Seminaries have sometimes been called “the graveyard of spirituality.” In their insistence that students master doctrine, church history, and ancient languages, some seminaries replace knowing and growing in God with talking about God.
I was warned that this might be the case even at Calvin Theological Seminary (CTS). I am pleased and blessed to report that spiritual formation is alive and well and at the core of CTS’s mission.
While the Formation for Ministry (FFM) program is only a few years old and is bigger in scope than course work, it manifests itself even within my classes.
My favorite course is IDIS 901, which was created three years ago. “IDIS” is short for “interdisciplinary” and that certainly describes the content. We are required to read a variety of authors, both classical, such as St. Augustine and Athanasius; and contemporary, such as Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, and Marjorie Thompson.
The content runs along two tracks. First, we consider and write about the spiritual disciplines as described by Richard Foster and others. Some of these disciplines, such as solitude, fasting, sacrifice, celebration, and submission, have been neglected in our recent Reformed tradition.
The other track and the overriding theme of the course is how to assimilate and integrate some of these formational disciplines into our lives now. The end product is a five- to six-page paper called a “Personal Rule of Life.” It’s partly a personal mission statement but mostly a statement of the practices and disciplines you intend to require of yourself.
In my intermediate Greek and beginning Hebrew courses we are certainly in the Word, literally. Nonetheless, I would not call it devotional, just really hard work. My gospel communication course is similar to any speech course. However, I am also taking a theology course, and it is anything but dry theory. We are required to read Calvin and Berkhof, among others, but the focus is on the practical and formational.
For example, the essence of our first assignment was to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. But instead of writing a paper on it, we wrote an order of worship and sermon outline with a letter to our congregants about why celebrating Trinity Sunday was important. We also had to explain why we selected the text we chose and how it described the Trinity.
It is exciting to work through the application of what we are learning and use it to grow our relationship with God.