A lot has happened since my last post on May 10: The college semester ended with the seniors graduating and all the students moving out of the dorm for the summer; the seminary semester also ended and I graduated along with about sixty-five other men from the M.Div. program at TMS; our families flew out from Oklahoma to celebrate and spend time with us; I decided to continue in the Th.M. program, at least for the summer (which I wasn’t sure I was going to do); I started a class called Biblical Ethics for the Th.M. degree the day after I graduated from the M.Div. program; I went on Student Life Senior Staff Retreat in Santa Barbara for a few refreshing days of peaceful relaxation and like-minded fellowship; and we went to the TMC Faculty-Staff Picnic today. It’s been a full though brief period of transitioning from semester to summer.
Although my seminary graduation had been low on the radar for a number of reasons, it was a powerful and invigorating experience. And although it happened a week ago, I think it’s worth sharing a number of thoughts from the evening.
- Approximately eighty men graduated with degrees like Diploma of Theology, Bachelor of Theology, Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, Doctor of Ministry, and Doctor of Theology. It was quite an experience to walk down the center aisle of Grace Community Church surrounded by a flood of faithful men who believe that they have been called by God to proclaim the gospel of His Son around the world. It doesn’t make you feel big, important, or indispensable. It makes you feel sober and privileged.
- The graduates all sat in the first four rows on either side of the center aisle. Before us on the stage sat The Master’s Seminary faculty. Many of them are elderly men seasoned in the Word of God and the warfare of ministry. Their labor and toil has greyed their hair and weakened their eyes and demanded decades of persevering sacrifice, but they stand faithful like a tribal warrior fighting in the middle of the village until the very last arrow brings him to his knees. They will not die as spectators. As I sat looking up at them, I felt honored to have been taught by these men, and I realize that I’ve only experienced a drop of the toil they’ve poured out through the years.
- Before, during, and after the ceremony, I thought often about how the Lord has mightily used Pastor John MacArthur in the lives of so many. Here is a genuine soldier whom God has gifted and commissioned to lead a church of hundreds and then thousands for almost four decades. Without exaggeration, the ripple effect of his ministry has reached millions of souls all the way to the corners of the earth. Tonight there were eighty graduates reflecting the breadth of his ministry. And there have been twenty other graduating classes before mine. To document his influence would be an exercise in futility. And the wonderful thing is that one of Pastor MacArthur’s most oft-quoted proverbs is this: “You focus on the depth of your ministry, and God will take care of the breadth.” His life and labor reflect this maxim. If you examine his life and his giftedness, you will see Ephesians 4:11-12 emblazoned all over him. This man is a gift from God to His church. I have gone through my seasons of disillusionment regarding various types of churches and movements in the United States, and the more heavily conservative camp (along with its styles and emphases) has been the object of much of my questioning and criticism during those times. But after years of study and half a decade of ministry and with much more of both in front of me, I continue to grow in my gratefulness to God for this man. Few know how he has given his life for the gospel, and fewer know the price he has paid for that lifelong choice. This is a leader of our generation.
- Dr. Barrick was the commencement speaker. He spoke to us from Psalm 119:97-104, the mem section in the alphabetic acrostic. Two particularly powerful verses are 99-100: “I have more insight than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, because I have observed Your precepts.” If you fill your mind and your heart with Scripture, you will have the highest education known to man, no matter what degrees you hold or lack. And there are no qualifications or disclaimers for that statement. Dr. Barrick’s message and his life make me see the beauty of God’s Word and and refresh my desire to know it. Surely it is a delightful thing to meditate on the Bible. What a pity that there are so many other things vying for our attention, and a greater pity that we give it to them.
- One of my favorite parts of seminary was when the students would sing together twice annually as a choir, at Shepherds’ Conference and at graduation. Clayton Erb, the worship pastor at Grace Community Church, would train us to sing various multi-part hymns during rehearsals, and then we would sing as a massive men’s choir as the kick-off to these two events. And although I didn’t get to be in the choir this time since I was one of the graduates, it was a powerful encouragement to look up to the choir loft and see many familiar faces and to hear this multitude of my fellow students singing to the praise of the King as they called us graduates to stand firm in years to come.
- I sat two seats to the right of my friend and college classmate Josiah Grauman. From what I’ve seen and heard, Josiah is more inductively intelligent than almost anyone who walked across the stage on Sunday night. But he didn’t have a gold cord over his left shoulder and silence followed the announcement of his name since there weren’t any honors or high GPA to announce. I can guess why he graduated without honors, but I’m in a tiny minority. The crowd oohed and aahed and gasped when the summa cum laude‘s and the 4.00 GPA’s were announced (and I honor those whose labor earned them this recognition). But I only wish that the crowd could’ve seen my brother’s faithful, emotional, demanding, exhausting, love-giving, full-time and overtime ministry as a hospital chaplain in one of the most crowded, needy hospitals in the nation. He did this throughout seminary, caring more about patients than grades. This is not to denigrate grades, but to give perspective and to highlight a friend who loves people more than academic respectability. If I were at his funeral, I would feel somewhat like the queen in the movie Gladiator when she stands near Maximus’s dead body in the coliseum and declares to the surrounding soldiers: “This man was a soldier of Rome. Honor him.”
- At the end of the graduation, all the graduates left our seats and walked to the bottom of the stairs leading up to the stage. There we got on our knees and Pastor MacArthur prayed for us as the TMS board and faculty either bowed with us or stood behind us and laid their hands on us. It struck me that here were brilliant minds, gifted men, veteran pastors, long-standing professors, former missionaries, and significant church authorities bowed low before the Lord. And this is where we ought to be, all of us. It is right and biblical to make distinctions in life between parents and children, teachers and students, authorities and subjects, professionals and amateurs, and elderly and young. But before the Lord, we all bow low.
- At the graduation it was announced that one TMS graduate had recently died, one current TMS student had died the week before graduation, and one doctoral student was absent because his wife was recently diagnosed with cancer and needed to start radiation treatments right away. This didn’t dampen our joy, but it did temper it with sympathy and perspective. It is not only a privilege to graduate; it is a privilege to live. And more important, it is a privilege to die as the Lord’s.
- Many gifted men graduated from The Master’s Seminary last Sunday night. Even more students graduated from The Master’s College two nights before. Fascinatingly, sins of pride like self-absorption, selfish ambition, and exaggeration of personal gifts are very common among young people, especially young men aspiring to full-time Christian ministry. I say this not because I know others’ hearts but because I know my own. We spend this season of formal education dreaming big dreams for the future, calculating the potential impact of our lives, and considering our own gifts and abilities to see how God might use us. But who we are and what we can do and the circumstances God places us in are all His gifts. Normally you’re humbled when you receive big gifts. If you’ve ever been given something so big or precious or meaningful or surprising that it really staggered you, you can remember how undeserving and humbled you felt. You simply didn’t feel worthy. But somehow we’re not as naturally humbled by the personal gifts that God gives us to use in His service. And we should be. If you have a gift, a talent, an ability, or an opportunity, it is from the Lord.
- We sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” at the end of the graduation. There were many men present who have been tenaciously faithful to the Lord during their years teaching or studying at the seminary, manifesting rugged devotion and unwavering perseverance. But the faithfulness of God outshines the tainted faithfulness of even the best of men. That’s why we proclaim His and not our own.
May the Lord be pleased to multiply the fruit of His Word through the 2007 graduating classes from every God-honoring school on earth.
4 thoughts on “Thoughts from a Seminary Graduation”
gunner, thanks for the wonderful writing. i was struck and encouraged by the description of your classmate that served so faithfully at the hospital during seminary. thanks also for painting the picture of brilliant, devoted men bowing low before the glory of God. God’s blessings on you this summer – ak
Thank you for your thoughts. I wish I was there to see my brother graduate.
Gunner I am so thankful for your personal faithfulness to the Lord and as a role model to all the students who pass through your dorm every year. I must say that I am humbled by the privilege that I have had to sit under you and I pray that I will continue to be influenced by you.