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Dr. Joseph R. Cathey | B.H. Carroll Theological Institute

When I began my seminary pilgrimage some thirty years ago, a very wise mentor took me aside and shared with me three very salient points to help me get the most out of my time in graduate school. First, he told me I must know intimately the God of the Bible before I prepare to study the Bible. He suggested I daily and consistently have a structured Bible study and prayer time with Christ.

While this may seem intuitive, he shared with me how many students neglect this practice, always to their detriment. He warned me of the fruitless life which could result from studying about the Scriptures, theology, archaeology, exegesis, and application, should I miss the author of all I was studying. And it is very easy to lose oneself in the study of esoteric subjects of seminary. What a tremendous tragedy it would be to complete an M.Div. or Ph.D. degree only to miss the sweet time of fellowship with Christ along the way.

Second, my mentor took the time to talk to me about making my call to seminary sure. At first, I was concerned he was actually speaking of my call to ministry. I cogently assured him I was called by God and had even pastored churches before coming to seminary. He gently told me he was speaking of Christ calling and equipping me for seminary.

As I got to know my mentor he would point out how the call to M.Div. or Ph.D. work was just as vital as the call to vocational ministry. Later, as I began my Ph.D. in Old Testament I witnessed a great number of men and women not finishing their programs of study. When I later visited with these friends, I asked them why they didn’t finish their degree. Their answers were usually the same: in the midst of the rigorous program it dawned on them they were not called to that level of study.

As I counsel students, the first thing I ask them is to share with me their calling to their particular program of study. During graduate-level education, life presses in on us from all sides. Children are born, cars break down, family members get sick, and life rushes on regardless of our preparation. The depth of our commitment and calling are put to the test. A strong sense of conviction concerning your call to further your education will always see you through these trying and stressful times.

Third, I was constantly reminded by my professors that the goal of my studies at seminary was not obtaining knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but obtaining knowledge for the sake of equipping the body of Christ—the church. While teaching at seminary and during my doctoral research, my mentor often asked about my progress. Inevitably, he would ask as the conversation closed, “How is this going to be related to the ministry in the local church?”

The point my mentor and other professors were trying to drive home was that the distillation of knowledge always involves application. The maxim I heard repeatedly from my professors was, “The greatest theologians are always the most involved churchmen.” The best illustration of what they preached was the life they lived. I occasionally accompanied my mentor to churches in which he preached or provided winter Bible studies. He was not only a consummate Old Testament theologian but also a wonderful pulpiteer. When you walked away from one of his sermons or Bible studies you knew the Old Testament had come to life.

The life Dr. Harry Hunt, my mentor, lived was transparent and open. For the thirty years I knew him he lived the lessons he taught me as a young seminarian. As his grader he often began his mornings with me—at 5 a.m.—by sharing what he had read in the Bible or what his prayer time had yielded. His time with Christ colored every facet of each day of his life.

During his time at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary he served as chairman of the Old Testament department for over thirty years. During a contentious time in the life of the seminary years ago, I asked him what motivated him to stay in the line of fire. He had a two word answer to my question—“My calling.” He believed with all of his heart he was called to his place of ministry. It was the glue which held his ministry together and the strength which saw him through tumultuous times at his post. As you prepare your heart for seminary, spend intimate time with Christ daily, make sure of your calling to your chosen program of study, and remember your purpose is to equip other believers.

Dr. Joseph Cathey has been involved in higher theological education for over a quarter of a century. He is actively involved in the scholastic guild within his disciplines (Old and New Testament), both regionally and nationally. He has served as an archaeologist at Tel Gezer in Israel and currently serves as Associate Professor of Biblical Languages and Literature at B. H. Carroll Theological Institute.

B.H. Carroll Theological Institute is a graduate school dedicated to equipping men and women called to serve Christ in the diverse and global ministries of His church. As a community of faith and learning, Carroll believes that theological education belongs to the people, and seeks to make it accessible and affordable, encouraging more people to respond to the call to Christian ministry. Carroll Institute is reinventing theological education in innovative, creative ways that make ministerial training more relevant, practical, affordable, and accessible to all Christian workers through an online learning environment.

Preparing Your Heart for Seminary