As you begin to take a deeper personal look at the Bible, I’d like you to consider a perspective of mine that has been hammered out in the school of hard knocks. You may find it displeasing (especially if you’ve been to Seminary), or think that I am filled with pride. As a former pastor of mine once told me, “There are a lot of Bible teachers who know a whole lot more about the Bible than both of us put together.” He was trying to tell me that he was right and I was wrong. It’s possible, and that’s why I keep harping on your need to be like the Bereans of old, and see if what I say agrees with God’s Word or not for yourself. Nevertheless, here’s my thinking on the dangers of the seminary (and undergraduate Bible school) system.
First of all, God intended average people to be able to read and understand the Bible. He especially intends those who have a personal relationship with Him to be able to do this on their own. That is one of the several reasons He has placed His Holy Spirit in us. “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them… but he who is spiritual [understands] all things… we have the mind of Christ.” (I Corinthians 2:14-16)
If that is the case, why do we need “learned men” to tell us what the Scriptures say? The Catholic Church long ago interposed a human priesthood between God and the average man, and convinced its followers that they were unable to understand the Bible for themselves. This thinking persists among many believers today. Many churches that purport to teach and preach the Bible instead preach and teach what other men say the Bible says. Modern evangelicalism is rife with Bible Study Guides that impress upon us what the Bible says according to this human interpreter or that.
That is not to say that we should do away with pastors and teachers! God has given specific spiritual gifts to certain individuals in every local church for the very purose of preaching and teaching what His Word says. So what does that have to do with seminary training? It’s my long-term experience that many if not most seminaries train men to trust what others have said the Bible says, rather than train them to expound directly from the pages of Scripture what it plainly says. The result is a fierce loyalty to the views of favorite professors, founding fathers, and even great theologians, when their first loyalty should be directly to the Bible.
Let me put it more simply. All believers, pastors, teachers and laymen alike, should study (not just read) the Bible first, using good methods and tools and with much prayer, and only then see what other authors have to say about it. We should know the Bible far better than what Luther, Calvin, Zwinglei, Swindol, Sheaffer, MacArthur or any other famous theologian has to say about it. Then we are in a position to evaluate them in the light of Scripture (as did the Bereans with Paul), and not the other way around.
We need seminaries who teach this perspective above all others, and who teach their students that the average believer needs to be empowered to think this way too. That is the approach I will take here. We will always do our homework in the Bible first, to observe what is plainly written on the page.
We need to be unimpressed by the fame or reputation of most big-name theologians. They are human just like the rest of us, and are consequently fallable. Since I lack their credentials, I consider myself to be especially susceptible to human error. That is why I will stick to what is written on the pages of the Bible, and why you need to be like the Bereans of old! Just remember — Luke said they checked Paul out against the scripture, not against their denomination, their favorite commentary, their favorite pastor, or their favorite TV preacher. You do the same!