“Who’s ready for a new academic year?”
September 6, 2018 by Lee Hinson-Hasty
Editor’s note: Sending our oldest child off to college this year made me more attentive the last few weeks to my social media friends posts of their children’s first day at school. They range from the first day of preschool and kindergarten to graduate school including seminary. The Rev. Dr. Eric Barreto is a parent and a seminary professor and so his post quoting his spoken message to new students and those of us who care about them caught my eye. Dr. Barreto, a Bible study leader for 2017 Big Tent in St. Louis, asks a great question: Who’s ready for a new academic year? I’ve learned how questions can be transformative and his may serve in the role for you as I am sure they will for the new students at Princeton Seminary. Dr. Barreto’s thoughts are shared below with his permission. — Lee Hinson-Hasty
So, are you ready?
At the beginning of orientation, do you feel ready to start your time at Princeton Seminary? Are you ready to read and study and think and write? Are you ready to have your faith stretched, your ideas tested? Are you ready to follow the path to which God has called you?
In the fall of 2001, when I was sitting where you are, I didn’t feel ready. Just days after 9/11, the world seemed too fragile, too riven. The dream of playing a part in the coming reign of God seemed too distant. Some of us might still carry similar questions about the shape of a world riven with division, a world made that much more dangerous for the marginalized, a world seemingly driven by the raw exercise of power not the hope of Jesus’s good news.
So are you ready? Are you? Are we?
How would you know if you were ready? Would you need to have the student handbook and catalog memorized? That actually would be an insufficient way by itself to prepare yourself for seminary. If all you needed was found between those two covers in the student handbook, orientation would be brief but terribly boring. I’m sure we could find someone to read the handbook out loud for a few hours. So why are we gathering to orient you, our new students?
Because your education and formation here is not just about policies and rules, curricula and programs. Your education here is not about stuffing a ton of information in between your ears and asking you to parrot it back to your teachers. Your education is not about confirming everything you know or rejecting everything you believe. Your education, I would even say, will not just happen in our classrooms or in our library.
After all, why are you here? You are here because you were called, you are called. You are here because God brought family, friends, and mentors into your life that helped kindle your gifts and passions. You are here because God has called you to serve the world, to preach the good news, to heal the sick, to declare the reign of God’s justice. You are here because your classmates need you so they too might serve the world God creates. Your classmates are here because you can’t learn by yourself; you learn when interacting with classmates who see the world very differently than you do. You are here because an increasingly diverse world yearns for a word of hope, a violent world yearns for peace, an unjust world yearns for a new king.
So, are you ready?
If you consider the requisite qualifications of a seminarian to be a vast amount of prior knowledge, then you are not ready. If you consider the requisite qualifications of a seminarian to have certainty and assurance about all things, then you are not ready. If you consider the requisite qualifications to be a desire to surpass all others in argumentation, then you are not ready.
But if you lean on God’s call this week and next and when the work piles up, then you are ready. If you learn with a generous heart and listen to your colleagues with genuine curiosity, then you are ready. If love is your guide when you read and write and discuss and think and debate, then you are ready. And, most importantly, if God has called you to this place, then you are ready.
So are you ready? You are, my friends. Even if you don’t feel ready, I think you are. Let’s get to work.
In response to Eric’s post I asked him, myself, and you: Are we ready for them? – Lee
Eric D. Barreto is the Frederick and Margaret L. Weyerhaeuser Associate Professor of New Testament. He holds a BA in religion from Oklahoma Baptist University, an MDiv from Princeton Seminary, and a PhD in New Testament from Emory University. Prior to coming to Princeton Seminary, he served as associate professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary, and also taught as an adjunct professor at the Candler School of Theology and McAfee School of Theology.
As a Baptist minister, Barreto has pursued scholarship for the sake of the church, and he regularly writes for and teaches in faith communities around the country. He has also been a leader in the Hispanic Theological Initiative Consortium, a national, ecumenical, and inter-constitutional consortium comprised of some of the top seminaries, theological schools, and religion departments in the country. He is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature and the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion. Barreto was a bible study leader at Big Tent in 2017 in St. Louis and he preached at the Montreat Worship and Music Conference in 2018.