In my previous post, I reflected on a lesson about humility that I learned as a seminarian. Since then, I have encountered a few folks who have observed that a struggle with spiritual pride is not altogether infrequent in the halls of evangelical seminaries. Initially, seminary might seem an unexpected place to encounter such a struggle. Why is it, then, that this temptation is often found in this context? Is seminary somehow intrinsically antithetical to gospel humility?
The short answer to the question is: No, enrollment in an evangelical seminary is not the root of the problem.
Now, to be sure, seminary professors and administrators can do a better or worse job of role modeling, instructing, and tone setting when it comes to the temptation of spiritual pride. And those of you considering going to seminary would be wise to highly value those institutions that blend both uncompromising gospel conviction and deeply-rooted personal humility.
But, to the point at hand, the bottom line is that we bring the root of this problem to seminary with us in our own sin-stained hearts. Seminary simply provides one of many occasions for God to reveal our pride to us and help us repent of it. Again, the environment may (or may not) exacerbate the problem, but the fount of our pride is a heart affected by sin and not an institution we attend (Luke 6:43-45).
Of course, where the atmosphere is unhealthy institutionally speaking, we should pray for institution-wide repentance. But my point here is that, even if we could eliminate all the institutional and environmental shortcomings, we would not have delivered ourselves from this struggle with sin.
Let me hasten to add, though, that the discovery of the struggle with pride in our hearts—or any other sin for that matter—is actually good news. For, however unpleasant it may be for us at the time, the exposure of our sin is actually a work of grace on the part of God in bringing us to an awareness and acknowledgement of our sin. And that acknowledgement is the necessary precondition of repentance.
Frankly, we (and our churches) should be thankful to God that he would be kind enough to flush the battle with pride to the surface before we find ourselves occupying pulpits or discharging other leadership roles in ministry. Of course, this battle does not cease upon the receipt of one’s diploma. Pastors and staff members experience this on-going battle as well. But what a gift to be alerted, and therefore attentive, to this contest prior to the onset of one’s vocational ministry.
So, what about you? Maybe you’re not in seminary and not planning on going. Are there colleagues at work who provoke you to bitterness for example? The gospel applies in the same way. Your colleague may be the occasion of your struggle with bitterness, but he or she is not the source of it. So, here’s the real question: Can you see God’s hand in revealing your sin to you and thank him for that disclosure as you seek, by his grace, to “put off the old self” and “put on the new self” (Col 3:9-10)?