By Jeff Lenhart,
After earning a degree in Biblical Studies at an evangelical Bible College, I wanted to continue my learning. I desired to attend a seminary and earn a degree to study even deeper. My undergraduate education made me aware of several areas of study that interested me greatly, were pertinent to my own faith, but in which I was largely ignorant. Circumstances (largely financial) prevented me from pursuing a formal graduate degree immediately after Bible College. With a thirst to learn and the inability to study formally, I arrived at the conclusion that it was unnecessary for me to study at a seminary; I could study on my own! It became cemented in my mind that a formal degree was only beneficial because of the piece of paper received at the end. I could teach myself simply by going through a series of great literature and be just as well off, if not better, than if I were to study formally. I came up with a plan:
- Beginning with Plato, I would move through the history of philosophy, reading the works of the greatest thinkers.
- I would compile a list of the greatest works of literature and read through them all.
- I would read the autobiographies of some of the people who have had the greatest impact on either the global community or their own society/culture.
This was my plan of attack, and I largely kept to it. I compiled quotes from various works, adding them to a spreadsheet and categorizing them. I wrote in my journal faithfully and even began a blog to share some of my insights. I thought I was doing pretty well.
Fast forward several years to 2012, I began pursuing a graduate degree at Southern Evangelical Seminary. The first semester shattered my lone wolf mentality to education. Reading is a fantastic exercise, but going through a book with a learned professor to guide me made the material far more enriching. In fact, some of my courses had me reading material that I had previously read during my solo adventure in learning. My professors brought to light errors in my understanding of this material and gave me a more complete understanding. In addition to the value of being guided by these sages, the assignments for my classes truly exercised me to learn the material and to engage with questions that I was simply unaware of.
Finally, and most importantly, I was exposed. Prior to enrolling at Southern Evangelical Seminary, I published my thoughts on a blog and spoke to my friends and family about what I had been reading/studying. I would present ideas that they were not qualified to critique, not because they were incapable of understanding the ideas but because they were unaware of foundational issues relative to the topic. In the seminary environment I found myself having to demonstrate my beliefs, do appropriate research, and answer objections. The interaction between fellow students as well as my professors sharpened my ability to think through issues, recognize weaknesses in argumentation, and prompted me to research areas which I was previously unaware. My professors and my fellow students loved me too much to allow me to hold on to poorly-thought-out ideas.
My exposure to formal training at Southern Evangelical Seminary has me convinced of the value of formal education. They say no man is an island, and that is true. To those who (like I did) want to become an island, you are in danger of having the garbage of the intellectual ocean floating to your shores. If you desire to study, don’t be a lone wolf. Make the move to begin studying formally; you won’t regret it. I highly encourage anyone thinking of formal education to consider the great programs at Southern Evangelical Seminary. If you want to grow, if you want to sharpen your mind, or if you want to deepen your understanding of the great Christian faith, the best way to accomplish these goals is through formal education.