In a place of devotion, we approach God in an attempt to communicate with him, reading, meditating, and studying the Bible to improve and deepen our connection with God. We learn to love and be obedient to God via this process. Thus, courses in theological studies such as systematic theology, apologetics, ethics, and other related topics may only be considered devotional if the completion of these subjects results in a deeper sense of faith and intimacy with God. Peterson (The Seminary as a Place of Spiritual Development, p. 56) correctly noted that “spirituality, it seems, is not a function of place or curriculum”; rather, it is a development that happens over a period of contemplation independent of place, activity, or content absorbed by a person. According to what Prof. Rylaarsdam said in his video lecture, studying theology requires a comprehensive approach that feeds both the head and the heart. For the information to become deeply ingrained in us, he promotes formative reading of religious texts and other sources. Theological elements may be generated not just in the mind but also in our physical being when we approach them in this way.
An invited speaker, a Lutheran bishop, once urged us to “pocket our faith” because seminaries are places where spirituality is murdered and faith is broken. This was during my college years, I recall. In his opinion, the seminary curriculum promotes intellectualism above spirituality, which is why he stated it so strongly. It might be said that he was partially correct when Peterson said that, “seminary is not a congenial place to nurture spirituality – a place of prayer, a community of love, a risky faith”. He went on to add, “A seminary is a place of learning, to be sure, learning about God” (p. 55). If this is the case, then only the right questions need to be posed for the seminary curriculum to serve as a source of spirituality and devotion. According to Allen Diogenes’ book Spiritual Theology, “it is typical of academic theology today to focus chiefly on questions that are intrinsic rather than extrinsic to theology,” in an attempt to address “the noticeable gap between theology as it is taught in the academy and the practice of Christian devotion.” He went further to explain the two forms of questions as “intrinsic questions arise from the nature of God and of ourselves to God. Extrinsic questions arise from somewhere else: what we have learned or think we have learned from a field of inquiry other than religion” (p. 153). Our Christian devotion will be shaped by what we look for in academic theology. Ellen Charry states that a theological analysis is required to conclude, saying that the Bible is the most direct source of knowledge about God. On the other hand, Calvin advises against using it in a “raw” manner. We must ask for the benefit of Scripture. (By the Renewing of your Mind, p. 210) In summary, if instructors and students approach the curriculum with reflection and contemplation, a seminary can serve as a nurturing environment for spirituality and devotion. This will help students develop not only intellectually (which will prepare them for their vocation) but also spiritually.
“Dear reader, whenever you are as certain about something as I am go forward with me; whenever you hesitate, seek with me; whenever you discover that you have gone wrong come back to me; or if I have gone wrong, call me back to you. In this way, we will travel along the street of love together as we make our way toward him of whom it is said, ‘Seek his face always.’” (Robert L. Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thoughts: Seeking the Face of God, p. 107)
Martin H. Kamaidan