The Church

Why I Love Seminary

Jemar Tisby

It’s every person’s dream.  Imagine taking your hobby and moving it from the margins of your life to the center.  Making your pastime your profession.  That’s what seminary is for me.

Ever since I became a Christian I knew I would go to seminary.  It’s odd. I don’t know how it came about.  Seminary certainly wasn’t a notion I grew up with.  But when I was a very young believer I knew instinctually that someday I’d go to seminary.  It wasn’t a question of “if” but “when”.

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I began seminary in 2007.  I wanted some life experience before I went to seminary so when I graduated college I spent one more year at my alma mater as a Campus Ministry intern and the I became a teacher.  After four years in the classroom I finally felt the call to seminary (the scholarship helped, too!).  So I enrolled at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando to begin the Masters in Divinity (MDIV) program.

I had a blast at RTS Orlando.  The classes were solid, but it was the friends I met there–John, Mike, Stephen and Daniel (one White, two Black, and one Asian) in particular–who made the experience for me.  We had animated conversations about theology, race, and football.  It was there that I felt a kind of fellowship the likes of which I had not been privy to since high school.

In God’s providence, I only spent a year at RTS Orlando before an opportunity came up to go back to the school at which I had been teachingto become the principal.  I spent three more years in rural Arkansas serving low-income kids and trying to help them get to college.

But as I surveyed the community I saw something lacking.  We had a strong and supportive school.  But we needed more strong and supportive churches.  In addition, I knew that my gifts were not best suited for curriculum and instruction.  So, painfully, I left public education and went back to seminary.

This time I enrolled at RTS in Jackson, Mississippi.

Many people refer to seminary as “cemetery”.  It’s where passionate Christians go to euthanize their faith.  I can understand why some might have that impression.  As you fill your head with knowledge your heart can get emptied of affection.  But, honestly, I think it depends on the brand of Christianity you’re imbibing.

I attend a “Reformed” seminary.  As I read the Scriptures, I think Reformed is simply another way of saying “biblical”.  There’s more to talk about than space here allows, but the Reformed tradition adheres to orthodox, historical, Protestant (and biblical) Christianity.  That means the professors, the books, and the assignments all univocally proclaim the truth of the gospel.  And it is this truth that animates and enlivens rather than kills a seminarian’s faith.

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My faith has actually grown in seminary.  I have an 8 a.m. class with our Missions professor, Dr. Medeiros.  If I didn’t know any better I’d swear that I was doing a devotional or listening to a sermon.  I’m not lying when I say I’ve been moved to tears no less than three times by his teaching and the stories he’s shared.

My first summer at RTS Jackson set the trajectory of my entire seminary career.  I took Greek in the Summer Institute for Biblical Languages (SIBL).  As our professor, Dr. Miles Van Pelt, unveiled the Scriptures to us in the original language I felt a fire in my heart, a literal heat in the center of my chest, to read the Bible.

I could do nothing else but run to the library and hurry to memorize the vocabulary, paradigms, and syntax I had just learned.  Far from seeing the Bible as a lifeless textbook, I felt a zeal for God’s word I had never previously known.  All these feelings were simply amplified when I took Hebrew.

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My other classes, too, have been pivotal in my faith.  I love learning about Church History with Dr. Lucas.  We’re reading Justo Gonzalez’s The Story of Christianity.  Did you know Athanasius was called the “Black Dwarf”?  Now there’s surely a post in there somewhere!

And what about Systematic Theology?  I have a man-crush on Herman Bavinck.  His breadth and depth of knowledge is astounding, but what’s truly impressive is his clarity.  His writing is why I wrote a post about the aseity of God.

I know it sounds like I’m heaping up words and using theological jargon to sound smart.  The reality is seminary can assassinate a person’s ability to make real-world applications.  That’s why I think seminary cannot be divorced from a dynamic and vibrant life in the local church.

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The reason I chose to come to Jackson instead of returning to Orlando was because of a church.  Redeemer Church, where I am now an intern, is a multi-ethnic, Reformed church with an African American pastor.  This is exactly the type of work I feel called to after ministry, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to go to seminary in the same town as this kind of church.

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But my local church has served as much more than a proving ground for my ministry potential.  The congregation has quickly become my family.  I am closer to some of the people at my church than I am to individuals in my own biological family.  It’s the first time in my life that I’ve ever been part of healthy (not perfect!) congregation for any sustained length of time.  And it makes an incalculable difference in my spiritual health and in my perspective on seminary.

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So my dream is for droves of believers, especially African Americans, to enter Reformed seminaries.  WestminsterTrinity,WheatonSouthernCovenantCalvinPuritan ReformedRedeemer, and more.  All of these theological schools offer the same trustworthy, quality, biblical content.  Go where it makes sense for you to go.  But go.

In addition, I believe there is no more effective strategy for long-term impact in African American, multi-ethnic, and urban communities than to get ethnic minorities to and through seminary.  These men and women will come out as theologically-shaped leaders in their ministry spheres.  Whether counselors, foreign missionaries, pastors, homemakers, or lay people they will bring their biblical training to bear in their context.  They will be the ones impacting individuals, families, and whole communities for the sake of our beloved and precious Savior.

So go.

Your seminary experience will be different than mine.  But if God is calling you then you have to go.  Remember Isaiah.  Yahweh says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  And how did Isaiah respond?  “Here I am! Send me” (Is. 6:8).

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about a Reformed theological education and have the opportunity for half (Yes. 50 percent) off of tuition and you have a heart for cross-cultural ministry check out the African American Leadership Initiative (AALI).  Open to people of all races!

Also, click here to support the ministry of RAAN!

2 thoughts on “Why I Love Seminary

  1. Drae

    A lot of your testimony sounds familiar. I too felt the lord was telling me to go to seminary. I even had some people ask me had I thought about going. Suddenly I began devolping a zeal for God’s word in ways I’ve never experienced. Mind you I have not attended seminary yet. I still want to go, but life has intervened in ways I’m not so sure if its Gods will for me to go even though I still want to. I can’t really explain why, but I know I just have a desire to know God’s wword as intimately and fully as possible. This desire created zeal this zeal is still being kindled but I wonder for how long. Thanks again for this post it really was a blessing.

  2. mo


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