An essential mark of a solid seminary experience is continually being stunned by how everything relates to Jesus. When we look long enough, press hard enough, and feel deeply enough, we discover again and again that it all comes back around to him.
The whole universe is about Jesus. The whole Bible is about Jesus. Our whole lives are designed to be about Jesus. And, for the love of God, any seminary experience worth a dime should be all about Jesus as well. Any institution, course of study, class, professor, or text that teaches aspiring pastors any differently — explicitly or implicitly — is throwing them under the ministerial bus.
My Worst Experience in Seminary
I remember it all too well — by far my worst moment in a seminary classroom. Normally, the minimizing of Jesus happens only implicitly in evangelical seminaries, but this once it was shockingly out in the open.
It was the summer of 2006. An old hippie with a sweet beard and an Ivy League Ph.D. sat nonchalantly on the table at the front of the class, spouting provocative comments in succession, all under the banner of hermeneutics. Gotta till the rough soil before you can plant the high-yielding crops, he'd say. Many of his shock-jock statements were helpful, but one seemed almost demonic.
As he steamrolled through the biblical covenants, fitting them all nicely in his neat boxes (and PowerPoint slides), subtly muting the uniqueness and centrality of the new covenant, he finally whispered to our captive class what some of us were sensing to be latent in his system: Jesus isn't a big deal.
It's all about kingdom and covenant, he said. Jesus has an important role to play, no doubt, but in the grand scheme, it's a pretty small one. So don't go overboard making much of Jesus. He was a tenured prof teaching at a wonderful confessional seminary, but for a moment he seemed to embody the spirit of the serpent in the garden.
That it was so explicit made it all the more alarming to us students. But perhaps his whispered admission did us a favor. It would have been more dangerous if the Jesus-minimizing effect of his system stayed implicit, left unnamed to ever so subtly influence the students to be centered on kingdom while diminishing the King, or be captivated by covenant while muting the Mediator.
Resisting the Inertia
Sadly, the inertia can be away from Jesus in far too many seminary classrooms. Unless the professor gives extra energy to relentlessly centering on him, that's the inevitable drift. There are so many other good things to learn, so many new angles to explore — and after all, the prof's under pressure to establish his niche and get published and all.
But even though there can be this subtle danger away from Jesus-centrality, the seminary experience is not worth abandoning, but going in conscious (and staying aware) of the need to unswervingly and shamelessly keep Jesus at the core — to keep both eyes peeled for him everywhere. Ferociously resist the inertia away from Jesus.
The Biblical Pervasiveness of Jesus
The following doctrines and texts have proved priceless ballast for me in steadying my own soul, and keeping my seminary experience on track, when Jesus and his gospel haven't been as pervasive in the classroom as they are in the Scriptures.
1. The Whole Universe Is About Jesus.
Not only with respect to God the Father are all things "from him and through him and to him" (Romans 11:36), but the same can be said of God the Son. Indeed, Paul says in Colossians 1:15–20 that all things — in creation and in redemption — are in Jesus and through Jesus and for Jesus.
Everything exists with respect to him. Everything exists through him. And everything exists for him. And "he is before all things, and in him all things hold together" (verse 17). And he is central in our salvation, as head of the church, "that in everything he might be preeminent" (verse 18).
Perhaps no six consecutive Bible verses are more important for a distinctly Christian worldview than Colossians 1:15–20. All things, created and redeemed: in Jesus, through Jesus, for Jesus. Therefore, he's worth making relentlessly pervasive in seminary education.
2. The Whole Bible Is About Jesus.
And if everything in the universe is in Jesus, through him, and for him, how much more then is everything in the Bible? We could establish this truth by good inference from Colossians 1, or we can learn it specifically from Jesus in Luke 24 and John 5, among other places.
In John 5:39–40, Jesus gives the Jewish leaders of his day this fundamental lesson in Christian hermeneutics (call it "the basic principles of the oracles of God," to use the language of Hebrews 5:12) that every reader of the Scriptures (seminarians all the more) should keep in constant view: The Scriptures testify to Jesus. "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life."
And in case we missed it, he gets more specific in verse 46 about the Pentateuch: "If you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me." Don't forget to take this with you to your Old Testament survey and exegesis courses.
And, of course, Luke 24 is the granddaddy — Jesus, fresh off the resurrection, teaching his followers that the Scriptures really have been about him all along. Beware any course in hermeneutics that doesn't get to Luke 24 pretty quickly. It doesn't get much clearer when it comes to how we should be reading our Bibles. This is shamelessly Jesus-centered.
In verses 25–27, Jesus says to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" Then Luke tells us he gave them a lesson in Bible reading with himself at the center: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."
Fast forward in the same chapter to verses 44–45:
Then [Jesus] said to [his disciples], "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures . . .
Spurgeon: Finding Jesus Everywhere
Given such straightforward and significant statements about the centrality of Jesus in the Scriptures, is it even possible to go overboard in finding Jesus in too many places in the Bible? Surely it can be abused. But as Spurgeon asks, "Would it not be better to see him where he is not than to miss him where he is?"
I love to find Jesus everywhere — not by twisting the Psalms and other Scriptures to make them speak of Christ when they do nothing of the kind, but by seeing him where he truly is. I would not err as Cocceius did, of whom they said his greatest fault was that he found Christ everywhere, but I would far rather err in his direction than have it said of me, as of another divine of the same period, that I found Christ nowhere!
3. The Whole of Our Lives Is Designed to Be About Jesus
It's Colossians 3:17 that takes the massive scope of 1 Corinthians 10:31 and applies it explicitly to Jesus. 1 Corinthians 10:31: "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Colossians 3:17: "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Do everything you do in Jesus's name — that includes seminary. How sad and sick it would be to approach seminary education (of all things!) in any other way.
So keep both eyes peeled for Jesus. Let's relentlessly make him the explicit center of all our learning, as we keep him as the conscious focus of all our lives.
How to Stay Christian in Seminary: