What I Expect From a Seminary Education*
by Israel J. Contreras
In the summer of 1994 I had returned from an attempt at moving out west. This attempt had lasted all of two weeks. This attempt at relocation, and in fact my whole life up until this point, was my effort to find that something more, that rest that Augustine says evades us until we find our rest in Christ. I had been a christian for a couple of years and had seen my sanctification progress over this time period. However it had been a slow progress. Over the course of these two years I also had my fair share of encounters with various religious organizations that weren't able to answer the questions that plagued my thoughts. In fact, many of their answers seemed to confuse me even more.
As I look back on this time period I see this period to be a very critical juncture in my sanctification. It was at this point in my life that I picked up a book entitled The Holiness of God by Dr. R.C. Sproul. As I read through this book I began to understand for the first time what it meant for God to be holy and for me to be sinful. This concept of God's holiness remains with me even now. It was a critical and a very important starting point This was very different from the I could be good if I tried hard enough message that I had been getting my whole life.
The next several months were spent reading and studying as many books by Dr. Sproul that I could. I found myself getting into discussions with various people at the restaurant that I worked. Moreover, I found myself able to answer many of the objections that I had not previously been able to answer. It was during this period that I first felt that God might be calling me to the minstry. I began to wonder what would be the best route to take to reach my new found goal. After my experinece with all of the various ideas of which seminary would be best I had come to one conclusion: I didn't know what to do. This period in my life reached its climax when I learned that Ligonier Ministries was coming to Texas.
At this point I had no expectations of seminary because I wasn't sure that God was calling me to be a minister of the Gospel. However, I did know a few things. I knew that I had this newly found interest in defending the gospel. Furthermore, I had a deep interest in trying to figure out how to distinguish true biblical answers from traditional responses to the questions that came from a lost world. I began to pray that I might find some answers to where God might be leading me and I believed that the Ligonier conference was where I would find my answers.
I arrived at the conference that morning with the anticipation of a child on Christmas morning. I arrived early to insure a good seat. I eventually met many of the speakers including Dr. Sproul. However, Dr. Sproul was the only one I asked about his opinion concerning the seminaries in my area. He didn't know, although he did direct me to a man who would know. Ironically, I never introduced myself to the man Dr. Sproul had referred me. Instead, I decided to enjoy the conference. I attended all of the extra study seminars I was able. During one of these seminars I listened to the various conversations that were taking place concerning the Protestant Catholic Accord. One man in particular caught my attention. However for whatever reason I didn't introduce myself at this point. The next morning providence presented an oppurtunity to introduce myself to this man. This man's name was Martin Murphy. I asked him if I could sit with him during the lectures and he said that would be fine. During these lectures he began to see the enthusiasm that I had for the topics that were discussed. Consequently we spoke during a break and I explained that I had been in the same extra study seminar that he had been in the day before. It was at this point that I explained my interst in the ministry and asked him about seminary. I explained to him that I still lacked my bachelors degree and that I was very interested to know his opinions about the best way to prepare for seminary. He said that he wasn't sure which school would be best but he gave me his card and asked me to call him in a couple of weeks. Well the conference came to an end but I didn't forget what Mr. Murphy had told me. Thus, April of 1995 came to an end. However, I had some hope.
It was at this point I began to draw some expectations concerning seminary. First and most important, I wanted to go to a seminary that was as close to the biblical model as possible in doctrine and in methodology. Second, I wanted to go to a seminary that would not only teach the original languages and other necessities but would equip me to answer many of the questions and objections that the world would be more than happy to send my way. Finally, I wanted to go to a seminary that would equip me to defend Christianity against a world that would be happy to "choke God if they could get to him." This was the foundation. Although at this point I wasn't completely aware of everything I wanted these were the foundational things that I believed were necessary.
I went home and explained to all of my close friends what had happened at the conference. It seemed that the two weeks had passed by slower than any two weeks in my life. Yet I manged to make it through this terriblly slow passage of time. I called Martin and he made his offer. He offered me the oppurtunity to study with him in conjunction with Greenville Theological Seminary. In addition, I could study at the University of West Alabama to finish my bachelors degree. As a result, I drove to Alabama to insure that everything this man was saying was legitimate.
During my trip to York, Alabama I remember praying that God would guide me and that his will would be done in the matter. When I arrived, I was greeted by Martin and his family. The Murphys were very hopitable and made me feel at home. Later in my visit Martin explained his offer in more detail. Moreover he explained his hope for reformation in the church to me. These were all very influential in my decision to come here. But most important was the closeness this particular method seemed to have with scripture and that I would be equipped with the necessary knowledge to answer the world's objections. Nevertheless, I felt that it would not have been very prudent to make my decision until I returned home and had more time to pray and think about my decision.
I returned home and passed on, once again, all that had transpired in this exciting time of my life. I discussed these plans with my parents and certain friends in whom I trusted and valued their opinion. Most important, I prayed and I searched scripture to ensure that God's will would be done. As a result, I decided to make the move to Alabama. However, I took time to save money and get my affairs in order. After six months or so I made it to Alabama.
What do I expect from seminary? I believe I expect what I always have. I might not have always understood my expectations as clearly as I do now. However, I do not believe that my expectations have changed.
Since writing this article for "Informed and Reformed", this seminary that I attend has been given a name. In affiliation with Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, York Presbyterian Church's academy for training men for the ministry is now known as The Academy for Reformed Theological Studies. This Academy follows the tradition of the old log colleges used by the Puritans.
For more information about The Academy for Reformed Theological Studies