Why attend a Bible college, Christian college/university, or seminary? Are we not all ministers of the church? In a movement that recognizes no distinction between clergy and laity, what’s the point of sending people on for a theological education? Does having a bachelor’s degree in Bible or a master of divinity degree make someone a better harvest worker for the kingdom of God?
While no one would claim that a college degree somehow confers spiritual maturity on a person, we believe a strong biblical case can be made for Christian higher education for those who plan to go into Christian service.
A Biblical Case
What kind of person did the Lord call to be his emissary to the Gentiles? Besides his admirable character traits, Paul was an extremely well-educated man.
A Pharisee, born in the Roman city of Tarsus, he traveled more than 350 miles to study at the feet of Gamaliel, the most renowned Jewish teacher of his time. Studying under Gamaliel would have been roughly equivalent to working on a doctorate in theology today. Paul was fluent in several languages, able to go toe-to-toe with Jewish authorities, and could reason intelligently with Athenian philosophers.
Paul was, to say the least, a scholar.
Or consider the original 12. We like to speak about how they were, for the most part, simple men—fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot. But what kind of education prepared them to establish the church? Nothing less than spending three years, day and night, with Jesus himself. He was the consummate teacher—what better education could there be? He thought it was important that these special laborers in his harvest field receive intensive instruction about the God they were representing and the nature of the task before them.
Bible colleges tend to be specialists in preacher training and vocational ministries, while Christian colleges or universities work as dedicated educators in other ministry areas, such as business and health care. Seminaries build upon undergraduate foundations by deepening students’ critical thinking and assessment skills, in addition to guiding them in establishing deeper theological constructs and providing further practical ministry training.
Whether preparing for preaching, counseling, business, teaching, or any number of other professions, Bible colleges, Christian colleges and universities, and seminaries all serve their unique purposes in educating and equipping Christian leaders in their respective fields.
Helps for Kingdom Workers
When a person wants to be a kingdom worker, here’s how a theological education helps:
• A good theological education forces someone to come to grips with his or her own misconceptions about what the Bible says and deal with the actual text itself. It can be a challenging process, but it is vital in the life of any minister of the gospel.
The message we bear is not our own; it is too important to rely on what may be overly simplistic notions that arise from one’s own impressions or from what the latest popular Christian writer says. If the Bible is the source of our message, then we need laborers who have spent a considerable amount of time in directed study so they know what that message really is.
• The world is becoming an increasingly complex place. The unchanging message of the gospel needs to be interpreted for every context. This requires people of depth, people who have learned from others who have given years of their lives to that process.
Our Christian schools have teachers who have spent years in a variety of ministries. They have the wisdom and experience needed to give direction and a healthy perspective to those just starting on the path to ministry, and to those on that path who need some redirection.
• In a world filled with mixed messages and a variety of opinions about right and wrong, Christian higher education provides a biblical footing to help form a Christian worldview. By instilling a Christian worldview in their students, institutions of Christian higher education are emboldening men and women to be solid in their biblical convictions and to stand firm “against the powers of this dark world” (Ephesians 6:12).
• While the world is ever-changing, the basic issues people deal with remain the same. The great questions about God and humanity have been here for a long time. We all can benefit from a familiarity with God’s great servants throughout history.
Why do we feel we must come up with new answers for the hard questions of life? God has used brilliant people through the centuries to help bring clarity to those issues. A Bible college, Christian college or university, or seminary will expose students to the people and answers the church has provided for the past 2,000 years.
In the end, a good theological education gives us laborers of depth, people who know that a good ministry requires good preparation. We could go on listing other benefits of Christian higher education, but it really comes down to this: Doesn’t Christian ministry merit the very best preparation we can provide?
Tracy Marx is president of Louisville (Kentucky) Bible College, and Mike Sweeney serves as president of Emmanuel School of Religion, Johnson City, Tennessee.