Seminaries run students through a gamut of theoretical studies which touch upon a myriad of seemingly esoteric topics. This can tend to divide the students into two groups – those who desire to be scholars and to spend their lives wrestling with such issues, and those who tire easy of such theory and take up quickly those courses called ‘practical’, courses addressing preaching and counseling and church administration and the like.
That is really a false divide. Perhaps it was the gift I received from the quality of my seminary training, but as I look back over nearly 25 years of pastoral ministry, I cannot think of ONE ‘esoteric’ discussion that has not been brought up in some form by real people in a real church looking for real answers.
In seminary, we pondered the question of the ‘necessity of the atonement’. Why did Jesus have to die? Was it an arbitrary decision of an arbitrary god? Was it an absolute necessity somehow arising from the character of God himself? Was it an act of ultimate child abuse? Was it a theoretical necessity?
Wading through the possibilities can seem so abstruse for a seminarian trying to get to the end of it and ‘get out there’.
Well, as one ‘out there’, I can report that I’m glad I went through the process.
The other day, a young man came to me, one whose understanding of the gospel is new, his grasp fresh. He wanted to know, “Who decided that Jesus had to die for sins?”
Great question. In fact, it is one I faced before, though framed differently as “Why did Jesus have to die?” I faced it in the clean, clinical, reflective environment of the seminary classroom, but it is the same question, now relevant to a young man trying to put flesh to the gospel he has recently embraced.
Theology well considered and well taught, seemingly theoretical, seemingly irrelevant, can be the most practical tool at our disposal.
Not just for pastors. For all.