Phillip G. Camp, Finding Your Way: A Guide to Seminary Life and Beyond. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009. ISBN 13: 978-1-60608-252-2. Pp. 120. $15.00.
Before the ascension of Jesus, the Lord met his disciples and gave them a command that summarized what he came to accomplish when he was born in Bethlehem. Jesus gave his disciples what is known as the Great Commission. Jesus told his small group of followers to go into all nations and make people everywhere his disciples.
Jesus’ words changed the disciples forever. In obedience to his command, they left their homes and went everywhere preaching the gospel. As the gospel spread throughout the world, the disciples recognized that in order to fulfill the Great Commission, they had to train other people who would come after them and continue the work of evangelizing the world.
The Lord is still calling men and women to prepare themselves to spread the good news throughout the world. This is the reason people come to seminary. They come because they feel the need to prepare themselves and to receive the kind of training that will equip them to become ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Seminary life is not easy, but it is challenging and rewarding. I often tell my students that I liked seminary life so much that when I finished my seminary education, I decided to stay in seminary, and here I am, thirty years later and still enjoying being in seminary.
Most students come to seminary unprepared to face the rigors of academic life. Few students today come to seminary fresh out of college. Most of the students who come to seminary today are second career students, people who are working and choose to come to seminary because they received a call to the ministry.
There are many books written to prepare people to face the challenges of seminary life. My friend Phillip G. Camp wrote a book, Finding Your Way: A Guide to Seminary Life and Beyond, designed to prepare students for the challenges of seminary life. Camp is a professor of Old Testament at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Camp recognizes that seminary students need mentoring and guidance. Many students come to seminary unprepared to face the challenges of academic life. A theological education is demanding. Students have to read many books and theological articles. They have to do research, write papers and book reviews, and prepare all kinds of reports.
While in seminary, most students work full time, are active in church life, and have to provide for the needs of their spouses and children. Camp’s book was written to help students face these challenges with confidence so that they can succeed in their theological education.
Finding Your Way is divided into four sections, each section dealing with an important aspect of theological education. In this brief review of the book, it will be impossible to share all the good advice seminary students will find in this book. For this reason, I will present a brief summary of each section and then conclude with a personal word about the book.
Part 1 of the book deals with “Finding Your Way Academically.” In this section Camp begins by reminding students why they are in seminary. They are in seminary because they came to prepare themselves to serve God. He also tells students that most seminary students do not know what they will need in the ministry. This is the reason seminary offers a broad theological education to expose future ministers to the many issues they will find as they serve Christ in the world.
Camp exhorts seminary students to read their Bible while in seminary. In seminary, students will be so busy preparing themselves to serve God that it becomes easy to neglect one’s relationship with God. He also talks about time management. Students who do not know how to manage their time will struggle with the many requirements of the classroom. He also discusses the importance of grades. Grades represent academic achievement, but good ministers do not need to receive an A in all their courses to be effective in the ministry.
This section concludes with a recommendation that students ask questions in class, that they learn how to become independent thinkers, and that they associate with people who may not share their theological perspective, to respect their professors without idolizing them, and that they always grow in their faith and their relationship with God while in seminary.
Part 2 deals with “Finding Your Way Spiritually.” In this section Camp again shows his concern for the spiritual life of seminary students. He begins section two of his book by emphasizing the importance of maintaining a strong devotional life while in seminary. This is one of the areas where many seminary students fail.
Camp wrote: “One of the unfortunate outcomes for many theological students during their education is that God becomes more and more an object of study and less and less the Lord with whom they are in relationship” (p. 59). This is the reason he emphasizes the importance of being involved in church while in seminary, of finding a mentor, someone who can pray, guide, and offer help in times of spiritual and academic struggles.
In Part 3, Camp deals with “Finding Your Way in the Church.” After completing their theological education, seminary students will be involved in some facet of ministry. In serving Christ through the local church, ministers of Jesus Christ must love the church as much as he did. They also must serve with a humble spirit while adopting a servant attitude. In their preaching, pastors should speak boldly and with confidence. However, Camp reminds seminary students that they must be careful in how they communicate all the knowledge they learned in seminary. Most church members do not have a seminary education and for this reason are unfamiliar with the theological jargon one encounters in seminary.
Part 4 is Camp’s final exhortations to seminary students. When seminary students finish their theological education they must recognize that they did not do it alone. Camp mentions that seminary students must be appreciative of people who made a contribution to their education, such as parents, spouses, children, friends, professors, and so many others. What students fail to recognize is that many faithful, unknown Christians made their education possible by their generosity to the cause of Christ.
In general, the tuition students pay to their seminary covers only about 25% of their education. The rest of the money comes from churches and individual Christians who want to make a contribution to theological education. As Camp writes, “For the many unknown and unnamed donors and for the contributors to your education that you do know, the best way to honor and appreciate their gifts is to take your theological education seriously” (p. 105).
Phillip Camp has written a very helpful book that will help seminary students in their theological education. Here at Northern Seminary, I used to teach a course titled “Seminary Success.” The purpose of this course was to help entering seminary students to succeed in their seminary education.
I have not taught that course for a few years now. If I were still teaching Seminary Success, I would use Finding Your Way as one of the textbooks in that course. The reason I would select this book is because Finding Your Way is a practical book which offers sound advice to seminary students.
If you are in seminary or if you are contemplating coming to seminary, I strongly recommend that you read this book.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary