A Long, Strange Trip, Part Four: My Seminary Experience (2005-2007)

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My seminary experience was nothing like I thought it would be. I thought that when I arrived I would fit right in with the other “theology geeks,” but found that I was just as much an outsider in this community as any other.

I arrived at McCormick having a basically conservative theological and moral worldview: I believed that the Bible was the inspired word of God, and that it spoke with supreme authority on matters of Christian faith and practice.

I believed that Jesus was born of a virgin, that He was (and is) God incarnate, that He died for our sins, that He rose from the dead in a physical body, and that He will return someday to judge the world and establish His kingdom.

I also believed that gambling and pornography were social evils, that abortion was (in most cases, at least) an immoral and selfish act that should be restricted by law, and that divorce was rarely, if ever, an acceptable choice for a Christian.

Socially, however, I was fairly liberal. I saw nothing wrong with drinking, cussing, or sexually suggestive (“bump and grind”) dancing, and did not believe that premarital sex or gay and lesbian relationships were always sinful. I also saw nothing wrong with discussing these things openly and frankly.

What I found among my fellow seminarians was almost the polar opposite. Most of the students (and faculty) held a much looser view of biblical authority than I did, and many did not believe in the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, or bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Furthermore, this community was overwhelmingly pro-choice on the issue of abortion – some of them vehemently so. And while most agreed with my more liberal views on sexuality, they were not very comfortable talking about this openly.

All in all, I was a fish out of water at this particular seminary – though I benefited tremendously from what I learned there.

My best friend during this time was a young woman named Thelma, who lived on the north side of Chicago.

Our connection was almost immediate. We quickly found ourselves attracted to each other on many levels – physically, spiritually, and intellectually. I wanted to date her, but at this point in her life she was not really ready for a serious dating relationship. We did become close friends, and have remained so to this day.

After a couple years at seminary, I realized I was not being called to be a pastor – at least not at this point in my life. While I had developed my teaching and preaching skills significantly, I wasn’t very good at pastoral care – and that’s the heart of a pastor’s job.

More importantly, I realized that I wasn’t ready for the level of responsibility involved in being the head pastor of a church (something I still don’t feel ready for, almost ten years later). Indeed, I am convinced that very few people have what it takes to shoulder all the responsibilities of being a pastor. Perhaps it’s too much to ask of any one person.

I graduated from McCormick with a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) degree in May of 2007. I learned a lot at seminary, both socially and theologically.

My studies in urban ministry, black, feminist and womanist theology, and biblical languages convinced me that social justice isn’t just part of the gospel – it’s at the very core of it.

In other words, this is just as important as “saving souls” (which God can do quite apart from our efforts, I have learned). This was an important shift in my theology, one that would stay with me for years to come.

I also learned how to navigate the social boundaries of an environment very different from what I had been used to. While I have always felt that it’s important to be true to who we are as individuals, I came to see the necessity of respecting others’ boundaries – even when they don’t make sense to us personally. It’s a difficult but important balance.

Finally, it was in seminary that I first experienced what Pentecostal and charismatic Christians call “baptism of the Holy Spirit” – an intense personal experience with God where a person is given supernatural gifts (such as speaking in tongues, prophecy and faith healing) for use in ministry or personal growth.

I had heard of this phenomenon before, and even seen others speak in tongues – but until I experienced it myself I never thought it was real. But after worship one day, I found myself speaking in a language I didn’t know – and I have had this happen many times since.

I have also developed other gifts of the spirit, including faith healing. On a couple of occasions  I have helped remove demonic spirits from people.

If you have never experienced this personally, it’s very hard to imagine, let alone explain. But this is only an inkling of the things I would experience in the years to come.

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