9 Things I’ve Learned in 9 Years Of Theological Education

by Allyson Howell (Todd) November 27, 2019

Very soon, I will be completing my second theological degree. For nine years, I sat in classrooms, wrote papers, read books, and became more like Jesus. With the end finally in sight, I’ve been reflecting on all that I’ve learned both inside and outside the classroom. 

With that, I want to share some of my “outside the classroom” reflections with the hope that these things would encourage you:

1) Theology Is For Them

The most commonly used phrase on our campus is “for the church.” When I first heard this vision, I understood what it means, but I didn’t understand what it looks like. Not a single page of a paper or word of a footnote should exist for selfish reasons. Yes, theological education is undoubtedly personal. It shapes what you believe. But if your knowledge serves only you, you’ve missed the point entirely. All theological education exists to build up the church, equip the church, adorn the church, love the church – it is for the church. Full stop. 

2) Scholarship Isn’t Superior

True Christian scholarship must be selfless. All the difficulties and struggles are only worth enduring if the end goal is to love others and glorify the Lord. The endeavor of scholarship, the pursuit of lofty knowledge, or the desire for publication are not bad goals. If you let these good things become ultimate things, you are in danger of believing that you are better than fellow church members. Scholarship does not elevate you above stay-at-home moms, baristas, doctors, or teachers. It is simply what God has determined will be your role in the church. We should receive it with humility. 

3) Character Is Better Than Charisma

There are a lot of impressive people in the theological world – people who are gifted writers, thinkers, preachers, creators, and teachers. More impressive than having every single one of those gifts is the one whose character is unshakeable. One of the most crushing things that I experienced was watching a charismatic hero crumble under their own poor character. No one is perfect and we should not expect those most impressive to us to live up to our god-like standards. The most godly men and women in theological education may not always be the flashiest, but they will always be the most impactful. 

4) Knowledge Is Nuanced

I came to theological education as an extremist. Everything was a right or wrong issue, and it followed every person was then either right or wrong. Yet the further into the waters of theology I swam, the more I realized I did not and do not know. It is easy, in theological education, to pitch a tent in a theological camp and call it “home” for your whole degree. There are, of course, certain things we should not nuance (the divinity and humanity of Jesus, His salvific work on the cross, the promise of an eternity with God if you believe in Him, just to name a few). True knowledge does not come by allegiance to a tribe, but by a willingness to be wrong. Asking questions instead of making assumptions and trying to understand different viewpoints in a charitable way produce more knowledge than making up your mind and never truly considering other viewpoints. 

5) Community Is Cultivated In Trenches

Theological education is hard. There are moments where all the homework seemed impossible to finish, my personal life clouded my mind in the classroom, and waking up at 4:00 am for work caused me to cry before bed at night. Were it not for God’s gracious gift of friends who not only cared but were right next to me struggling with the same things, I do not know if I would have graduation in sight right now. It is because we labored together that I call my classmates my best friends. Lasting friendship is built when you struggle together.

6) Women Need The Word

I am more convinced of and aware of the need for women to know theology than I was before I came to seminary. Women need to know, understand, and apply God’s Word. There is a deficit of women in the church who know how to do this, and it is not for lack of ability on their part. Women do not need fluffy, emotionally charged, self-indulgent Bible studies. Women need to be equipped to make disciples that make disciples of all nations. 

7) God Gave Me Gifts

Theological education is a time for clarification. The trajectory I thought was mine shifted more times than I can count while I was in school. I’ve learned to hold my life plans loosely. As I’ve grown in a willingness to serve wherever God sees fit, I’ve also grown more aware of the ways He has gifted me. No matter where God places me, I know how God has uniquely equipped me to serve others and bring Him glory. 1 Peter 4:10 and Romans 12:6 encourage the same thing – use your gifts!

8) The Spirit Is My Seal

Almost every aspect of my life felt unsure at some point during my education. Job, finances, relationships, church, and school all changed in drastic ways. It was hard to remember the gospel, at times. But I am more certain that the Spirit of God guarantees who I belong to and where I am going (Ephesians 1:13-14). All around me can waiver, but my soul's course is sure.

9) Jesus is Genuinely Better

Empty promises of recognition, temptations to look to others for hope, guilt of past sins, and desires for lesser gods plague the seminarian. Constantly, a liar's voice says, “If you just look over here for a minute, you’ll feel better.” Satan wants us to look anywhere but Jesus. No job promotion, church role, spouse, or academic achievement has the power to save us. “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith. For the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Jesus is better because he lived, died, and rose that we might be restored to God forever. 

This truth is why theological education exists. Without the gospel, the walls of our seminaries and bible colleges are just boxes full of Pharisees. Jesus gives us a reason for studying – so that we might know Him and equip His church.

How does God's Word impact our prayers?

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