Most people think of a seminary only as a place where a person prepares to become a minister. Unfortunately, this misconception is probably keeping many people from considering Southern Evangelical Seminary as an option for graduate or undergraduate education. The scope of one’s possibilities by earning a degree from SES is much broader than the pastorate alone. Since graduating from SES in 2015, I worked for a U.S. Senator in Washington D.C., I successfully managed and won a political campaign, and I am currently enrolled fulltime at the University of South Carolina School of Law. Since I owe much of my success to the training I received at SES, I hope that I can open the eyes of some of you who are looking to be equipped in your next season and are considering SES to be that place to prepare you to do God’s work, wherever it may be.
My experience at SES changed my life. I was already a pastor at a very large church. My initial purpose for going to SES was to learn more about the Bible and its teachings. What I discovered at SES was that I already knew a lot about the Bible. What I did not know much about was how to think.
Let me explain. Most people take it for granted that by the time we leave for college we have acquired the necessary skills to adequately engage in heuristic conversation. This is just plain wrong. Most people do not know how to create or maintain meaningful dialogue at all. In fact, due to the worldwide, 24-hour access to social media, news pundits, and political talking heads, the problem with younger generations not knowing how to engage in respectful discourse is far worse today than it has ever been. It is my conviction that this unraveling fabric of culture is a result of our inability to think critically. Unfortunately, most people never realize (or are willing to admit) that they are a part of the problem too.
When I first began taking classes at SES, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I was one of these mistaken people. I thought I knew how to think critically and dialogue persuasively. I was wrong. I suppose this can be attributed to human nature a little bit. We tend to avoid conversations with others who do not see the world as we do. We opt to surround ourselves with other likeminded individuals who champion our sentiments. Then, heralding the opinions that so loudly resonate within our securely guarded echo chambers, we discredit, discount, and dispose of anyone who thinks even a little differently than we do.
Some of you may be thinking, “So. What’s wrong with that . . . especially if what I am thinking is right?” Being right is good, and sticking to your values, refusing to abdicate truth, is even better. The hard part comes when you begin to work and live in areas where you are forced to be surrounded by people that think very differently than you. Then what? It is often the case that we have spent so much time building emotional walls reinforcing and protecting our familiar enclaves that we have no idea how to navigate a space where disapproval and contestation are around every cubicle, class room, or coffee house.
This is how Southern Evangelical Seminary changed my life. I remember taking my first class with Dr. Potter, learning about Prolegomena. I still get goose bumps remembering how I began to really see my philosophical ideologies for the first time. I started to notice how I filtered everything I believed through my philosophical predispositions.
SES taught me how step back and deconstruct the foundations of my thoughts. This made me realize that some of my thoughts had poor foundations and that while I may have arrived at the correct answers to some of life’s most critical questions, the correct answers were merely lucky guesses. I had not arrived at them in a meaningful way—a way that could withstand the sharp scrutiny of hotly contested opposition.
Of course, this was just the beginning. SES’s resources, faculty, and expertise are far reaching. I took classes on biblical languages, ethics, writing, philosophy, and even other religions, and these courses provided me with the knowledge and skills I soon found indispensable. As you can imagine, there are many different types of people in politics and in law school. The wide range of belief systems is quite vast. Difficult topics of conversation come up almost every day about race, abortion, and marriage as well as a long list of other Constitutional issues. If I had not gone to SES, I wouldn’t have been ready to discuss these topics convincingly. During our campaign, I would not have been able to advise my candidate adequately in preparation for her debates. In law school, I likely wouldn’t be able to stand up for my values in discussions over emotionally sensitive topics with competence, poise, and persuasiveness.
My faith is the anchor of who I am, and SES undoubtedly strengthened my faith through its biblical studies curriculum. However, while you may be able to learn about the Bible at other institutions, I would argue that you cannot find another institution better suited than SES where you will be instructed on how to properly exercise those convictions in the most compelling and life changing way. Each course I experienced at Southern Evangelical Seminary is a tool that I have used in my career since graduation to do God’s work with excellence. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians chapter 3 that our work will be tested by fire one day. If you are like me and have a heart set on building something that survives, I pray that you would consider SES. There is no doubt that the work God will build through you will stand on that day, having withstood the opposition of the world.
Gil Gatch is a native of Summerville, SC. After having been a worship pastor of a large church in Charlotte, Gil chose to further his education at Southern Evangelical Seminary. After graduating with a B.A. in Religious Studies in 2015, Gil worked for U.S. Senator Tim Scott in Washington D.C. as well as S.C. Representative Katie Arrington, leading a winning campaign in both primary and general elections. Gil is now enrolled full time at the University of South Carolina School of Law.
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