Welp, we’re back! Apart from our car breaking down and being temporarily stranded in Chicago, our trip to check out Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Bethel Seminary was exactly what we needed. The car troubles actually extended our trip by a couple days and forced us to just sit and relax in our hotel. It also prompted some conversations with people that wouldn’t have otherwise taken place – conversations that revealed some possibilities for the future that definitely play into our seminary decision. I think the whole car breakdown (although expensive) was really a blessing in disguise.
On our trip we also got to spend quality time with so many good friends; my brother Josh and his wife Kindal in Chi-town, old friends Amy and Al and all 13 of their kids (yes you did read that right) in north St. Paul, our dear friend Emelia (minus her second half, Brad), and of course our beloved Dave & Laurie in SW Minneapolis.
And perhaps most importantly, the trip shed a lot of light on our seminary decision. Megan has said all along that she felt that we’d end up at TEDS. This is significant because I really haven’t sensed God’s leading one way or another. Selfishly, I’d love to go to Bethel, but I couldn’t really say that I felt led there. Add to that the fact that I’ve got a scholarship waiting for me at TEDS and you’ve got a rather interesting situation – especially considering the fact that I really don’t want to go there. This poses for us a tough question that we’ve been trying to find an answer to for a while now:
Do I spend the majority of the next few years studying at a school that I really don’t want to go to because it will cost me close to nothing, OR do I pay (or rather, go into debt) to go to the school that my heart really wants to be at, where I feel I can really grow and thrive?
It was our inability to answer this question – and our fuzziness on God’s desire in it all – that led to seminary road trip #2, this time, however, I brought my second half. So we show up to TEDS on a Sunday night for the kickoff of their "taste of trinity" event and within 15 minutes Megan has decided its not the place. Very interesting. (Her experience the next day confirmed her sense.)
We spend the rest of the next morning and early afternoon on campus hearing about the school, asking questions, and meeting faculty and I have to admit that it was a good experience. (The students & staff I met this time around were MUCH warmer and accessible than last time.) But I gotta admit, by this point I felt I had a pretty good feel for TEDS and was really looking forward to getting to Bethel and getting Megan’s feedback.
So we hop in the car to road trip it from Chicago to the twin cities and the car breaks down. Bummer. But like I said, I think it was a blessing in disguise. And after a bunch of frantic calls, we determined we’d still be able to make it to Bethel a day or two later.
When we finally made it up there, I was struck again by difference in atmosphere. After visiting each school twice, studying materials from each, meeting with staff and faculty, and speaking with current and former students of both schools, here is generally what I see at each school: TEDS is unapologetically academic. Bethel is unapologetically spiritual. TEDS seeks to graduate Christian scholars. Bethel seeks to graduate Christian leaders. Steeped in academia, TEDS gives off a vibe of superiority and inaccessibility. Smaller and less assuming, Bethel gives off vibes of connection and authenticity. TEDS seems willing to sacrifice a certain level of relevance for the sake of scholarship. Bethel seems willing to sacrifice a certain level of scholarship for the sake of relevance.
I had a couple great conversations while I was at Bethel – one with a staff member and one with a professor about Bethel’s past and future. I found out that the school was almost closed down in the 90′s when it diagnosed itself as being ineffective in empowering people for ministry. Ultimately, they decided to not close down the school but rather, bring in new leadership and change directions. From what I can gather, it seems that ever since it has become progressively, well, progressive in its approach to seminary education. One staff member communicated to me the noticeable shift in ethos in just the last 5 years. As a futurist, I find this terribly exciting. While some might gravitate towards the history or stability of a school like TEDS, I find myself drawn to environments and organizations that are more fluid than static, where change is embraced and participants play a role in shaping its future.
As if its not already obvious, my heart is really with Bethel. However, we continue to wait and pray for God to lead us to wherever he desires us to go. (I once heard Erwin McManus say, "When we are walking with God, we can trust our desires." If that’s true, Megan and I both know where we’re supposed to be.) We’re waiting now for our house to sell, for our financial aid package from Bethel, and for our admittance to TEDS. We are really hoping to make a decision soon.