I’m surprised how many times I hear people speak negatively about a pastor’s seminary education – as if knowledge is deadly to the soul (or ignorance is bliss). Of course, this sentiment is a common American one that goes way back to the early frontier days of circuit preachers. Billy Sunday even said, “I don’t know any more about theology than a jack-rabbit knows about ping-pong, but I’m on my way to glory” (he was right, by the way!). If you read a lot of Christian books and hear sermons on Christian radio and TV, you’ll notice there are quite a few Billy Sundays out there today.
Puritan William Gurnall discusses this topic briefly in The Christian in Complete Armor (I’ve edited it a bit to make it shorter and easier to read). I appreciate what he has to say here; I firmly believe a pastor should have a solid and vigorous seminary education (Greek and Hebrew included!).
“Knowledge is so fundamental to the work and calling of a minister, that he cannot be one without it (cf. Hos. 4:6). The lack of knowledge in a minister is such a defect that it cannot be supplanted by anything else. Even if he were ever so meek, patient, excellent, and blameless, if he doesn’t have the skill to rightly divide the word, he is not fit to be a minister. Even if a knife has a handle made of diamonds, if it does not cut it is a worthless knife. If a bell does not ring, it is a worthless bell. The great work of a minister is to teach others, his lips are to preserve knowledge, he should be as conversant in the things of God as others in their particular trades.”
“I know these stars [ministers of the gospel] in Christ’s hands are not all of the same magnitude. There is a greater glory of gifts and graces shining in some than in others; yet so much light is necessary to every minister, as was in the star the wise men saw at Christ’s birth, to be able out of the word to direct sinners the safe and true way to Christ and salvation.”
Here’s a great analogy worth remembering (Gurnall ends the section with it): “He is a cruel man to the poor passengers, who will undertake to be captain, when he never so much as learned his compass.” J. G. Machen would have agreed: “The Church is perishing today through the lack of thinking, not through an excess of it.”
Dear pastors, missionaries, elders, and seminary students: study hard, train well, learn the doctrines of grace – for the glory of God and the good of his church!