Studying systematic theology, apologetics, ethics, doctrine, etc. when done with the right mindset can be truly devotional and transformational. Although the practice itself is purely intellectual, this process of study can be approached from a spiritual direction. When we are studying theology, we are deepening our understanding of God. Theology literally means, “the study of God.” Anyone can study theology. Christians, however, can approach theology from a formative perspective and can allow it to transform their lives.
Studying who God is can bring us to revelation. The Holy Spirit during our study can reveal new things to us, if we are open and listening. Our studies can bring us closer to God from our own research and also through discussion with others. When we discuss our studies in class, we encourage one another and bring different perspectives on what we are learning. These different perspectives can shape us and grow us into closer relationship with God.
It is easy to compartmentalize our lives. My studies go in one box and my faith goes in another. This is because, especially in seminary, we study to get good grades to get the degree. The end result is a degree to hopefully prepare us for the purpose God has for us. When grades are the means to an end, our studies about God become very black and white because we need to have the right answers. I think this reality makes it hard for most seminary students. There is almost the connotation that if we let the spiritual aspect become our primary focus, our grades will fall and we won’t do as well in our classes. If our primary goal is to complete our degree, then we need good grades. I think it is this reality that keeps seminary students from letting go and allowing their studies to transform their lives.
I have definitely fallen into this trap. I want to complete my degree and do the best that I can do. I often don’t even think about my studies as a spiritual discipline. Lately, my perspective has been changing. I think it will shift even more as I begin to take more Bible classes. Life seems easier when we compartmentalize; however, the spiritual aspect should be embodied in every aspect of our exegesis and study—not just as an extra thing to do.
In seminary, it is important for us to recognize that God is still sovereign in class. When we seek Him, we aren’t sacrificing good grades; we are opening ourselves to life transformation. There is more to life than just classes and seminary. Seminary should be helping us to prepare for life after school. After school, we won’t have an intentional required time to study God’s Word, or even time to study it with other people or world scholars. Seminary is an opportunity for us to be transformed and to grow in our knowledge of God. ∞
Shannan Baker is a 2nd-year M.A. in Worship Studies student from Portage, Michigan. She is studying to become a Professor of Worship.