Christopher Chelpka

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Seminary Advice on Preparing for Seminary

How should you prepare for seminary? This what the seminaries say.

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From the moment I decided to go to seminary, I wanted to prepare. I read whatever I thought would help, I talked with friends who were already there, and I tried to learn a little bit of Greek.

I prepared this way because I wanted success in seminary. I also didn’t want to look like a newb. My guess is that if you’re a future seminarian, you probably feel like I did. But what is the best way to prepare? The seminaries themselves have an answer to that question, and it’s a good one. But it could be better.

What the Seminaries Recommend

Westminster Seminary California, my alma mater, suggests that you prepare spiritually and academically. They suggest gaining a proficiency in the following areas: English Bible, theology, research-essay writing, oral communications (M.Div. only), Greek, and Hebrew. To help with this, they provide a recommended reading list on their website. And if you are considering ministry, they recommend you read Edmund Clowney’s book Called to the Ministry.

Mid-America Reformed Seminary does a similar thing for its incoming students. MARS’s website provides a reading list that is divided into five categories: propaedeutic studies, biblical studies, ecclesiastical studies, doctrinal studies, and ministerial studies. For those considering ministry, they recommend John R. Sittema’s book Called to Preach.

How about one more? Westminster Theological Seminary’s reading list recommends books corresponding to the class types the student will take at WTS: Greek, Hebrew, apologetics, Old Testament, New Testament, biblical theology and hermeneutics, church history, systematic theology, and practical theology. They also suggest titles to help prepare for research and writing.

All in all, these are excellent lists. Anyone would benefit from working through them. The trouble is they still leave the preparing student with some difficult choices to make.

Some Unanswered Questions

1. How much attention should be given to the biblical languages?

I’m glad seminaries recommend learning a language or two before seminary. Knowing Greek or Hebrew beforehand can benefit you in several ways, but questions remain. If you should be learning Greek and Hebrew, what’s the best way to do that? And what do you do if all that remains between you and seminary is a year or even a summer? Is that enough time to make worthwhile progress, or should you focus on reading the recommended books instead?

2. What and how should you read ?

Most incoming students will look at the recommended list of books and drool. But before you start chomping into that stack of pancakes, know that the 102 titles on the WTS list, some of which are multivolume works, reach about 11.5 feet tall from the floor—the height of an elephant. Chances are slim that you can devour—let alone digest—even half these books before seminary.

So you need to narrow that list down. But what books will you choose? And once you’ve decided what to read, you must also decide how to read. Will you read for familiarity or for understanding? Will you skim the pages or soak them in?

3. What about the things beyond books?

In addition to books, pre-seminarians have other important concerns. How are your finances? Do you need to find a job? If you need to move, when will you do that? Where will you live?

And what about serving your church and growing in holiness? How will these fit into your seminary preparation plan?

The Next Step

If you’re preparing for seminary, before you dive into a reading list or a language program, think through these questions. Consider what time you have and what your goals should be as you prepare. Next week, I’ll offer my own suggestion for a one-year seminary preparation plan and see what you think. In the meantime, I’d need your comments.
  • What you think about the advice seminaries give?
  • How would you answer the questions above?
  • What advice would you like to receive if you were about to enter seminary?
 

Photo Credit: Abul Haque via Wikimedia Commons.