Dear New Seminarian . . . Sincerely, Your Presbyterian Brother
Editor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series, “Letter to a New Seminarian.”
Congratulations on being accepted to seminary! You are probably wondering how to get ready for the next three or four years of your life. To get the most from seminary you should prepare by reading good books that will do two things for you—lay a good foundation for your studies in the classroom, and lay a good foundation for gospel ministry.
The first and most important book to read is The English Bible. You need to make a point of reading the Bible regularly and devotionally. For years, I have used with great profit the calendar prepared by Robert Murray M’Cheyne. It will take you through the Old Testament once per year, and the New Testament and Psalms twice a year. You will be reading from at least four different biblical books each day, helping you to see the depth and the connectedness of the Scriptures.
If you have not already, read carefully The Westminster Standards. They are an excellent summary of biblical teaching, and the confessional standard of many Reformed churches. They were written by pastors for the church, and so they are a wonderful guide to the Christian life. I have found the commentaries written by Robert Shaw and A.A. Hodge to be excellent resources for explaining the meaning and context of the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Read books that help you understand better the Bible’s message. O. Palmer Robertson’s The Christ of the Covenants is a sure guide to the Bible’s teaching on “covenant.” Richard B. Gaffin, Jr.’s By Faith and Not By Sight is a clear overview of Paul’s teaching on the believer’s salvation. Louis Berkhof’s Manual of Christian Doctrine is a readable survey of Christian doctrine, and John Murray’s Redemption Accomplished and Applied will give you brief discussions of biblical terms that lie at the heart of the gospel.
Other books will help you prepare yourself for gospel ministry. Robert L. Dabney’s essay, “What Is a Call to the Ministry?,” will show you what is involved in a call to the pastorate. B. B. Warfield’s address, “The Religious Life of Theological Students,” offers time-tested, wise counsel to an often-neglected part of the seminarian’s experience—his devotional life.
Read classic books on the Christian life. J. C. Ryle’s Holiness will paint for you a compelling portrait of the Christian life and introduce you to the Puritans, writers you really need to get to know. After you read Ryle, turn to John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Bunyan was a master at capturing truths about the Christian life vividly and simply. After Bunyan, read other classics by such Puritan writers as Jeremiah Burroughs, Thomas Watson, John Owen, and Jonathan Edwards.
There are a lot of good books and a lot of important areas that I have not mentioned. But the books I have suggested will give you a handle on the content and message of the Bible, and provide some help in preparing yourself for the ministry. May the Lord bless you as you begin your studies at seminary!