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Sex, Drugs, and Seminary: Faithful obedience and ministry formation

Timothy Dalrymple just posted a very interesting piece on his experience at Princeton Seminary: The Young Christian’s Guide to Sex at Seminary. It’s a fascinating reflection on the challenges of being an evangelical at a mainline school, and the “outsider” status he felt like he had there. As he describes it,

My Outsider status became clear to me — if not for the first time, at least in a new way — when I sat with friends on the seminary field, stretching before a game of ultimate frisbee.  It was still my first semester, and I was getting to know the people and the place.  We were talking about the sins that were emphasized in the churches that brought us up.  I said that pre- or extra-marital sex was the grave sin against we, in my youth group and Sunday School classes, were most gravely and constantly warned.  And, I said, I appreciated that, as it had helped me maintain my commitment to abstain from sex until marriage.

I might as well have said that I believe in eating toddlers with chipotle sauce and a side order of puppies.  My friends’ and fellow seminarians’ expressions had gone, suddenly, from benign conversational interest to something that looked like rats and skunks had deposited themselves deep in their nostrils, where they were scratching and relieving themselves and spreading their odors.  This, I saw, was the last thing my friends wanted to talk about.  And such a “backwards” and “judgmental” attitude (as it would later be described to me) really had no place at an enlightened seminary.

And, he goes on to describe a seminary experience that apparently involved a fair amount of drugs, alcohol, and sex, and that seemed more focused on “the aesthetics, the atmospherics, the experience, the rites and rhythms of church life,” than living obedient lives in “grateful imitation” of the grace we’ve received in Jesus.

I’ll let you read the article for yourself. It’s a fascinating window into one person’s experience.

But, what I really wanted to key in on was an interesting warning that he offers to any seminary student. Dalrymple comments on the fact that seminary was a real low point in his spiritual life, and that he’d heard similar stories from others he went to school with.  And, he thinks that the main reason for this was a simple lack of obedience. They’d gotten so caught up in the isolated, academic life of the school, separated from the pressures of having to live out their faith in the midst of other people, that they’d lost sight of the need to live faithfully.

So, he concludes with this thought:

I believe, and believe very strongly, that one way seminaries can improve themselves is to remember the foundational importance of obedience, to remember that we are saved by grace but called to live lives of grateful imitation.  When we walk in the footsteps of Christ, we come to know him and commune with him — and to know and commune with the Father.  If we want seminarians to see their seminary years as times of extraordinary spiritual deepening and growth, then we need to encourage those seminarians to live lives of integrity and holiness and selfless obedience.  They fill fall short.  But to the extent they try, they will grow.

I found this fascinating, because I’ve never looked at the struggles of the seminarian from this perspective. I’ve often heard people say that seminary was a “dry time” for them, though my experience was quite different. And, I routinely talk to my students about the importance of staying spiritually healthy while dealing with the rigors of an academic program. And, most importantly, I emphasize the absolute necessity of being involved in ministry while in seminary. But, I really haven’t thought as much about what the lack of simple, faithful obedience as an expression of Gospel-driven thankfulness can do to a seminarian. As he points out, lack of obedience in seminary not only impacts your seminary years, but it has dreadful implications for future ministry: “And how are just-minted graduates going to begin their church ministries when they have just spent 3 years disobeying and straying from God?”

If you’ve been to a Bible college or a seminary, I’d be curious to know what you think about Dalrymple’s post. And, was your experience at all like his? Was it a spiritual low point for you? If so, why do you think that was?