How to Choose a Seminary
There are a number of issues to contemplate when considering your specific choice of a seminary. This pamphlet is not designed to lead you directly to RTS. There are many wonderful seminaries throughout the United States and beyond, and you could be overwhelmed as you search them out. But as you look and weigh the choices, there are factors you should ponder.
First, but not necessarily foremost, is accreditation. RTS is accredited by the Association of Theological Schools(and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools). The accreditation process, in essence, provides quality control for any institution that is a member of the association. Some seminaries are not accredited by ATS, which is not a purely evangelical association. I respect the decision of those seminaries, primarily because their rationale is usually that their work should be “approved by God,” not a man-made organization. However, ATS accreditation, although not flawless, does provide a checklist for some of the important academic standards we value at RTS. A good accreditation organization will ensure that a member school has high standards in some of the following areas:
- Quality of the faculty — i.e. the seminary’s faculty has the appropriate scholarly degrees for their field of instruction, ensuring quality academic standards and classroom instruction. For instance, if a seminary hires only its own graduates as classroom instructors (in an effort to maintain its specific tradition), students might receive a restricted or narrow perspective in their education. Accreditation prevents such a “pipeline” mentality in a given seminary, thus enhancing the breadth of the education experience.
- A quality library — accreditation associations demand that a library provides qualified library personnel, and both a high number and quality of research materials and books.
- High standards in student life and service, admissions, financial stability, etc.
- Many Ph.D. and Doctor of Ministry programs will not accept students who have attended non-accredited or improperly accredited seminaries. You don’t want to find that out on the back end of your degree. Sadly, I have met a number of students who were unable to enter desired programs because of study at a non-accredited or a poorly accredited institution.
Second, look very closely at the seminary’s biblical commitments. Directly ask the representatives, “What is your school’s view of Scripture?” Of course, almost every seminary will state that they have a high view of the Bible. But as the prospective student, you must probe more deeply into the initial answer. Ask questions like:
- “What does ‘a high view of Scripture’ mean to your faculty?”
- “What is your view of inerrancy, inspiration and infallibility?”
- “What are your views of higher criticism?”
- “What are your views of expository and/or Christ-centered preaching?”
You are attempting to discover the underlying presuppositions regarding Scripture that drive the curriculum and the classroom instruction. The seminary should have a clearly articulated statement of its view of the Bible, so carefully search the catalog and other materials, as well as ask the hard questions mentioned above, in order to discover where the seminary really stands.
Next, examine the seminary’s theological commitments. Find out where the school lands on the continuum between conservative (or even ultra-conservative) and liberal theology. The school’s position on Scripture often determines its place on the conservative-to-liberal continuum. The theological position most likely permeates the ethos of the school, its faculty and the classroom training you will receive. Also, if the school falls into a theological tradition, particularly one that will heavily impact the distinctive training of the institution, you will want to be aware of this influence. Various traditions might include Reformed, Arminian, dispensational, liberal, eschatological, etc.
Denominational seminaries almost always reflect the flavor of their particular tradition, so they could be permeated by their denominational perspective. If leaning toward entering a specific denomination, you would be wise to consider a seminary sponsored or supported by that denomination. You might find an advantage for future placement through the denominational label. An exception would be to choose an interdenominational or nondenominational seminary, or one that serves various denominational traditions. But be sure your denomination will accept graduates from the nondenominational seminary you choose to attend. Another question to ask yourself is, “Do I want to be identified with a particular denominational label for the rest of my ministerial career?” Some students desire a denominational affiliation, while others feel constrained or stereotyped by it. You’ll need to decide which is true for you.
“You want to come out of seminary appreciating the vast, diverse body of Christ, not as someone overly critical and suspicious of others who truly claim the name of Christ in an orthodox manner.”
Another consideration would be to understand how the school handles or addresses traditions other than its own. What breadth of exposure does the seminary provide to various church traditions and theologies? Does it treat traditions different from its own in a fair, gracious fashion? Does it highlight the positive contributions of traditions that are different from its own? Does the seminary enhance unity in the diverse body of Christ? You want to come out of seminary appreciating the
vast, diverse body of Christ, not as someone overly critical and suspicious of others who truly claim the name of Christ in an orthodox manner. We at RTS strive to emphasize this as we serve the greater kingdom of God.
As you begin your adventure of looking at and inquiring into various seminaries, you will quickly discover that each school has its own unique purpose and distinguishing personality. You will ask, “For what is this seminary known?” Some are known for training missionaries, others have a reputation for training strong preachers, while still others may focus on pastoral ministry or leadership, evangelism, counseling, academics, etc. If you have a strong proclivity toward one of these areas, that inclination will probably guide you toward a particular seminary that reflects that particular emphasis in its personality.
Other significant factors, as you follow God’s leading in your search for the right seminary, include: