On Friday night, I exhorted the new students of Boyce College, “Don’t turn from God when you turn to your books.” I took that line from an essay that had an enormous impact on me when I was in seminary. The essay is B. B. Warfield’s “The Religious Life of Theological Students.” It is an address that Dr. Warfield delivered to the students of Princeton Theological Seminary on October 4, 1911. In it, Warfield insists that students who separate the rigors of a theological education from devotion to God do so at their own spiritual peril. Devotion to God and the study of theology should not be divided into different psychological compartments. Here is how Warfield put it:
“Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God? If learning and devotion are as antagonistic as that, then the intellectual life is in itself accursed, and there can be no question of a religious life for a student, even of theology. The mere fact that he is a student inhibits religion for him. That I am asked to speak to you on the religious life of the student of theology proceeds on the recognition of the absurdity of such antitheses. You are students of theology; and, just because you are students of theology, it is understood that you are religious menâ€” especially religious men, to whom the cultivation of your religious life is a matter of the profoundest concernâ€”of such concern that you will wish above all things to be warned of the dangers that may assail your religious life, and be pointed to the means by which you may strengthen and enlarge it. In your case there can be no ‘eitherâ€”or’ hereâ€”either a student or a man of God. You must be both.”
I think this essay would benefit almost anyone. My aim today, however, is to encourage my Boyce College students in particular to read this one very carefully as you begin this semester. God wishes for you to glorify Him through your studies, and this exhortation from Warfield lays the foundation for doing just that.
The Master’s Seminary Journal has a reprint of Warfield’s essay that you can download and read here. Blessings to you on another semester of study!
excellent! thanks for sharing. i often hear professors tell students that, in the midst of their academic study, they have to also maintain a sort of separate, devotional study of the bible. i don’t particularly agree with that either. i think the most rigorous, microscopic exegesis and translation work should be done as worship.
I can’t help of thinking of Kierkegaard’s work talking about how to view the scripture as a love letter; that no matter how you parse it, translate it, ruminate over hidden meanings, it is still a letter of love. The letter itself is not that which loves you, but the One who wrote it.
I wish I could remember the name of the essay. I believe it is in his “Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses”, but don’t quote me on that. Maybe it’s “For Self-examination…”? I just can’t recall.
Denny, good advice!