile radius of the campus, it’s definitely not the Bible Belt. Actually, if I had it to do over again, I’d probably go to Gordon-Conwell or Fuller.

  9. Terrific blog post, worthy of all reading. I really appreciated the candor and honesty. I believe this would definitely help all prospective (and current) seminary students.

    I would (respectively) add: take one course for your degree at a “liberal” theological school nearby. It will give you perspective and respect for other views.

  10. This list should be included in all seminary student handbooks.

    Guys, there is no longer a “Bible Belt–” ¿Comprende usted?

    Seminary is a closed system and not the real world, regardless of the geography. Get what you can get and then get out.

  11. Ben,

    I would add one thing to #42, having to do with hospital visits. “If at all possible take a CPO class, or one unit of CPE.”

    CPO: Clinical Pastoral Orientation
    CPE: Clinical Pastoral Education

  12. Ben,

    Been reading your blog for awhile but have never responded. But this was too good to let pass. As one who went into ministry after serving in a secular environment for 4-5 years after college, truer words were not spoken. And now after having pastored for 25 years (most recently in a very large church) and calling many young seminary graduates as staff members, I agree with Chuck Nation and say that “this list should be included in all seminary student handbooks.”

    Of course, #’s 33 and 34 could only be included in the handbooks at Golden Gate and New Orleans! (oops, exclamation point)

    I will also say that most full-time pastors usually lose touch with REAL LIFE after about two years of service and/or averaging around 225 in Bible Study. So, you may want to add this:

    # 51–After serving in a church for two years on a full-time basis and/or serving in a church averaging 225 in Bible Study, take a Sabbatical and work 3 months at a fast food restaurant. It will keep you in touch with the average believer and non-believer.

    Keep up the good work! (oops, I did it again!)

  13. Great list, Ben. If I may, I would add the following:

    Refrain from using the following terms in a negative, pejorative manner until you’ve read at least a few of their representative thinkers and can articulate a basic, honest synopsis of their theology in their own words: liberal, feminist, pacifist, Arminian, Calvinist, emergent, pentecostal, inclusivist, open theist, and social gospel.

    When you have Sundays off or find yourself in another town on Sunday, don’t attend the nearest Southern Baptist church. Experience the worship service in another denomination, maybe even something that will make you uncomfortable like Eastern Orthodox or Unitarian Universalist. Particpate respectfully with the attitude of a learner and don’t argue with their leaders after the service.

  14. There are several, of the 50, that apply to me as a college flunkout who’s way old. And I’ve run afoul of most of those.

    Good reading. I’d surmise that, if young students would take them all to heart, they’d learn to look at most everything differently. Which I think is good.

  15. A comment on #7 Turabian.

    When I arrived at Midwestern I informed my buddy who had already been there a year that I only knew MLA and didn’t have a clue on where to start with Turabian. He said no problem use this cover sheet and do everything else the way you have been doing it in MLA. During my entire time there I was docked on one paper for stylistic reasons and the only Turabian I used was on the cover sheet.

    So my advice on Turabian is. Get a good cover sheet.

  16. actually not a bad list. not all your points are that good but if i made a list like this I ma sure you could say the same about mine. of course i can’t do 33 and 34 while at SWBTS.

    I do have one for you though. How about read the church fathers and learn about the theological controversies of the 1st 6 centuries. Learning about them will change your views on the Reformation (really you can’t understand the reformation without knowing a good deal about the early controversies) and it will give you a better understanding of all of the rest of church history.

    Good list overall though. i am impressed. see i can complement you when you do something worth complementing. ;)

  17. Okay, blackhaw’s comment reminded me of this …

    As to Rule 32, be sure to keep the handout on drafting church bylaws, for without such guidance your church members might try to slip in this gem of a clause:

    “The pastor may hire additional staff members as needed to compliment his ministry.”

    One little vowel … whole different meaning. True story, error drafted last year by yours truly. Oops.


    It was corrected in the final version.

  18. Hey Ben,

    Would you please send me the reading list of the Ph.D. that you’re working on? I have a desire to expand my intellectual horizons



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