Aseminary education can be of great value, but sometimes it comes up short. In my experience, a few important elements were missing.
First, they did not teach me how to lead a soul to Jesus Christ. I would have thought this to be most important. We are told to make disciples of all nations. But we need to be trained in this—at least I know I needed this. I will be forever grateful to the late Dr. D. James Kennedy for his Evangelism Explosion scheme. I happened to have the unique advantage of having him teach me personally, but the truth is, anybody can learn how to lead a soul to Christ. I have used his ideas for 40 years and, as a result, have possibly led at least a thousand people to Jesus on a one-to-one basis.
Soon after I began my ministry at Westminster Chapel, I asked: "How many of you have never led a soul to Jesus Christ?" That question shook a good number of people, but it led to our Pilot Light ministry that resulted in hundreds and hundreds of people praying to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior. (Please see my book In Pursuit of His Glory to see what happened in our congregation as a result.) I don't mean to be unfair, but have you ever personally led a soul to Christ?
Second, they did not tell me I could learn sound theology directly from God and the Bible. I learned Greek, Hebrew, church history, ethics, philosophy, psychology, a lot about the Old Testament, a lot about the New Testament—and much historical and contemporary theology. To put it another way, I learned a lot about God. And about the Bible. They did not, however, teach me how to know Him.
Jesus said, "If any one chooses to do the will of God" he will come to know the truth about Him (John 7:17, NIV). In other words, it has to do with your own personal obedience to God. This is how the Holy Spirit gets in! This is a missing note today.
Good theology is shaped on our knees. The problem with many seminaries is that they teach people to be experts in what we don't believe, and some students never find out what they are supposed to believe. The ultimate consequence is the absence of the fear of God, authority in the pulpit and assurance of belief in the pew. This is why so many are tossed back and forth by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14) and are swept off their feet by television preachers who never preach the gospel.
Third, they did not urge me to have a strong prayer life and read my Bible every day. Thankfully, in my case, I was brought up by godly parents who made sure we read the Bible and prayed together every day. My earliest memory of my parents was seeing them on their knees in their own private quiet time. I had no idea at the time that this was unusual.
A few months before I retired from Westminster and left for America, I was invited to speak for 10 minutes to London ministers on the subject of prayer. I pleaded with each of them to spend no less than one hour a day alone with God. Martin Luther prayed two hours a day. John Wesley prayed two hours a day. Both my mother and father prayed 30 minutes a day (My father was not a preacher but a Nazarene layman). How much do you pray? How well do you know your Bible? The average church leader in the U.S. and Britain spends four minutes a day in prayer. And you wonder why the church is powerless?
Fourth, they did not teach me to forgive people. This was arguably the most fundamental lesson of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). But it apparently did not cross anyone's mind to say, "Students, you must forgive those who have hurt or abused you. You must pray for them—that God will bless them." If only. Do forgive me, but I have reason to suspect that forgiving others is not taught because the teachers themselves have not been taught to do this.
Here's the point. In order for Word and Spirit to come together, we must know the Bible but also discover what brings the conscious presence of the Holy Spirit into our lives. Total forgiveness is what will bring the anointing. It is what leads to fresh insight. It is what alone persuades you that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. Expert training will not do this unless it is carried out by the power of the Spirit based upon Holy Scripture.
By the way, I do not speak for my seminary today. I refer to the way it was in the early 1970s. I should add that I learned a lot—and am very grateful indeed for that. But they should have taught me more. A lot more.
R.T. Kendall is an author, teacher and preacher. He now has a number of books in print, including the latest, Whatever Happened to the Gospel? (Charisma House). He was the senior minister at London's Westminster Chapel from 1977 to 2002. He has earned multiple degrees, including a Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University and a Doctor of Divinity from Trevecca Nazarene University.
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