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So You're Thinking about Going to Seminary: An Insider's Guide Paperback – November 1, 2008
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From the Back Cover
I think I want to go to seminary, but is it right for me?
If you or someone you know is asking that kind of question, this book is for you. A true insider, Derek Cooper writes for anyone considering or starting seminary. He explains what seminary is, how seminary can provide the right training for different kinds of ministry, the practical aspects of going to seminary (money, location, theological affiliation, etc.), how much time seminary takes, what classes are like, and what the different degrees entail. The only book of its kind, this engaging and user-friendly guide helps both prospective and beginning students make wise choices and know what to expect as they begin this life-changing experience.
"Derek Cooper has given us an excellent guidebook for those who are thinking about attending seminary. Like the best of travel guides, he knows the territory well. He has a clear sense of what questions people are asking--and also the ones they ought to ask--when they are thinking about taking this journey."--Richard J. Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary
"Derek Cooper's conversational style and personal reflections make this book accessible and easy to navigate. He takes what is often a complex set of personal, spiritual, practical, and ecclesial decisions and offers history, perspective, and very practical counsel. It's an excellent resource for anyone contemplating theological study or who is already engaged in it."--Philip D. Krey, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
"Why has no one published a book like this before? Derek Cooper draws from his experience, research, and wisdom and mixes it all together in an eminently informative--not to mention fun--read. For anyone contemplating the Amazon-like jungle of seminary options, here is your travel guide."--Nicholas Perrin, Wheaton College
"A seminary education requires an enormous investment of time, energy, and finances while simultaneously having an enormous impact--for good or bad!--on the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual formation of the student. Choosing a particular school is therefore a serious matter that needs to be evaluated from multiple perspectives. Derek Cooper anticipates nearly every thoughtful question that might be raised by prospective seminarians and provides a wealth of information to help them make an informed decision."--David G. Dunbar, Biblical Seminary
About the Author
Derek Cooper (PhD, Lutheran Theological Seminary) is visiting professor of New Testament at Biblical Seminary. Due to work, family, and program requirements, Derek has attended classes at six different seminaries. He lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, with his wife.
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While this book will undoubtedly help Christians decide whether or not seminary is the right choice or which seminary is the right fit (denominationally, theologically, etc.), it seems that Derek has left no stone unturned by providing guidance through seminary classes and other issues that will come up while attending seminary. He doesn't just provide insight into step A, but rather goes from A-Z with his ideas, check lists, and questions.
If you really are considering seminary, then you will find this book an engaging read. Derek has made this topic as compelling as any human being possibly could, while the designers have done an amazing job pulling key quotes, inserting charts and graphs, and breaking down ideas into lists. Each appendix at the end is a gold mine of information.
This is an unprecedented book, that takes a look at the ins-and-outs of seminary, and helps provide a road-map for navigating the terrain. As the cover attests, it helps choose the right seminary, discern if seminary is right for you, explore degree options, what to expect, how to finance the escapade, and more. The author explains his somewhat tumultuous experience of shuffling between a whopping SIX different seminaries, before finishing his academic career.
The book is divided into four parts: (1) Orientation to Seminary, (2) Things to Consider Before Seminary, (3) Things to Consider During Seminary, and (4) Post-Seminary Things to Consider While in Seminary.
The book is packed with information that would take a very long time to accumulate through one's own experience alone. One interesting thing I learned in the orientation is what exactly "seminary" is. Cooper explains that a "Divinity School," a "School of Theology," an a "Seminary," are all theological schools that fall under the big-umbrella term "seminary," but that have important differentiations. The primary point is that a "divinity school" or "school of theology" is usually a theological department/college of a bigger mainstream university, whereas the term "seminary" is often used in independent educational institutions without affiliations to another school.
Part 2 offers chapters on theological affiliations of schools, the "outside" factors to consider (locale, etc.), the "inside" factors (school size, etc.), how to finance, and a walkthrough in applying to schools. This was a good section of the book for making you think about what you want out of your education: small community, or big school with lots of resources? Suburban quiet setting, or urban fast-paced? I'm afraid the theological affiliation section didn't give me exactly what I wanted, but the author is trying to present an unbiased and "neutral" view for all the schools, and didn't delve into theological positions much.
Part 3's highlights included chapters on departments and courses within seminary, discussing biblical studies and theology, church history and practical theology, and different degree programs--both basic and advanced. This section was helpful for learning the more inner-workings of departments and how curriculums are set up, which is helpful for me as I am still trying to find out what I want to specialize my studies in (Old Testament, Historical Theology, or Philosophical Theology).
Particularly interesting was the discussion on different degree programs. If you have ever looked at a list of biblical scholars, their names are followed with every sort of random degree letters: BA, MA, MDiv, MTS, STM, PhD, ThD, MTh, ThM, DPhil, DMin, STD (bummer), and on and on. Needless to say, this looks like one big mess. Cooper spends an entire TWO CHAPTERS sorting each of these out, which is extremely interesting and helpful.
Finally, Part 4 introduces career prospects for (A) ministerial seminarians, and (B) academic ones. Although I fall into the latter category, I found the first section very illuminating, as it describes the process of ordination for the main denominations, and what it all entails. The second section helped introduce the steps of going on into PhD studies, understanding the costs, and more.
One of the very best highlights of this book is the style of writing Derek Cooper employs. It is a very non-technical work, and I managed to read the first 100 pages in one sitting, without even realizing it! I am a terribly slow reader, so this is a tremendous testimony to the author. The book is filled with helpful charts and tables, and nice highlight-bubbles on pages to emphasize key points.
The only complaint I can make about the book is that I would have like the same in-depth-treatment for doctrinal and theological positions of schools as there was for the different degree programs. One of the biggest challenges for me in studying schools and programs is getting a feel for the theological inclinations of this department or that. Dallas Theological Seminary is the pioneer in dispensationalism, Westminster Seminary California hammers out good little amillennialists, Yale in the 70's and 80's was big on narrative theology, etc. A catalogue of these types of things would have been the icing on the cake for this type of book.
All in all, however, I found "So You're Thinking About Going to Seminary" a very worthwhile read. I appreciated the insight that only an experienced insider's perspective could offer, all bundled in one easy package. I would recommend it to anyone at any stage in their theological education (even going into PhD studies), because each section is sort of a stand-alone reference.
Two thumbs up!