Friday night Esther and I graduated from Covenant Theological Seminary here in St. Louis. Esther received a Master of Arts in Counseling, and I received a Master of Divinity. There were lots of emotions I felt during the course of the evening – joy, a sense of accomplishment, excitement about the changes in our life over the next few months, amazement at how quickly the past three years have gone, and a bit of loneliness and nostalgia as we prepare to end our time here in St. Louis and embrace what God has for us in the future.
Being involved in the community here at Covenant has been a great blessing. We have learned, loved, struggled, grown, persevered. I cannot think of a better way to have started off married life together, and the friendships we have made here are those that will last a lifetime.
Every seminary has its pros and cons, and no one place is right for everyone, but there is certainly nowhere else that I would have rather been for my M.Div. than Covenant. I learned not just to see new things, but new ways of seeing. As an expression of praise to God, I would like to list some of the things that impacted me the most during my time here. Its impossible to summarize everything, of course – or even be aware of everything – but here are a few things which stand out as particularly significant, and as somewhat distinctive of Covenant’s program:
1) Gospel-centered Sanctification
I think I understood before seminary on some level (a dimmer, more theoretical one) how the true engine of sanctification is grace —> love for God, rather than law —> fear of God (and how we all tend to gravitate towards one of these two). But at Covenant I got to soak in this emphasis for three years and see how it plays out in various areas of the Christian life and theology. This grace focus forms a large part of the corporate ethos at Covenant and trickles down throughout the curriculum, staff, and general atmosphere of the seminary. All you have to do to see how this makes a difference is walk around the campus and talk to people. It is a beautiful thing, and it has become a foundational pillar not only for my understanding of pastoral ministry, but for my own Christian walk.
2) The Bible’s Big Story
A running thread throughout the curriculum is the Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation paradigm for biblical hermeneutics, missiology, ecclesiology, and worldview formation. I think this is a helpful approach for putting the whole Bible together, and I think it helps our understanding of our role in the world as Christians by placing the church’s mission in a larger biblical-theological framework (built upon passages such as Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 12:1-3). These were not dots I had connected very clearly before seminary. I remember sitting in Ethics one day as we were thinking about various issues in light of this paradigm thinking, “this works – this actually works.”
3) Common Grace
I somehow missed out on the idea of common grace prior to seminary. This left me wondering why I loved and respected the art (music, movies, books, etc.), the wisdom, the leadership, and the personalities of non-Christians so much. My time at Covenant, and especially my time under Prof. Barrs, helped to recognize how generously God has given skills, wisdom, and gifts throughout the human race, and how there is both dignity and depravity in all people since all people are made in God’s image and live in God’s universe. Since all truth is God’s truth, and all beauty is God’s beauty, I don’t need to wonder at the good I see in the world – I can instead give God all the more glory for it.
I don’t believe this is an impediment to the urgency of evangelism, but rather a stimulus to it.
4) Church Personality Dynamics
My time studying under Dr. Douglass helped me understand how much conflict in the church is related to personality dynamics, and how important it is to factor this in when searching for, arriving at, and serving in a local church.
5) Preaching Basics
Covenant’s homiletics program is fairly rigorous, including four different courses. Sitting under Dr. Chapel your first semester and then practicing preaching sermons in 3 small practicum classes gives you, I think, a good foundation for the basics on preparing and delivering expository sermons. Of course, the only way to ultimately learn how to preach is to do it, and everyone needs to find their own unique preaching voice, but I think this program gives you a good launching pad to begin with.
Soli Deo Gloria!