A Brief Guide to Surviving Seminary

Back in 2011, the fine folks at Fuller Seminary invited me to teach a class called ST511 Orientation to Theological Studies. The course was a requirement for students who were accepted to Fuller on a probationary status. Maybe they had low grades, or didn’t finish their undergraduate degree, or some other reason. The main goal was to teach writing and research skills. I adapted it to be more of an introduction to the main topics in seminary with the writing and research skills developed through exercises along the way.

We spent a couple weeks focused on Biblical Studies, a couple weeks focused on theology, a couple weeks focused on church history, and a couple weeks focused on ministry. Each week I also wrote a short reflection on an issue or theme related to the exercises, the topics, or general seminary issues (like navigating seminary faith challenges or how to read a book).
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Even though Fuller doesn’t let me teach this class anymore (it’s for PhD candidates not PhD graduates), they have graciously invited me to teach other classes, more advanced. Yet, I continue to have students in these classes who would benefit from taking ST511. Fuller does not require a background in Biblical/Theological studies and allows students to take their theology/church history courses in any order and allows students to begin their studies in any quarter.

Because ST511 is not required for most entering students, I regularly have students who have little experience with the topics and even little experience with writing essays. They’re not dumb, they just come into their courses with passion but not training in how to do well in the tasks. Students often need support with more than the technical aspects of seminary.

Even those who are good writers, whether from previous education or by being at Fuller for a while, encounter troubles in their studies: too much to read, too much to write, too little time to rest, material at odds with their assumptions about the Bible, theology, society. Navigating the emotional travails can be as taxing as navigating the course work.

So, I’ve continued to post my some of those ST511 musings in my theology and church history courses. Not as required reading but as optional support material for students in need. Over the last few years I’ve been asked about material to help students navigate research, writing, spirituality and I’ve sent my musings onward in those directions. But, it’s been somewhat scattered and disorganized. I figured it was worth putting into better shape. So I put these musings together in a book.

Here’s the table of contents:

Introduction 2
Writing in Seminary 3
Practicing Writing 7
Citing Sources 9
Spiritual Life while in Seminary 11
Writing as an Art and a Craft 1551j2JmyvGHL._SY346_
A Brief History of Fuller Seminary 18
Motivation and Writing 23
Sources for Research 28
Faith Crises in Seminary 30
How to Read in Seminary 33
Choosing and Prioritizing Sources 38
Writing an introduction paragraph 41
Thoughts on studying theology 46
Footnotes 51
Writing a conclusion 55
Time, Life, and the Temptations 60
Writing a research paper 67
Why we study theology 70
Theology and Ministry 82

So, a short book on big themes. It’s an introduction, an introduction to seminary. I call it A Brief Guide to Surviving Seminary. Available at Amazon as a Kindle e-book and now as a print book. Different covers, same content.

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