Dear New Seminarian . . . Sincerely, Your Anglican Brother
Editor’s note: This is part three of a three-part series, “Letter to a New Seminarian.”
It is exciting to think that you will shortly be starting your course at seminary. What a wonderful and unique time to be growing in your knowledge and love of Christ. Quite apart from all the goodness you’ll be receiving through the course and through fellowship with other students, this is an amazing opportunity to read and study for yourself. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some thoughts on how to make the most of your time.
(1) These years in seminary will provide what may be the greatest opportunity to read that you’ll ever get. It will be much easier to read the big hitters cover to cover during this period than any other. Make the most of it. Your professors will no doubt provide good guidance, but make sure you read at least one systematic theology straight through. You might think of Wayne Grudem or Gerald Bray or John Frame —or all three! This is the time to dig down deeply.
(2) Pick a good thinker, dead or living, and make them a particular friend and conversation partner during your course. You don’t need to agree with everything they’ve ever thought, but they need to be someone that it’s edifying to read even when you’re not quite agreeing with them. I went for C. S. Lewis; you might also consider John Stott or John Piper. The key is finding someone who (a) you enjoy reading (given you’ll be spending a lot of time with them), and (b) has written a significant enough body of work that it will be a good long project to try to cover it. Also, it will cover a wide range of practical and theological issues, so that you can get their take on most areas of the Christian life. Once selected, set about reading as much of them as you can. You’ll initially find yourself thinking (and writing) in their voice: resist the temptation to imitate them. Instead, “Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13:7).
(3) Be sure to read some books that will warm your heart and push you to worship God. Three recommendations from me: The Pleasures of God by John Piper: nothing has most stirred up the deepest joy in me than knowing what God himself delights in. Letters Along The Way by D. A. Carson and John Woodbridge: a wonderful book of letters from a (fictional) seminary professor to a younger believer, and chock-full of wisdom and grace. The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller: a reminder to keep the grace of God front and center.
(4) Be sure to start reading commentaries in earnest (if you’ve not already). Not because commentaries are uniformly useful, but because many of them are not and it is good to master the art of using them well now. Get to know the various sets that are out there. Get to know the DNA of each. Learn which authors and series are most likely to help you understand the burden of the biblical text and are not just talking to other commentaries. For example, anything by the likes of Peter O’Brien, Thomas Schreiner, and Barry Webb will always be worth careful reading, and the Pillar New Testament Commentary and Preach the Word are two great series with which to begin. Getting a feel for this now will help you enormously when you’re preaching week by week.
(5) As you deepen your own convictions on all sorts of denominational matters, make sure you identify and learn from the best exponents of the positions with which you disagree. Find out who’s on the other side of various fences. It will help to keep the fences from becoming too high. When you’re in church ministry you will be glad to have fellowship with gospel-centered pastors from other denominational backgrounds and traditions. Academically and socially, seminary is a great place to begin that process. I hope you will grow in appreciation of your Anglican heritage, but I also hope you will grow in your appreciation of the good the Lord is doing in other parts of his church. So, engage with the likes of Thomas Schreiner on baptism, Fred Sanders on Wesleyanism, and Doug Wilson on postmillennialism. See how possible it is for good gospel people to land in slightly different places than you on particular issues.
We all look forward to seeing how the Lord will use this next chapter of your life.