Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Seminary After Thoughts

So I am officially a seminary graduate! I thought that before I get busy with a mission trip, fish fry, moving, and starting a new job it would be a good idea to record my thoughts on the overall seminary experience or rather the overall Christian Theological Seminary experience. I have thought a good deal the past couple of days about what I would write here. While I have no idea at this point what I will write, I will apologize in advance if anything I write comes off as whining, nitpicky, cruel, vindictive, arrogant or in any other way offensive. There is at least a 50% chance I did not really mean to convey it in that way.

I suppose the biggest question that shows if going to seminary was a success is "Did I learn anything?" The short answer is yes I did. I took 20 classes at CTS,and I would say that only four of them were what I would consider a complete and total waste. That is to say, I probably could have learned more about the assigned subject by sending three hours a week watching paint dry or grass grow. However, the other sixteen classes were to varying degrees educational, and I did learn at least a couple things useful about the subject matter of hand in those classes.

The biggest thing I learned in seminary though, is that I learn best when I disagree with something, and I was taught a lot that I disagreed with. However, I did learn from this. One of my fears of going to CTS is the old joke that seminary is where one goes to lose their religion, and with CTS having a reputation as being "ultra liberal" I was a bit afraid of that (Side note: CTS totally lives up to its reputation, proof positive is brining in someone like James Cone to be the commencement speaker). However, when I have two theology professors who completely and totally reject the Trinity then my choice is to go along with their (flawed and wrong) theology or learn why I believe God is three in one. From examples like this one and others I learned the most from what I considered the most disagreeable.

For the record here are the major things that I find the most disagreeable: I dislike most of the form criticisms of the Bible. I agree that the Bible should be read critically, but the methods taught for criticisms tend to work of the premise that the Bible is not divinely inspired and then go out of their way to prove that premise true. I do sincerely believe the Bible should be read critically and it can with stand challenge. However, I also believe that God wrote the Bible, and I respect it to much to tear it to shreds for my own intellectual gratification. I completely and wholly disagree with Paul Tillich. I know some people reading this could be fans of his and I respect your right to your opinion. However, if I had the power to have anyone considered a heretic it would be him. Along the same lines I have nothing kind to say about process theology, other than I suppose it could be a good theology for, I don't know, Jedi . . . but not for Christians. Finally, any sort of contextual theology including (but not limited to) black theology, black liberation theology, Feminist theology, womanist theology, Caribbean theology, and what ever the hell other the minority or special interest group thinks they should get their own theology is not really theology. These sort of "theologies" are really just social commentaries that make mention of God a lot and are written by people who have a pretentious sense of self righteousness. That may be a bit unfair. Maybe all of the people who write these books are not that way, just the ones I had to read.

In the end, I did learn a lot and I especially learned from disagreements, but learning from disagreeing is a very tiring way to do it, and this left me feeling a bit worn out. Before moving on I do want to shout out the three teachers who I learned the most from and considered the best at CTS. First is Dr. Ron Allen. He is the New Testament professor. I am fairly sure that on every major theological point, we probably disagree. However, I believe from his words and actions that he fully respects my right to disagree with him, and that is something I can not say for many of the professors. He also struck me as one of the more knowledgeable professors I had. Second, is Lorna Shewmaker, a church history professor. I have a history background, and I would consider to be one of the top history professors I have had. Finally, I want to recognized Gregory Clapper. He technically is not a professor at CTS. Dr. Clapper is from UIndy, but he taught Methodist History and Theology. This class was my most positive experience at CTS and the class I gained the most out of. Plus, I had this class at the same time as Systematic theology and having a traditional Wesleyan perspective to balance out the crap from that class was a life safer.

I remember from seminary orientation, one of things that really got brought up again and again is the community and friends that one makes in seminary. I did make some good friends, but I am a PK and I know how moving goes and how long friendships last when not constantly reinforced (that is they usually don't). That being said, there are a handful of people that I truly do hope I can keep in contact with (since I am posting this in facebook, if you get tagged that means you are probably one of those people. . .feel special :) )

Though one of my minor frustrations with seminary was the people. I know that there are people who I just naturally don't click with, and I realize it is probably my problem not theirs. That being said, I have a small tolerance for people who have a "victim complex." I initially observed in high school that there are some people who are only comfortable with life when they are in the middle of a crisis of some sort and they are the victim. These people almost purposely create drama in their life. I don't know if these sorts of people are naturally drawn to ministry or just CTS but there were a lot of them. What is worse is many of these peoples also had a great desire to be martyrs. They would self sacrifice their time, talents, whatever to their congregation/classes/in-laws/whoever to the point of feeling like a victim. During seminary I had more than one class that was hijacked by someone one with this personality disposition and it turned the whole class into a group therapy session.

I feel like I have done a lot of complaining (and I probably have), so before I complain again let me reiterate the highlights in case I have not made them clear enough. 1. I did learn a good deal in seminary 2. I met good friends who really helped me get through many of the low points of seminary. So I do have one more complaint, and it is my biggest complaint and that is the general attitude of CTS. The main problem is anything that is traditional or conservative theologically is looked down upon and belittled. A term that gets used a lot the first year is "embedded theology". This phrase is ALWAYS used to refer to traditional/conservative doctrine and it is ALWAYS used in a negative light. CTS talks big game about being opening and accepting, but that is only true if the person/idea is more left than they are. Any traditional beliefs such as divine inspiration of scripture, Trinity, or hell are completely looked down and treated with total disdain. In the same way, if you believe that the biblical intention of marriage is to be between a man and a woman then please do not mention it because that discussion never, ever ends well at CTS (basically the pro-homosexuality people rage and the pro man/woman marriage people get made to feel like they are on the same moral level as a child rapist). Further more, I left CTS feeling like the place discriminates against white men. I understand that historically being black in America sucks, and that being a woman at any point in human history means a degree of marginalization, but that does not mean that I have to get beat on the head with it. I get it, God is not a white man BUT that does not mean God is a black woman. About a semester and half in I got tired of being told I should feel guilty for having pale skin and a penis. By the fifth semester I was down right cynical about it. By the sixth semester, and a stupid "fish bowl" activity reiterates this attitude I was ready say some unchristian things to the next person who rehashed that. It is a really, really good thing I did not get a chance to talk to James Cone after graduation.

So what are my final thoughts about seminary? Overall, I am glad I went to seminary. I did learn some things that will be essential as I continue my career in ministry. That being said, I am disappointed a bit in CTS. I went to CTS because of its location, and I can not help but wonder if I would have had a better seminary experience someplace else. I have talked to people at other seminaries, and they did not have the frustrations that I have felt over the past three years.
So my final word: Glad I went to semnary, I learned something, but I will immediately throw away the "give us money" letters from CTS, and I would not recommend it to anyone.


Blogger Jill said...

Hey, Sean- We should sit down at the retreat and talk about Candler and seems that we would have a lot in common to talk about :)

8:56 PM  

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