How to Choose a Seminary


You are trying to decide where to go to seminary. I'm here to help. Our admissions office knows what you are looking for—the school that has the best bag of swag—skittles and Tootsie Rolls. You want to go to the divinity school with the chip clip that says you know how to party, the T-shirt that says you know how to dress, the prayer journal that says you know how to be serious, and the koozies that could be interpreted to say that you know how not to be serious.

But how do you really choose your seminary?

You should pick the school that will help you quit what you need to quit and start what you need to start.

Divinity school isn't for everyone. Seminary isn't for people who are satisfied with things the way they are, not for those who don't see any reason to stop doing what isn't worth doing or stop thinking what isn't worth thinking.

Quitting has a bad reputation. Vince Lombardi growled, “Quitters never win and winners never quit.”

Richard Nixon put it, “Defeat doesn't finish a man, quitting does. A man isn't finished when he's defeated. He's finished when he quits.”

Nixon said this right before he quit.

Steven Pearl lamented, “I phoned my dad to tell him I had stopped smoking. He called me a quitter.”

Quitting has gotten a bum rap, because quitting isoften a great idea. It's never too soon to quit. I need to quit: quit skipping breakfast; quit listening to talk radio—except for NPR; quit checking my e-mail five times a day; quit copying pages I'm not going to read; quit wishing I was thinner, younger, or taller; quit giving so many easy A's; quit complaining about the cafeteria; quit wishing I could find a parking spot; quit telling people my seminary is superior to theirs.

The Bible is in favor of quitting. The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, means to quit going one way and head the other. Saint Paul writes, “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed. Get rid of all such things as anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language.”

We could paraphrase Paul, “You people have some serious quitting to do.”

You need to quit. Quit watching television shows that make you dull. Quit reading articles that make you stupid. Quit being late. Quit obsessing over being late. Quit being so hard on others. Quit being so hard on yourself. Quit dividing people into winners and losers. Quit feeling trapped by what you've always done. Quit accepting mediocrity. Quit thinking the problems of the world aren't your responsibility. Quit avoiding Hebrew. Quit putting off making new friends. Quit just wishing you could take a preaching class. Quit waiting. Quit being afraid of a brand new start.

The good news of the gospel is that things don't have to stay the same. By the grace of God, we can quit and start something new.

Starting, unlike quitting, has a great reputation. Everybody loves the idea of beginning again.

Carl Bard understands the goodness of starting over, “Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”

Fyodor Dostoevski writes, “Arriving at one goal is the starting point to another.”

Mick Jagger seems to have been paraphrasing Dostoevski when he sings, “If you start me up, if you start me up, I'll never stop, so start me up.”

It's never too late to start. I need to start: start cooking; start going to bed on time; start kissing my wife goodbye every morning; start eating salads; start changing the oil every 5,000 miles; start calling my mother every Sunday; start noticing the leaves; start reading more poetry; start reading the Bible as much as I read books about the Bible; start praying every day for my students; start telling the members of the faculty how cute they are; start believing in starting again.

The Bible is about starting over.

Jeremiah writes, “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Grace is a great big sacred “do-over.” The hope of faith is getting to start again and again.

You should find the school that will help you start again. Start looking for where you need to start. Start breathing deeply. Start appreciating little things you've never noticed. Start turning off your phone. Start exercising. Start keeping a journal. Start watching PBS. Start drinking decaf. Start listening to someone else's music. Start telling more people more often that you love them. Start looking homeless people in the eye. Start learning the names of your classmates. Start learning why Christians believe what we believe. Start asking hard questions. Start imagining a better church. Start making it a better church. Start thinking deeply. Start listening to the Spirit.