My First Seminary Grade and the Lesson Therein

Chris —  March 25, 2010

In theology every word counts.  We need to learn to speak the truth with great accuracy and clarity. 

My first seminary gradeThe picture to the right is an actual scan of my first seminary grade.  I need to give a little background so you can understand just how devastated I was by it.  Then, I’ll explain why I’m more thankful for it than any grade I’ve ever received.

In 1990 I left my job working for an R&D based company and went to Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.  It wasn’t an easy decision.  An MBA and a degree in chemistry was a good combination in that field and I was off and running working for a Fortune 50 company. 

Yet, Jamie and I believed God was calling us into vocational Christian ministry, and I finally consented to going, with all the eagerness that Jonah modeled on his way to Ninevah.  I hummed, “So send I you to labor unrewarded,” while I cleaned out my desk.

Having made the choice to leave a career I enjoyed, I was intensely motivated to do well at seminary.  By this time, I was so excited to be at seminary I could hardly stand it.  I looked forward to every class.  I started out with the Systematic Theology track with Dr. Crawford and our first assignment was to write a confession on the doctrine of Scripture.  Writing had always been easy for me as an undergraduate and graduate student.  But, I was a bit nervous so I took no chances.  Even though the confessional statement could only be two pages long, I wrote no less than seven different drafts.  After writing each draft I meticulously reviewed it and then made corrections.  To this day I still have every one of those drafts.  Each one worse than the one before, as it turns out.

When the day came for Dr. Crawford to return the assignments, I prayed with the all the urgency of Daniel in the Lion’s Den that I would get  an “A” .  I saw the grade I received as a test of whether or not I should have gone to seminary.  I wouldn’t have admitted it, but I probably felt a little like God owed me an “A” since I had answered the call.

And, I got a “D-“, as seen above.  Not just a “D”, but a “D-.”  I scheduled a meeting to talk to Dr. Crawford and he gave me the general impression that a “D-“ was a gift – – that he probably shouldn’t have even given me that, but he just didn’t have the heart to fail me. 

So, what’s the point?

In addition to humility, what I learned from Dr. Crawford is that if I am going to preach God’s Word, then I will have to select my words with utmost care.  In theology, every single word counts.  Often a preposition is the difference between sound doctrine and blatant heresy.

Which brings me to the sermon I am preparing for this week.  I’ll be stressing that we’re saved through faith, but not by faith.  We’re saved by Christ!  Do you see how one preposition makes the difference between an “A” and an “F.”  The statement, we’re saved by faith” – – borders on making faith a work.  Instead, we ought to say, “We’re saved through faith.”

J.I. Packer summarized,

“[Faith] is not a meritorious work, one facet of human righteousness, but rather an appropriating instrument, an empty hand outstretched to receive the free gift of God’s righteousness in Christ; that faith is God-given, and is itself the animating principle from which love and good works spontaneously spring; and that communion with God means, not an exotic rapture of mystical ecstasy but faith’s everyday commerce with the Savior.”[1]

And, if I have this wrong, please tell me.  I’m preaching on it Sunday.  Dr. Crawford is with the Lord, so I leave it to one of my readers to give me a “D-.”

[1] J.I. Packer, "Faith," in The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 401.

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14 responses to My First Seminary Grade and the Lesson Therein

  1. This is great, Chris! I’ll post this on my blog and tell my students to read your story. I would have probably given you at least a B.

  2. Excellent post. Praise God for your obedience to the call. What an encouraging read. I’ll try to learn from your mistakes when I hand in two papers next week.

  3. What did Jamie say? Did she want to go and knock on Dr. Crawford’s door and give him a piece of her loyaly wedded mind?

    What a fantastic story! Dr. Crawford was a gift to the Church–AND to those who will file into your church’s pews on Sunday! And now you get to pass that gift on. Not by scribbling D-‘s below text, but certainly by influending others (me, included!) to get their prepositions right.

  4. Fantastic post, Chris, especially with respect to your final observation on the importance of choosing our words! In seminary, while studying Hebrew and Greek, I learned as much about English as I did about the other languages. What a tremendous blessing!

    The difference between “through” and “by” faith may seem minor or even non-existent to many, but the difference is one between heaven and hell. You will do your parishioners well to emphasize the point, for it is no minor matter.


  5. Dr. Crawford deeply impacted all of us. What you must emphasize is that he gave you a chance at a rewrite… a do-over if you will. While it was time consuming and humbling, it was the best way to really learn. My guess is that he would give you a C+ on this post just to keep you humble 🙂

  6. A wonderful post. I had Dr. Crawford for Doctrine class at GRBC in the late 70’s, and Church History at the seminary in the early 80’s. A wonderful man of God who made Church History come alive and kept us awake through the hour with his passion for the subject and his accuracy with a piece of chalk.

  7. I fully expect him to be chucking chalk on the New Earth. There was no greater honor than to have a piece of chalk thrown at us, unless it was being called a knot-head.

  8. This brings back my own memories of ST with Dr Crawford. Thank God for rewrites and regrades – I did many of them! I still write and rewrite my theological reflection and manuscript my sermons to help me think more clearly. I still have scars on my forehead from flying chalk.
    I just missed you at GRBS as I graduated from there in 1990. I like Dr Crawford but must admit Dr Hoche influenced me the most – in my thinking and in his taking a personal interest in me.

  9. If I recall correctly, he gave my entire class an F on our first confession, but gave us a chance to try again. I didn’t realize this was a regular practice with him. By the time I had him, he had been banned from throwing chalk, but he still taught a bunch of knotheads….

  10. I took that same course from Jeremy Grinnell. I remember that he used many of Dr. Crawford’s notes. I don’t remember what grade I got on my first confession, but I certainly remember sweating over them.

  11. Great post.

    Choosing our words wisely is a terrific goal.

    Then, when we say something like, “The great fish was swallowed by Jonah”. I was glad I avoided saying “whale”.


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