Surviving Seminary Without Losing Your Faith

Many Christians go to Bible college and seminary to prepare for ministry. But how can you study theology without losing your faith?

I decided to study theology because I wanted to prepare to serve God. But how do you get through seminary without losing your faith?

Joseph Stalin, Casanova, Al Gore, and Tom Cruise were all once seminary students. Even Adolf Hitler wanted to go to seminary before he lost his Catholic faith.

Once people heard I wanted to study theology, they began to warn me about what could go wrong.

It will kill your faith.

You’ll dry up spiritually.

You’ll come out more confused than when you go in.

It’ll ruin your relationship with God.

More than anything else, I became intrigued by these warnings. What could I possibly discover in seminary that could kill my faith?

Surprised By Ignorance

The first thing you learn in seminary is how little you know about anything.

I remember my first day in the library, reading a book on the theology of mission. There was so much I did not know. I felt small but I was hungry to learn. It was exhilarating.

I read all kinds of scholars—devoutly Christian to non-religious. I felt stretched, challenged, and sometimes appalled at the kind of weak reasoning that passed off as “scholarship.”

Studying theology will confront your mind with doubts but it cannot create doubt in your heart. It can only expose what was in it all along.

My mind was sometimes confused, its limitations were exposed, and seminary changed my views about many things. But, by the grace of God, I left seminary with more confidence in Christ, not less.

The Heart Rules the Mind, Always

We are learning today what the Bible has taught for ages: we are desiring creatures, not rational ones.

We are controlled by loves, affections, and motivations that have ruling authority over our reasoning.

Like a train with carriages pulled by the power of the engine, our minds, thoughts, feelings, and decisions follow the affections of the heart.

If I think rationally it is because I want to think rationally; I do not want to be ignorant, foolish, or misled by lies. I want to know the truth, so I go searching for it.

The inverse is equally true. If I do not want to hear the truth, nobody can sell it to me. Once your heart is set on something, it is extremely difficult for anyone to change your mind.

I did not lose my faith in seminary because, by the mercy of God, I did not want to lose it.

Trust Precedes Knowledge, Always

Since our loves control us, we do not think with our minds as much as we trust with our hearts. Whom we trust controls what we think.

When some people were deserting Jesus, he asked his disciples, “‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69).

Simon trusted Jesus more than he understood him. It is not something unique to Peter. It is the law of the heart.

We trust before we know.

Trust always precedes knowledge. Before we receive knowledge from anyone we have to give them our trust. No scholar can give you what they know until you first give them your trust.

Trust is how we are saved. No scholar could turn my mind from Christ because my heart was set on him.

I did not lose my faith in seminary because, by the mercy of God, I trusted the Bible I was reading more than the scholars I was studying.

Trust Grows Together, Always

No one leaves the faith without first leaving the community of faith. It is quite possible to study God’s Word through the week—in classes, libraries, and desks—without enjoying any real, deep, spiritual friendships with real people.

The Christian life is meant to be lived in community.

I am thankful I studied in a seminary with professors and teachers who trusted Jesus, and whom we could trust.

A few of us asked a senior student in Bible college to mentor and disciple us. We met frequently and talked freely. He listened patiently and counselled us wisely.

In everything he was telling us one thing: to trust in the Lord with all our hearts, not on our own understanding.

I did not lose my faith in seminary because, by the mercy of God, my teachers and friends kept me in it.

Love Rejoices With the Truth, Always

The Lord does not despise reasoning. He gave it to us to feed our desire to know him.

But the love of Christ surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:19). It does not violate knowledge, but goes beyond it.

Human reasoning has limitations. God’s love is limitless. The love of Christ can take you to places our reasoning does not even know exist.

In seminary, I joyfully found the reasons to leave Jesus far less credible than the ones to follow him.

I left with many unanswered questions and there are things I still do not know. But when I considered the alternatives, the way of Jesus made the most sense of all reality and left the least questions unanswered.

I did not lose my faith in seminary because, by the mercy of God, there was no good reason to lose it.

The Lord Keeps His Beloved, Always

More than my desire, my trust, my friends, and my reasoning, I did not lose my faith because the Lord promised to keep it (1 Cor. 1:8-9). He faithfully guarded my desire to know him from the ideas of people who do not know me.

When I think of all the scholars I have read and heard since I went to seminary, one thing is obvious: none of them would carry a cross for me. I am a stranger to them all.

We are most loyal to those who have been most loyal to us. My loyalty to Jesus is deepest because no human being—even those who love me most—can match his loyalty to me.

The loyalty of Jesus feels deepest when I remember that his knowledge of my heart is greatest. If anyone knew about you what Jesus knows, would anyone be as loyal to you as him?

God designed our hearts to delight in him. Without him, we are restless.

The loyalty of Jesus is our greatest reason for delight. I was an enemy but he called me his friend. Though I am prone to stray, the one who called me has promised to keep me to the end.

So I can sing with Jude, “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 24-25).