There have been many things I’ve found to be valuable in theological education. I graduated from college in 2016, thinking I’d put all the classroom time and papers behind me. But as some years passed, my love for Christ and theology grew steadily stronger. I desired to teach God’s Word to anyone who would listen, and I even had a growing desire to preach.
There were many respected voices I listened to that emphasized sound biblical and theological training. But, I began to wonder, should I also pursue formal theological training if I’m to pursue vocational ministry? I approached my pastor with these questions in mind, and he connected me with Pastor Nick Abraham, a professor at Emmaus Theological Seminary. A few days later, at 6:00 AM, with a freshly brewed cup of pour-over coffee, I poured out my questions to Pastor Nick as he patiently listened.
Tools in my toolbelt
What he said to me that morning I will never forget. “I’ll ask a carpenter or a builder in my congregation if they want the best tools they can get their hands on for their work. Of course, they respond with ‘yes,’ and I reply, that’s all theological education is, just getting equipped with the best tools available.” These words helped clarify what theological education is: equipping your toolbelt with the tools you need and the knowledge of how to use them. Every other job requires training; why not get training in one of the most important things you can do, handling God’s Word?
It’s not that theological education unlocks secret information hidden within a tall ivory tower vault; it’s simply learning how to understand God’s Word rightly on a more concentrated level, something that is desperately needed today. As someone aspiring toward vocational ministry, taking classes through Emmaus has been tremendously helpful in providing the right grid to view and interpret the Scriptures and teach others how to use these tools.
Firming up doctrine
Theological education can also be incredibly valuable for refining theological convictions. As someone not raised within the reformed faith but later convinced that this is the most accurate understanding of what the Bible teaches, I wanted further training to help clarify my convictions. I also wanted to be exposed to other viewpoints, so I didn’t form my beliefs in an echo chamber. I wanted to be challenged in what I thought I knew.
I found great value in firming up where I stand doctrinally. As one of the taglines of Ligonier Ministries says, “Know what you believe, why you believe it, how to live it, and how to share it.” Is there a more succinct argument for theological training and education?
Humility in education
In 1 Cor. 8, Paul warns against a knowledge that can puff up. Certainly, theological education, or education of any kind, can lead to a prideful attitude when we use that knowledge to elevate or serve ourselves. But theological education also provides a unique opportunity for humility. How so? There is much value in being instructed, particularly in a formal setting, because this is an excellent reminder that there is a lot you don’t know and probably much more you don’t know you don’t know.
Given the opportunity, I love to teach God’s Word; however, being a student at Emmaus provides a valuable reminder that I, too, have much to learn, which helps steer me away from thinking I am above correction. As I mentioned above, I didn’t want to form convictions in an echo chamber. If I interact with positions I disagree with, I want to interact with the best opposing arguments and learn how to discuss them charitably.
As one of the values on Emmaus’s website says, “We believe that while information can be accessed anywhere, formation is intended to be an embodied experience, gathered together at the table. We value the importance of theological education set in a community of students and scholars working towards spiritual development and academic competence.” Humility is not learned on an isolated education journey. It’s learned in community with other believers, something I find tremendously valuable.
Friendship and connections
Theological education has provided an opportunity to interact with others I might not have had the chance to meet before. Particularly at Emmaus, connecting with many in all sorts of different walks of life has been incredibly valuable. Since I live in a more rural setting, it has been interesting to hear what others have to say who live in a more urban context. Not that different backgrounds change the truth of Scripture, but certainly, there can be various applications in different contexts. Establishing more friendships and connections at Emmaus has given me more opportunities to ask, “Hey, what do you think about this?”
The proper motivation
As a husband, a full-time employee, and a pastoral intern at my church on a preaching rotation, my schedule quickly fills with many things. As I add theological education at Emmaus to my already busy schedule, I remind myself that I am not merely on track to receive a piece of paper that shows my completion of a degree but rather invaluable experience and education that I can use to serve the Lord and his church in the context of a local church body. As I’m working on my master’s (MATS), the value of the tools I’m learning to put on my toolbelt is not found in patting myself on the back for having the tools but in using them daily to point others to Christ in a precise and loving way.
Taylor Eaton (@TaylorAlanEaton) serves as a pastoral intern at Mercy Hill Church in Berlin Ohio. He has completed a B.A. in Business Marketing from Taylor University and is currently enrolled at ETS working toward his MATS. He is married to Lindsey Eaton.
Photo by Todd Quackenbush