In this piece on “Learning at Jesus’ Feet,” John Frame answers seven questions that sometimes arise when students consider a seminary education:
- Can I afford it?
- Could seminary be a spiritual danger to me?
- Will seminary reduce my effectiveness?
- Is it right to leave my present ministry in order to go to seminary?
- But I have opportunities for training with my church or ministry organization. Isn’t that sufficient?
- But isn’t it better to prepare for ministry while doing ministry?
- But is God calling me to seminary?
You can read his answers here.
In particular, here is his answer to question 5, on whether or not its sufficient to get training just through church or a parachurch organization:
For some people it may be. And I would hope that someday, somehow, seminary-level training might be available through every local church and ministry organization. But, as of now, most of them just aren’t at that point. In most cases, seminary training takes you to a whole new level of understanding, beyond local ministry training.
You might think that you can get this level of understanding just by reading books by seminary professors. But if you go to seminary, you’ll be studying with the people who write the books. You can ask them questions, which will help you not only to get answers, but also (and more important) to learn how they think. You’ll get frameworks, paradigms, ways of bringing Bible truth together that just aren’t available elsewhere. Consider these examples:
a. Do you understand the covenant? Jesus came to put the “new covenant” into effect. But what is the new covenant, and how is it different from the old? When we present the gospel, we teach people to believe in Christ as their personal “Lord and savior.” But both Lord and Savior are covenantal terms. Lord is the name of God that designates him as the head of the covenant, and Savior tells us what he does in that office. I’ve written an 850-page book, Doctrine of God, to show that covenant Lordship is the key to what the Bible says about God and about Jesus. Do you know what covenant Lordship means? If not, are you sure you can present the Gospel as the apostles did? You can learn about this in seminary—at least in the seminary where I teach! I don’t know where else you can study this doctrine in depth.
b. When the apostles were filled with the Spirit to evangelize the world, they presented Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. As Jesus taught the two disciples in Luke 24, the apostles proclaimed from the Old Testament that the death and Resurrection of Christ had to happen. It was not just an accident. So they preached that anyone who really believes the Old Testament must believe in Jesus. Can you do that? That’s a basic part of preaching the Gospel, according to Scripture, but almost nobody knows how to do that today. After his Resurrection, Jesus taught his disciples how to do it (Luke 24:27). You can learn how to do that at seminary, and maybe nowhere else.
c. Do you understand how Jesus fulfills the Old Testament offices of prophet, priest, and king, and what difference this makes to church government and to your personal Christian life? Do you understand why the church is so important to God, as his people, the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, and not just a collection of individuals? Learning about this can revolutionize your mission strategy and the priorities of your own life. But where can you study this in depth other than in seminary?
d. What about just reading and teaching the Bible? Can you imagine how much richer your teaching could be if you could read Scripture in the original languages and learn how to interpret the Greek and Hebrew texts? You could learn the basic grammar from going through a book. But you need also to learn idioms and literary styles. You need to learn about the literary genres in the Bible. You need to learn the difference between synonymous and antithetical parallelism, and where the emphasis falls in a chiastic structure (note: it doesn’t fall at the beginning or the end). Well, I don’t know where you can learn this sort of thing except in seminary.
e. How much do you know about the history of the church? It’s true that Scripture, not church history, is our final authority. But it’s also true that “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it,” and “we should not try to re-invent the wheel.” Many of the heresies appearing today are just repetitions of heresies that have appeared before in church history. Many of our questions about worship, nurture, and evangelism have appeared before as well. It’s good to know how the church dealt with these issues in the past. Sometimes they’ve been wrong, sometimes right. But we need to be able to avoid their mistakes and to build on their achievements. Where can you get that kind of knowledge other than in seminary?