By Kellye Fabian, Northern student in our MA in New Testament program
She is the Pastor of Protection, Conciliation, and Doctrinal Casework at Willow Creek Community Church
When I started my masters program at Northern Seminary, I didn’t know what to expect in terms of how the experience would impact the ministry I was doing. I didn’t have any specific plans about how I would use what I’d learned or how I might advance my work in light of a new degree. As someone who went to law school to become a lawyer, schooling and degrees in my mind led to particular careers or opportunities. And of course I’m not saying that isn’t the case with a seminary degree. Rather, for me personally, I wasn’t looking for a new career or opportunity and so I wondered what value it would hold.
Also, I felt too old. I would start at age 40. That means I wouldn’t have my degree until age 44! “Isn’t that too old?” I asked a friend and mentor. He responded with these simple and wise words, “Well, whether you go to seminary or not, you’ll be 44 in four years.” Indeed. I decided to go for it because it really seemed God was leading me in that direction and I am a lover of all things learning.
I could hardly imagine anything better than reading and talking about theology in an academic environment for four years.
I am now about a year away from graduating (and 43 years old). I still don’t have a new career path in mind, but my seminary experience at Northern has impacted me in a hundred ways, some of which I don’t think I could even identify at this point. But let me name a few that I am very aware of:
- My faith has deepened and become more grounded. One thing I had not considered when I started seminary was how my faith might be impacted. I had heard that people become more skeptical, cynical, and perhaps even jaded while in seminary. The opposite has happened for me. My love for, allegiance to, and wonder about Jesus Christ has only expanded. This is a testament to my professors and the reading they have assigned. I am at the same time more convinced of the truth of the gospel and more aware of the mystery of the gospel. This deepening of faith allows me to do my ministry work with more trust that God really is at work, and with more compassion for those who are struggling.
- I know how to respond to questions better. Before seminary, I tended to look at individual passages of Scripture for the answers that I had or that others might pose. Of course this isn’t a bad practice necessarily, but perhaps just a narrow practice. I have learned to look at what Scripture says overall, how to understand a question in the big scheme of what God is doing to redeem and restore the world, and to rely on God’s loving kindness as being at the heart of the answer to any question. Because of this, I don’t fear being asked questions like I once did. I used to think I would be seen as a fraud if I didn’t have a clear answer to a particular question. I do know more now, for sure, but I also am more confident that wrestling through questions and doubts is a central and important feature of faith. Generally, when someone has a question, there is a deeper truth they are wondering about. God grows us, reveals truth to us, and loves us in the midst of our asking and searching.
- I am more comfortable with mystery and uncertainty. You might think that after going to seminary, you would be more certain of the answers. As if seminary kind of unlocks the mystery that everyone else has to live with. There are definitely facts I have learned and theories I have come to understand. And there are fundamental truths—the actual death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for example. There is also great mystery that surrounds God and the way God works in individual lives, people groups, and the world. Upon seeing and learning from so many scholars, theologians, and pastors, throughout history, I have become more able to embrace this mystery without it undermining my faith. In this way, I can be present with people in their pain, questions, and even anger much more easily. I can catch glimpses of where God is at work and identify that to the people with whom I meet.
- Church tradition really matters. One of the biggest discoveries for me in seminary has been the thinking and writing of the church mothers and fathers. I still am frequently stunned at the sophisticated thinking that was taking place in the first and second centuries. What a treasure trove of wisdom and brilliance I have missed! The fact that theologians and thinkers have been wrestling with the same truths and ideas that we are working through today is faith-building. I have come to appreciate creeds, traditional prayers, and historical spiritual practices. When the people I meet with question their faith, are at a loss for words because they are in seasons of pain or doubt, or are looking to deepen their own faith, I can point them to these resources for encouragement and grounding.
- The Church really matters. At a time when people are leaving the church or dismissing it as irrelevant to their faith, I have come to see the importance of the church. This comes from having my eyes opened to the church as more than a Sunday morning service. I can see the church now as a living body that dates back more than 2,000 years now. It is a tradition of faithful believers wrestling with how to follow Christ and live in the kingdom now in light of their own cultural realities. Through my seminary classes, I have realized something that seems obvious: we need other viewpoints to fully understand the depth and breadth of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension, Scripture, God’s presence with us, and the way to live out our faith. My classes include people from different faith traditions, races, ethnicities, countries, genders, socio-economic status, and life experiences. In other words, my classes have represented the church. Only by listening to and spending time with believers with such diverse backgrounds and experiences can I really understand God and faith in practice.
I can’t wait to see what else God shows me about himself and how to better love others as I finish my last year at Northern.