by Doug Bratcher
I am envious of students today and the ability to do many, if not all, of their classes online. Don’t get me wrong, I think sitting in a lecture hall and listening to a professor in college is still an immensely valuable experience. At seminary, however, there was one thing I tried to avoid at all cost…the other students. Seminary is like every other institution, it trends to breed and draw in a particular type of student, and I didn’t fit in.
I would sit for hours as the bow tied students waxed poetic about semantics and minute theological debates. To hear the audacity in their voice when they thought someone had an opinion that differed from their own still gets me fired up to this day. They loved to debate and quote and write papers. I’ll never forget in one of my classes, one I didn’t particularly like, the professor would always ask, “Who taught/preached this week and what was it over?” In a class of 40+, only 5-8 would raise their hands. I would be shocked every time.
I started taking classes in the Church Ministry department. They had their own building at the edge of campus and when you walked in the words “WHERE MINISTRY HAPPENS” was plastered prominently on the walls. I liked to convince myself it was a dig at all the “theologians” that were debating and not sharing, but I know deep down it wasn’t.
I was in hours and hours of theological, ministry, history, spiritual disciplines, and educational classes, but the most powerful tool for sharing the good news came early in my time as a believer when I was told “no one will argue your story of what Jesus did in your life.” I think that is one of the reasons I would get so angry in those classes. I saw all these people, with all that knowledge, doing (what I felt) was not enough (yes I was too judgy).
Reading the story of Paul going through the judicial ringer reminds me of the advice I was given long ago. Paul lets us know throughout about his credentials as a Jew and a scholar, yet when he is asked to speak in his defense he doesn’t get into a theological debate, argue semantics, or try to disprove the opposition. He simply tells his story of how a risen Jesus changed his life to the point that he could do nothing else besides tell the world.
Over the last few years, it seems as though the art of debate has devolved from two sword masters trading parries to people slamming each other over the head with clubs (I’m looking at you social media). Today there is no “winning” an argument. My recommendation to you is to follow Paul’s example. Tell people how Jesus changed your life for the better. Tell them about the peace you have that passes all understanding, the patience you are cultivating, and how you can forgive and love others because Jesus forgave and loved you first.