Based on a number of factors, we have decided to live in an apartment for our first few months in Waco, hopefully becoming homeowners just before Jeremiah starts class at Baylor in August This means temporarily downsizing from 1500 sq. ft. and a garage to about 900 sq. ft. and a POD. True packing has only barely begun, but as a preliminary step today, I decided to try to pick out which books I want to keep with me over the summer. It’s a nearly impossible task. How on earth do we take over ten IKEA Billies’ worth of books and select only two Billies’ worth? Plus, some of that space will be taken up by our German board games and Ambrose’s books! I tried to do my part tonight by paring down my to-read-soon selections to fit on only two of the twelve 30″ shelves we’ll have. And looking at all of those books I’m hoping to read this summer got me thinking again about something I’ve considered a lot over the three years since I’ve graduated with my MA in Theology from Fuller: Sometimes I really wish I could do seminary over.
I started thinking this because of the books on my shelf. A lot of my to-read books have been chosen to either build on what I learned in seminary or fill in some of the gaps left by the things I think I should have learned by didn’t. Among the things that I wish I had gotten to spend more time on are world religions, philosophy (Nancey Murphy!), the Hebrew Bible (Pentateuch, Prophets, and Hebrew Exegesis Psalms didn’t even give me any survey of the rest of the Writings, much less additional in-depth work!), and church history. Among the things I wish I had learned anything about at all are Greek exegesis (not enough space in my degree, although I did take Greek and Hebrew themselves), modern Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy of any era, non-Western Christianity, preaching, and liturgical studies.
It may be surprising where some of those gaps lie, depending on your own seminary experience or your impressions of what seminary entails. I think I sometimes wish that my time in seminary were altogether different. Not only in terms of the specific topics I got to cover in class but in terms of my degree structure or denominational affiliation (or, in Fuller’s case, lake thereof), or who my professors and classmates were or (goodness, please!) trading the quarter system for semesters. Before picking Fuller, I also considered applying to Duke, North Park, and Palmer. I picked Fuller because of its size, its multiethnicity, its larger number of female professors, and its location in a place that was totally new to me. I thought it would be a place with lots of exciting opportunities, and it was. While I was at Fuller, I griped a lot about the degree plan for the MA in Theology, inefficiencies on the business side of Fuller, etc. After experiencing Duke Divinity through Jeremiah, I now know that many of Fuller’s flaws are far from unique, and since my time at Fuller was overwhelmingly positive, I look back with an intense nostalgia. Fuller is now a magical place where people think of themselves as evangelical and yet I still fit in. (Those are few and far between at this point!)
Between all these warm fuzzies and the obvious fact that I met my husband there, I would never, ever want to go back and change where I actually went to seminary. And yet sometimes I wish I could do a seminary re-do of sorts, gaining everything I feel I missed without giving up any of the good things I’ve already enjoyed. Here’s some of the things I think I might change the second time around:
1) I would go to a mainline seminary. I’ve had my time in a postconservative institution. The second time around, I’d love to get to know the postliberal side of things a bit better.
2) I would go to a denominationally affiliated school. Fuller benefits in many ways from being interdenominational, but I don’t think it encouraged me to nail down my own denominational identity. I don’t need to be whatever the school is, but I think there being one primary denominational affiliation can encourage others to become more active in the smaller denominational groups on campus.
3) I would do an MDiv. Because, well, first of all, my MA in Theology is not the most helpful degree when it comes to getting jobs. And secondly, because an MDiv at most schools would require a lot of those classes I wish I had had, like Greek exegesis, preaching, and liturgical studies. I also think doing an MDiv would have forced me to answer certain questions about vocational ministry that I didn’t have to answer with an MA and which now are more complicated to work through.
4) I would speak up more in class. I felt rather self-conscious in seminary and became much less active in class than I had been in high school or college. I’m not sure if it was the very different gender ratios, the unfamiliar subject matter, or various other transitions I was going through at the time—whatever the cause, I was a very good student but simply tried to stay out of certain conversations. It didn’t help that there were a ton of hipster theologian wannabes at Fuller who seemed to think it was a great idea show off during class. (Most of them made fools of themselves anyway, so I was glad not to join them.) At risk of sounding too critical of everyone else, as much as I hated them at the time, I wish I had tried to be even a little bit more like them. I think if I had put myself out there, I could have been a student who TAed for professors (like my friend Christy) or who went on to take more advanced classes or who at least would be remembered as more than a number after graduation. And, most importantly, I would have learned more and probably made some meaningful connections with other people interested in fascinating subjects.
5) I would specialize rather than being a generalist. This is challenge with an MDiv, and even more so with an MA in Theology. However, the new structure of the program since I graduated does greatly improve one’s options, even when doing an MA at Fuller. I would probably take more courses on modern and American church history, which is one of the only areas (besides ministry and New Testament) that I had done a fair amount of reading in before seminary. It connects well with my interest in sociology of religion, and it is very helpful and informative in thinking about the roots of and future possibilities for today’s church.
There is, however, one thing that I definitely would not change: I would absolutely still do my MA in Family Studies degree, as well. While it also isn’t the most helpful degree for finding a job, I loved my short time in Fuller’s School of Psychology, and I think it helped inform and round out my theology degree in important ways.