Derek Brown has recently bestowed upon the theo-blogosphere a entertaining and convicting post, outlining no fewer than 45 ways that one can waste one’s theological education (“ How to Waste Your Theological Education”). However, as one who has had and is continuing to acquire a theological education, I found myself wanting to pick nits with a number of his points and make clarifications about others from my own perspective. So, here is an abridgment of Derek’s list complete with commentary by yours truly. Here’s to continuing the conversation.
My comments are in italic text, following Derek’s original points.
1. Cultivate pride by writing only to impress your professors instead of writing to better understand and more clearly communicate truth. I find that one impresses professors by writing papers that clearly understand a given topic and communicate one’s arguments well. There need not be a conflict here.
3. Mistake the amount of education you receive with the actual knowledge you obtain. Keep telling yourself, “I’ll really start learning this stuff when I do my Th.M or my Ph.D.” This distinction between education and acquired knowledge seems off to me. The fact that such a distinction can be made speaks ill of the current evaluative standards of theological education in the United States.
7. Don’t evangelize your neighbors. It may not be a good idea to ‘evangelize’ one’s neighbors if you, like me, reside at your seminary. No matter what more-or-less secret thoughts you may have about the eternal mailing address of the Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, or Russian Orthodox student down the hall, the best course of action is to make a charitable judgment and recognize that Christians come in all shapes and sizes.
20. Don’t waste your time forming friendships with your professors and those older and wiser than you. On the other hand, when developing relationships with professors, take pains to avoid developing a groupie mentality, or being perceived as having such a mentality.
21. Make the mistake of thinking that your education guarantees your success in ministry. Let’s not forget, however, that a good theological education gives an irreplaceable depth to your ministry. Once you have progressed a bit in your theological development, you will begin to recognize when ministers do or do not have this depth.
22. Don’t study devotionally. You’ll never make it as a big time scholar if you do that. Scholars need to be cool, detached, and unbiased - certainly not Jesus freaks. One ought to spend time in Scripture, but one also ought not be so emotionally attached to one’s favorite doctrinal positions that any critical discussion of them degenerates into name-calling and questioning of the Christianity of one’s conversation partner. See Derek’s #27
25. Spend more time blogging than studying. Of course, theo-bloging can be a form of study, and a way of working through arguments and positions more carefully and clearly – and with the help of others.
29. Look forward to the day when you won’t have to concern yourself with all this theology and when you will be able to just “preach Jesus.” A hearty ‘Amen’ here, for what is theology proper pursued but an attempt to describe who Jesus is, what he does, and how he does it?
31. Master Calvin, Owen, and Edwards, but not the Law, Prophets, and Apostles. Of course, if you read Calvin, Owen, and Edwards, you have read quite a bit of the Law, Prophets, and Apostles in the process.
33. Pick apart your pastor’s sermons every week. Only point out his mistakes and his poor theological reasoning so you don’t have to be convicted by anything he says. But also learn to recognize when a sense of ‘conviction’ can come simply from social conditioning into a form of Christiantiy for which persuasive arguments are not forthcoming. One must always test the spirits.
42. Let your passion for the gospel be replaced by passion for complex doctrinal speculation. But augmenting the former with the latter never hurts and, in truth, I’m suspicious if I ever find the former without the latter.
45. Don’t really try to learn the languages - let Bible Works do all the work for you. On the other hand, work smarter and not harder. It would take years and years of studying biblical Hebrew or Greek before one could surpass the functional ability to study the biblical text in the original languages that comes with a summer suicide course in the language and access to Bible Works or other good study tools. Besides, Christianity – unlike Islam – has always been comfortable with translations of Scripture. Know the original languages enough to use the tools and have a sense of what is going on behind your English translation, but I wouldn’t worry about much more than that – unless you want to be a NT scholar, of course.