This story generates out of a real-life experience from my studies in the Ph.D. program at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. It was a lesson that I will never forget and has shaped me as both a pastor and a scholar. This experience illustrates the value of theological education. To put it another way, seminary should not be minimized in your preparation for serving the Lord. By God’s grace, the Southern Baptist Convention provides six seminaries that are designed to grow you in your love and knowledge of God to serve King Jesus.
Prior to meeting in the classroom, the professor had assigned us various resources to read in preparation for this time of sharpening. Little did we know, but our scholar had big plans for us in this academic setting. He had asked each of us to prepare our responses to a faith issue. With my background in life sciences (I did my undergraduate work in Biology at Texas A&M University), I decided to prepare a defense for the topic: “Faith and Science.” I was prepared for the discussion, but I was not prepared for how the professor was going to respond to my presentation.
The reading seminar was about to begin. I sat in my chair nervously with my peers. Majority of us had just started our studies to earn the highest level of education possible–the Doctor of Philosophy. The idea behind this reading seminar was to introduce us to the other academic disciplines we might encounter in our scholastic studies. The professor would be the expert in the room, and our role was to be students who were becoming experts in our particular fields of study. Yet, this class was interdisciplinary, which means it was outside many of our academic areas of interest. This made some of us uncomfortable because we were outside our academic fields. Thus, we sat in silence waiting for the professor to begin.
Our expert told us on the second day of class that we were going to have the privilege to debate him about the topics we had selected. Each one of us would argue from the faith side while he argued the opposite, and this discussion was going to happen in front of our peers. When my turn finally came, I had all my arguments ready to go. I was prepared. During the debate, I was deflecting and defending the faith, and my confidence began to build. That is until the professor threw and academic curve ball at me. In the middle of the debate, he changed the rules and the format.
The professor stopped me in my defense for the faith. The professor complimented me on my ability to reason through the issues in our scientific discussion from a biblical worldview. He told me that it was now my turn to argue from science and he was going to argue from a biblical worldview. What ensued was me fumbling around trying to argue from a belief system that I didn’t believe in and had never really thought through or studied–i.e., I spent all my time with like minded scholars and never consulted any of the people they were arguing against. To be honest, I didn’t know the scientific arguments very well, and I really struggled to put together any coherent explanations from a philosophically grounded, scientific perspective. The professor graciously smiled at me when we ended and said something like, “Learning has taken place today.”
What was the lesson he taught? Know the arguments of those you disagree with as much as, if not more than, them. In other words, Christians may have many differences in our thoughts or beliefs with those who do not conform to a biblical worldview, but an honest scholar knows not only the rebuttals, but has also taken time to investigate and know the logic of those we disagree with in whatever subject we are discussing. This was an invaluable lesson that I was thankful to learn in a controlled classroom setting.
The reason this was crucial for my development is that I learned to listen to others before I critiqued or even condemned their own belief systems. It made me think about the person before punching holes into their presuppositions. I want to know their arguments better than them, but to do so fairly, so that I can present the Bible’s authority with grace and humility our discussion or debate. Just because we are reading or studying from people we adamantly disagree with does not mean that we are giving up our tenants of the Christian faith. We are learning the arguments of others so that we can steward our faith more persuasively. As my dear professor taught me that day in my own words, “It’s more important to win people to Christ rather than win the proverbial contest.”
That lesson will be forever engrained into me as a budding scholar and a pastor. I have learned to sit and listen, to learn from those I disagree with, and to read widely so that I am able to be a better witness for Christ in academia, my personal life, and the public square. In addition, this period of instruction might have never been learned if it wasn’t for a professor at an amazing theological institution like Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am forever grateful for the many world-class professors at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary who still continue to intentionally pour into my life. As you can tell, this professor had a lasting impact on my life, ministry, and scholarship. May this lesson help you in your life, ministry, and witness as well.
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