How to Stay Christian in Seminary
(David Mathis & Jonathan Parnell – Crossway, 2014) Review by Mike Reynolds (@mike_reynolds) and you can find the book at Amazon and Crossway
Seminary is exhilarating . . . and dangerous
Seminary can be thrilling, with the potential to inspire and equip church leaders for a lifetime of faithful ministry. But it’s not without its risks. For many who have ignored the perils, seminary has been crippling. But with an extra dose of intentionality, and God’s help, this season of preparation can invigorate your affections for Jesus.
How to Stay Christian in Seminary takes a refreshingly honest look at the seminarian’s often-neglected devotional life, offering real-world advice for students eager to survive seminary with a flourishing faith.
“How to Stay Christian in Seminary alerts students to the real curriculum that undergirds degree structures: the pedagogy of the triune God that aims at forming the mind and heart of Jesus Christ in students and disciples.” Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
How to Stay Christian in Seminary should be placed in the hands of every first-year seminarian. —Daniel Akin
“For seminarians who have heard seminary will dull your faith, here is great advice packed into a small space. Don’t let the size of this book fool you. It is filled with solid-gold counsel.” Darrell L. Bock, Executive Director of Cultural Engagement, Howard G. Hendricks Center for Christian Leadership and Cultural Engagement; Senior Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary
“David and Jonathan are wrestling with a serious problem here, and they give biblical advice that is full of grace and full of Jesus. Very concise, too, and that too is a virtue. Anyone thinking about going to seminary will benefit greatly by spending some time with this book.” John M. Frame, J. D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando
“How to Stay Christian in Seminary should be placed in the hands of every first-year seminarian. It provides a much-needed balance as they navigate the beautiful but treacherous waters of a seminary education. I plan to use this powerful little book with great profit for my students in the years ahead.” Daniel L. Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
How to Stay Christian in Seminary By David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. 80 pages. ISBN 978-1-4335-4030-1. $8.00.
Summary and Evaluation
In How to Stay Christian in Seminary, Mathis and Parnell seek to assist seminarians with that very task—staying Christian in seminary. The book itself is quite small and manageable, even in the midst of the busiest of seminary semesters. Within this book, there are absolutely valuable nuggets of insight to help seminary students maintain their faith.
- Introduction: Seminary: Life or Death? (David Mathis & Jonathan Parnell)
- Know Your Value of Values (Jonathan Parnell)
- Be Fascinated with Grace (David Mathis)
- Study the Word for More Than Words (David Mathis)
- Push Aside Your Books and Pray (Jonathan Parnell)
- Love That Jesus Calls the Weak (Jonathan Parnell)
- Be a Real Husband and Dad (Jonathan Parnell)
- Keep Both Eyes Peeled for Jesus (David Mathis)
- Conclusion: Be a Christian in Seminary (David Mathis)
“You exist for Jesus Christ to be displayed and delighted in through your life” (29). That doesn’t change when you go off to seminary. That doesn’t change whether you are serving in some sort of ministry or studying for hours in a seminary library each day. If we put our faith on the shelf, we may not pick it up again. This is essentially the point that Mathis and Parnell get to.
A large chunk of their writing (rightfully so) focuses on the need to avoid replacing a relationship with God with academic study of the Bible. Thoughts like, “I don’t really need to spend time in Scripture, I study this stuff everyday in my classes,” will lead to a very slippery slope. We’ve got to take the time to pray in the midst of the busyness, and make room for a legitimate relationship with our creator.
In a way, they also stress the importance of prioritizing. We can’t put our families on hold while we are in seminary. We’ve got to “be a real husband and dad,” as the chapter title says. And, when it comes down to it, it is necessary to keep Jesus the main thing. If “you exist for Jesus Christ to be displayed and delighted in through your life,” (29) then you can’t really afford to neglect him in your seminary studies.
Mathis and Parnell address issues that are common among seminarians. Personally, I have dealt with some of these issues, and this book helped me to bring some of them to light. If you are in seminary, this book is absolutely worth a read (or multiple reads).
Seminary has proven to be one of the busiest seasons in my life–as the case surely is for all of my fellow seminarians. But, as Mathis & Parnell remind us: “For the Christian, there is no interlude, no pause, no ‘season’ when we put the main things on hold to prepare for the next…Staying Christian in seminary is about staying Christian in general” (71-72). For me, it is a book that I will read through year after year until I finish seminary.