Editor’s Note: This post is part one of a multi-part series. (Part Two)
If you’re anything like me, the thought of attending a newly established seminary raises many questions. With so many seminaries across the church landscape, what need is there for one more? What would the seminary be devoted to, and what type of academic environment could a few founding pastors hope to cultivate? These and others were the questions roaming through my head as I agreed to take a chance on Grimké Seminary as part of its inaugural class (Master of Theological Studies degree).
I am a pharmacist by trade. I am no stranger to the classroom. Many years in the academic world had given me a distaste for structured education. However, my need for rich theological training was clear when I began pastoral ministry. Grimké was intriguing to me because of its affordability and accessibility. But what could I expect in terms of academic excellence? It did not take long to find out.
The program is structured as a mixture of personal studies undertaken in the student’s home church, along with in-person intensives held twice each semester in Richmond, Va. The reading was challenging but ultimately edifying. However, it was the intensives that put the academic excellence of Grimké Seminary on full display. I distinctly remember sitting in the first lecture of my first class and thinking to myself, “this man loves what he is talking about, and he loves Jesus.” My past world of pharmaceutical studies is not known for its riveting lectures. It was evident that Grimké was filled with professors that were, first and foremost, captivated by their God and his mission to make disciples. However, with such well-rounded and informed professors, I thought that the atmosphere would most certainly begin, over time, to lean toward the intellectual and hypothetical. But that didn’t happen. Rather than wandering off into theological obscurity, my professors were constant in their desire to educate in such a way that blessed the minds and the hearts of the students. It is common to be warned about the impracticality of seminary and the ills of theological training devoid of personal devotion; however, my worries that Grimké would be a school where my head was enriched while my heart was starved were unfounded. Academic excellence was present, but not at the cost of anything. To see men built up in the Lord—both in head and heart—showed me what academic excellence can be at its pinnacle.
Not only was the quality of the lectures and professors noteworthy, but the professors were all in pastoral ministry. This is a practitioner’s school, where the tools of the trade are both taught and caught. It is one thing to read about the strategy of combat; it is another thing to look a soldier in the eye. At Grimké, the professors are ministering to their congregations weekly. It wasn’t uncommon in my time at Grimké to find a professor tucked away in one of the classrooms during an off block, putting the finishing touches on a sermon for that coming Sunday. With that type of teacher, the assignments were intensely practical and helpful for me as I figured out how to apply seminary training to the day-to-day grind of ministry. The overlap between what I was reading and writing and how I was ministering to my congregation was substantial. As I studied, I was also becoming a better pastor. I know this should be the norm, but far too often, education gives hypothetical information that must be unlearned for the sake of real life. But this practitioner’s school was filled with soldiers, not theorists. This played itself out in assignments and the structure of the classroom.
“It is one thing to read about the strategy of combat; it is another thing to look a soldier in the eye.”—Justin Honaker
The papers were immediately helpful for pastoral ministry. Assignment topics were given that reflected difficulties or obstacles in the life of a pastor. I distinctly remember two particular papers written for different classes. The first prompt dealt with building a discipleship culture in your church with such a robust foundation that someone could be taken from unregenerate to pastoral ministry. I was in the process of building just such a program at my church. Secondly, the prompt was given to develop a ministry plan designed to engage church members in the summer months, when attendance drops and engagement dwindles. The professor helped the class to think through a plan for prayer and fasting that would eventually serve my church. Furthermore, the structure of the class times included both lectures and questions from the students. These and many other examples highlight the value of Grimké Seminary in the life of this student. D.L. Moody said, “Christianity is just one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.” That being the case, Grimké Seminary is just one soldier telling another soldier how he has made it this far in the war.
Academic excellence is a key to any institution of higher learning. Without high-level academics, even the best educational environments are unworthy of eager students. Grimké Seminary has worked hard to create an environment where the mind is challenged while the heart is purposefully encouraged. President Doug Logan often says that “Salvation is by grace, but degrees are by works.” As comical as that is on the surface, it is profound. This seminary holds a high degree of academic rigor yet is concerned with the heart of every student that walks in the door. The result is a school that cares for the things that Christ cares about. Grimké Seminary loves the mind, the heart, and the church for which Christ died. In the classroom and in conversations, the Church is being built up by a faculty that engages the minds and the hearts of their students. Grimké Seminary is an institution of academic excellence, by the Church and for the Church.