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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Want You To Grow Spiritually 7: Take A Seminary or College Class

Take a college or seminary especially in church history and theology.

Numerous academic institutions are making their lectures available as free downloads. But I encourage you to go the whole distance and actually sign up for a class -- audit or credit, on-site or distance learning -- where you will interact with a professor and classmates. The interaction is equally important as the content.

I remember when I first started seminary, back before the days of everyone doing distance learning and e-schooling. There was a push to try these non-traditional methods and there was push back by seminary prof's. I remember one professor saying, "Well, I can put the whole curriculm -- readings and lectures -- on a DVD. But the community formation part won't fit." He was right. Seminary was/is much more than just information dissemination. It was formation -- spiritual formation -- as well. You don't get that on DVD.

I especially encourage you to take a church history course. I remember taking church history in seminary and thinking, "When am I ever going to use this stuff?" Little did I know I would use it constantly. A church history course can give you a sense of awe of what God has done through his church through history. It also answers questions like "Why do we have all these different churches and where did they come from?" and "Why do churches practice baptism, communion, etc. differently?" and "How did we get the Bible?"

Perhaps your spiritual life needs an academic boost and deeper challenge to think through theological issues like soteriology -- the doctrine of salvation, eschatology -- of last things/end times, ecclesiology -- of the church, Christology -- of Christ, pneumatology -- of the Holy Spirit, etc. Who was John Calvin and Jacobus Arminius and what do Calvinists and Arminians really believe? What is Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism and why should I even care?

My theology and history really helped me personally heal from some of the anger I had toward the Roman Catholic Church, the church of my youth. As I encountered the Gospel as a teenager I felt betrayed and angry by the Church that they never told me about the grace of God, His love for me and how I could know him. After that, I just rejected everything Roman Catholic. My evangelical protestant seminary helped me understand and appreciate my Roman Catholic heritage and come to terms with my anger towards them. Seminary was vital in my spiritual growth in many ways.

Perhaps you could benefit from a class that might approach issues of church history, faith and belief differently than your local church or Sunday School class. In depth academic classes can have a great impact on your faith.

If you do want to start with just listening to some lectures: Fuller Seminary, Gordon College, Seattle Pacific University, Duke University and others all have portals in iTunes U. Maybe you will hear the great Duke ethicist Stanley Hauerwas cuss during his lectures.

Ask your pastor where you could take a class. But also consider taking a class outside your theological tradition. I suspect both my Catholic and Evangelical friends would be greatly challenged in their faith if they took a Protestant Reformation History class from each other's perspective. As I read even today, those of us who are not Eastern Orthodox might find great insight into a theology class from that branch of the Christian faith.

This is part 7 in a 20 part series on spiritual growth. If you feel like you are not growing deeper in your faith or relationship to God, if you are not loving and serving others more, if you have a sense of 'stuckness' in your spiritual journey, and you really want to grow ——— the answer might not be to try harder. All too often I have heard the same solutions offered over and over — 'All you have to do is have daily devotions, pray more, read more of the Bible, be in worship every week and get more involved in the church.' In other words try harder.

Sometimes that doesn't work and I'm going to offer some suggestions that might help you move forward.

Previous Installments:
I Want You To Grow Spiritually 1: Give Up Daily Devotions
I Want You To Grow Spiritually 2: See A Counselor
I Want You To Grow Spiritually 3: Spiritual Direction
I Want You To Grow Spiritually 4: Get A New Church
I Want You To Grow Spiritually 5: Go On Retreat
I Want You To Grow Spiritually 6: Fight A Spiritual Battle & Win

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