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For so long I thought I was the only one in seminary thinking this way, constantly wondering what the point of it all was. I have wondered when and why seminary became the only way one could make a career out of ministry in an established denomination. I have wondered what all these guys and gals (myself included) are really learning if all we do is read about what other people learned by actually living. I have found that theological books in isolation from experience do little or nothing (or worse yet, do damage) for our pursuit of real wisdom and true service to Christ. Hence the distinction between knowledge and wisdom. The brightest people in the world may prove to be dull in wisdom. Likewise, the most promising “theologians” may not have a clue as to how to speak into the lives of normal people unless they’ve learned how their knowledge plays out in real life.

The idea that I was the only one feeling this way was quite disconcerting and I was beginning to wonder what my place would be in the whole equation. Could I really be an integral part of ministry and the academic community if I saw that environment’s limitations as irreparably debilitating (or at least heading in that direction)? Then I found out I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Apart from other students who have expressed concern for the American approach to education in general, I also found allegiance with a more notable fellow, one who (and this shouldn’t surprise us in the least) was an integral part of a theological revolution. He said,

“It is through living, indeed through dying and being damned that one becomes a theologian, not through understanding, reading, or speculation.”

That man was Martin Luther. His words were, as was just about everything at that point in time, reactionary to what heluther.jpg saw to be a mistaken projection of scholasticism in theological education. And while I’d personally love to use that quote to try to get out of my assigned reading, I believe there is something much more important on the fundamental level that Luther is getting at. I can conceive of a very well-read individual who has absolutely no life experience, no practical outcroppings of his knowledge. In my mind, this man has little or nothing to contribute and I would be very wary to accept anything he had to say. On the flip side, I can conceive of an individual well-versed in the ways of the world yet with no desire to search God’s Word or be challenged in his mind. This man, likewise, has little to offer since his wisdom is not grounded. God’s Word, however, calls us to do both. Nowhere in it does it say, “Be ye therefore satisfied with knowing as much as possible and keeping it to yourself.” Nor does it say, “Blessed art thou who doesn’t waste his time studying or increasing in knowledge but interacts with people a lot.” That’s because everywhere you see a call to increased knowledge, you see a complementary call to work it out practically. Each is dead without the other. Somewhat ironically, even Luther’s quote is based on events that could not have happened had Luther not been VERY well-read. The Reformation may have been spawned by an academic reaction to scholasticism, but what fueled the fire was Luther’s (and others) refusal to allow faith to be relegated to an academic exercise. It was life and death for these men. What have we let our faith become?

What I think Luther meant was that all his education, all his reading and knowledge meant relatively little until it was placed in the realm of life and death. Only then can you really know what it means, for example, when Paul says, “For to lavendar_lotus.jpgme to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Only then can you really know what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. Only then does Christ’s commands to feed the hungry and minister to the widows and orphans become lenses through which the whole Gospel is viewed. Only through being persecuted can we really understand “Blessed are you when people persecute you because of me.” How can we know what that means just by reading it or by reading what others say about it? The heart of the Gospel is rooted in knowledge, but it blooms through experience, and each is useless without the other.