Know Your Value of Values

It was simple. The first bookend of my formal theological training was grounded in an easy-to-the-point-of-jolly ambition: learn as much as I can about Jesus and teach it to others. What fueled my pursuit of pastoral ministry — and all the training involved — was not what I understood about the Bible or hoped to learn, but how glorious I perceived Jesus to be, despite how much my perception of that glory was green and raw and English (KJV to be exact).

Desperate for That Same Initial Resolve

Now fifteen semesters later, with some summer intensives sprinkled in between, I long to walk away from seminary with that same initial resolve — a resolve to proclaim and exalt Jesus so that he is worshiped and loved. This kind of resolve, conviction, intentionality — it’s indispensable. We’re desperate for it. Because without it, we finish seminary in worse shape than when we started.

But how can this be? Knowledge is sneaky like that. The more of it we get, the easier it becomes to slip into a mode of life that assumes accumulated information equals gospel maturity. It doesn’t. Left unchecked, there is an inertia in gaining knowledge that moves us away from grace — away from a passion for God’s purpose for the world, away from the sufficiency of Jesus, and away from our small part in it all. We might end up smarter, but we won’t be apt ministers of the gospel.

So What Are We All About?

It’s good for us to step back and think down to the bottom of what’s going on. Here is where we find our resolve. What is the value that drives our training?

Consider institutions for a moment: good institutions are ones that know their values. Knowing values and being committed to them is the 101 anchor to keeping an organization faithful in the uncertain future. As seminarians and aspiring church leaders (and humans), our immediate future is uncertain, too. We don’t really know what we’re doing (that’s why we’re in seminary and not pastors). We don’t really know where we’ll end up (planned opportunities may fall through and others will come). We don’t really know what theological commitments will be intensified or leveraged (oh, so credo-baptism isn't of equal importance to the deity of Christ).

But this we do know: we value something. We know what we care about. More than anything else, by grace, we want Jesus to be high and lifted up. We value his name. We are committed to his fame and renown. We want the fullness of God’s person to be displayed for the delight of his people in all that he is for us in Jesus Christ. This is our value of values. We are about the glory of God.

And it might help to write this down. Changing to the second person, I really encourage you to write this down. Put it in your own biblically informed words, or take a quote straight from Romans. Maybe make it your “personal mission statement”, a clear but rich sentence that encapsulates your sense of call. Or maybe just string together a few important words (no need for complete sentences). Write it down, sketch it out, have it crystallize in your mind and heart. Make it something that you can come back to again and again. We are about the glory of God.

The Single Thread

This is the single thread to interweave throughout all our training. It’s our foundation, center, and end. Parse those Greek verbs. And yearn more than anything else for Jesus Christ to be honored in your body whether by life or by death (Philippians 1:20). Explain the significance of the early church councils. Jesus must increase, but we must decrease (John 3:30). Get a grip on Hebrew syntax. We preach Christ crucified, though it’s foolish to the world (1 Corinthians 1:23). Articulate economic submission in the Trinity. We proclaim Jesus as Lord, not ourselves (2 Corinthians 4:5). Try to understand church polity. It is Christ we proclaim in order that we may present everyone mature in him (Colossians 1:28). Learn how to structure sermons. Our own lives are cheap, if only that we may finish our course! (Acts 20:24).

I pray that the great, initial passion of our hearts at the beginning of formal theological training would be the great, persevering passion of our hearts at the end, both of our training and of our lives. That we would say, we have not studied nor have we lived for ourselves, but for him who for our sake died and was raised (2 Corinthians 5:15).

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Jonathan Parnell (@jonathanparnell) is a writer and content strategist at Desiring God. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Melissa, and their four children, and is the co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.