There are several areas I wish I would have considered before entering seminary. I will focus on five things that are of chief importance for anyone considering seminary studies. One thing that I have discovered in my studies is the importance of proper research and writing skills. Why had I never heard of the Turabian style format before? It would help any perspective student to familiarize themselves with the Turabian style of writing. Along with proper writing skills a student must learn proper research skills, this goes hand and hand with paper writing, learning such skills before one enters seminary will help the student immensely, and save much time taken away from their primary studies in seminary.
Another area that is of great importance for seminary studies is a lab top. Most classes require a laptop because many Professors send the class notes and the course syllabus electronically, or expect you to type notes while they lecture. A laptop is also useful in assisting students in their studies, online libraries, and various websites that allow students to purchase class textbooks electronically if they so chose. Laptops also help to make any student self sufficient in their studies. Laptops also assist students in their research and writing, because a laptop gives the student access to websites that can give references to research paper examples and proper format. These are just a few of the many benefits of having a lab top for perspective seminary students.
Another factor I wish I would have considered before entering seminary is the cost of books for my personal library. Nearly every class at seminary requires a textbook sometimes two or three or the list goes on. This can add up after awhile, however there are several places online where you can go and search for the best deals to help you cut down of your textbook expenses. Speaking of books, I wish I would have considered how to effectively use a library for research, this is of utmost importance. Before staring at seminary it would be wise for any perspective student to familiarizing oneself with the ins and outs of a library. For example get to know the different cataloging systems different libraries use, such as Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal etc, or their own institutional cataloging systems they may have for study centers. Visit your local library and talk with the librarian for help in these areas. This will put you one step ahead of the game and when the time comes when you need to use the library for research you will be more familiar with it. Nothing is worse than learning how to use a library for research when needing to cram a thirty page paper within a week.
The last area to consider before entering seminary is how time consuming theological studies can be. This is important because seminary studies cannot be just a hobby one pursues on the side, (unless you plan on being a part time student for the rest of your life). Full time study takes time and effort one must not only have time for class, but also set aside several hours each day for reading, homework, and studying for exams. Before I entered seminary I did not realize just how time consuming this could be. Seminary is a full time job one must be passionate for theology to invest such time and effort; any perspective student must consider this when having a full time job, family, especially children.
The Westminster Confession of Faith makes some important points about the interpretation of Scripture, including chapter 1.9: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” A text may demand an allegorical interpretation because it literally is an allegory, but theologians are not to go to the text with the fourfold method (the literal sense “is that which is gathered immediately out of the words,” which is then coupled with the “spiritual sense,” divided into allegorical, tropological, and anagogical) in mind as a basic presupposition for interpreting the Bible. The Scriptures themselves must dictate how they are to be interpreted.
Another specific exegetical tool used by the Puritans to interpret Scripture is the analogy of faith (analogia fidei). Needed explained are the differences between the analogy of faith and the analogy of Scripture (analogia Scripturae). The Scriptures interpret the Scriptures, so that “when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture,… it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” The analogy of faith (analogia fidei) resulted from the fact that the Bible is the Word of God and therefore possesses an intrinsic consistency and unity. That is to say, the Scriptures do not contradict themselves. The analogy of faith maintains the internal consistency of the Scriptures, which are not contradictory. The analogy of faith differs from the analogy of Scripture (analogia Scripturae) insofar as the analogy of faith is a principle whereby a theologian uses the “general sense of the meaning of Scripture, constructed from the clear or unambiguous loci [passages] as the basis for interpreting unclear or ambiguous texts.” The analogy of Scripture, however, more specifically has in view the interpretation of unclear passages by comparing with clearer passages that are related to the difficult text in question.
Another specific exegetical tool used by the Puritans to interpret Scripture is to understand the limits of human reasoning. John Owen did not mince any words when it came to another fundamental aspect of interpreting the Bible. Those who attempt to interpret the Scriptures “in a solemn manner, without invocation of God to be taught and instructed by his Spirit, is a high provocation to him; nor shall I expect the discovery of truth from anyone who so proudly and ignorantly engageth in a work so much above his ability to manage.” Owen affirmed that the Holy Spirit works on the minds of the elect so as to enable them to understand the Scriptures since He is the immediate author of all spiritual illumination. Christians cannot assume this will happen, as if to take for granted this spiritual privilege; rather, they must pray that God would enable them to understand His mind and will, which apart from the Spirit is impossible. We must not allow our fallible reasoning a place of preeminence above the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit enables Christians to receive all of the truths of Scripture without letting reason dominate the way. If reason was to dominate our interpretation this will lead to various theological errors. Goodwin claims that the cause of all theological errors “hath been for the want of reconciling these things together.” He clearly has in mind those who exalt reason over revelation, which meant that so many glorious truths were denied in favor of reason. Reason cannot work out the mysteries of the Bible. If reason becomes the primary principle, and not faith, we will understand nothing, or little, of the mysteries of salvation. In the same way, Flavel suggests that reason is no better than a “usurper when it presumes to arbitrate matters belonging to faith and revelation.” Instead, reason sits at the feet of faith. Indeed, God’s works are not unreasonable, “but many of them are above reason.”