Once in a while you run into a sentence that hits you like a ton of bricks.  You can read thousands of sentences in order to get to it.

Only rarely do you see it coming. Once in a while you are in a chapter that is so rich and nourishing that the sentence is just the Pièce de résistance.

Over the past 21 years, I have 5 sentences that have hit me like this. I can tell you exactly where I was when I first read them and why they hit me so hard. I say 21 years ago because that is essentially when I started reading. I was captain of the football and basketball teams in High School and didn’t so much … how do they say? … read.

It was after High School when I was no longer at my parents house – and I couldn’t make sense of my faith – that I picked up a copy of Josh McDowell’s apologetic classic: Evidence that Demands a Verdict.  On that first page was sentence that stabbed my in the heart. That was the first of the 5 sentences.

Yesterday in the spirited exchange of comments on my blog post “You have to believe in Hell, Predestination, Election and the Book of Revelation”  Nate Gilmore (you can hear his Georgia via Iowa drawl on last week’s TNT) was responding to a little bit of a fun rabbit trail we had going about seminaries and said:

 At least in online encounters, I’ve seen far more appeals to authority, citing “Biblical scholarship” as if it were a monolith, from liberals than from right-wingers.  In my own experience, the conservatives are much more interested in seeing the argument worked out than in “experts say that…” claims.

This is one of my favorite topics of discussion!  I love this topic! Not because I agree with the binary between Conservative and Liberal (I don’t – I can’t after reading The Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen, which contains 1 of my 5 sentences) but because I have a story about it  – a story that holds the last of my 5 sentences.

The Story:

I was writing my Master’s Thesis on Contextual Theology and I was utilizing a lot of material from a specific author – a real authority on the subject.  In the midst of completing the Thesis I was accepted into the PhD program at a large Evangelical shool where he teaches and I was even appointed to study with him!  It was an amazing honor.

After the Thesis was over, I was reading as much of his work as I could and I ran into a sentence from which I never recovered. He was talking about the need for innovation in the way we do Seminary – something that I am very passionate about – and he made a quick point about the difference between Liberal and more Evangelical seminaries in Africa.

He said that in Africa, Evangelical seminaries are much bigger, grow faster and produce more pastors because they are very method focused. They teach future pastors what to do.
Liberal seminaries, however, while being much smaller, are where almost all the innovation happens. His observation was that the difference came down to permission. His caution was that innovation can not become syncretism. 

Its not that his point was especially earth-shattering or unique. There was just something in the way he said it … or perhaps it was the gravity he carried as my future PhD Advisor … but I put down the book, went for a walk, and decided that I needed to go a different direction. I turned down my appointment to the school and enrolled in a totally different program at a Liberal institution (Claremont School of Theology). 

It was odd that someone I respected said something I agreed with, and the end result is that I knew I had to go a different direction than them.

This is the reason that I went into Practical Theology. It bridges the gap between these Liberal and Conservative approaches. It also attempts to bridge that gap between the Church and the Academy. It also addresses the false gap between theological theory and practice.

I’m so happy with my decision. Every time seminary education comes up, that sentence rushes to the front of my mind. My father (who was recently on the podcast) now runs the D.Min at his Evangelical seminary – so the topic of seminary education comes up a lot.

I don’t normally subscribe to the Conservative/Liberal binary, but in this case I concede the framing of the discussion because the institutions themselves identify this way and teach this way in a sort of self-reinforcing manner. 

You may not like the split, but if those on the inside are telling you that there is a significant difference … you may just have to go with it for a while and see where the road takes you.

 I just wanted to share my little story and see if anyone had any thoughts on the subject.