I remember the surprise I got at seminary when I realized that some of its people were lousy humans. After a couple of decades as a practicing Christian, I know now that religion has the double-edged power to corrupt or transform, but when it corrupts, it become very dangerous. Take Simon in Acts 8.9. He spent his early years impressing people with religiosity and convincing them that he was great. And when Peter came along and astonished Simon’s city with true power, Simon full of self assurance placed himself first in line as the next likely disciple. Reminiscent of Judas, He gave Peter some silver to buy whatever power Peter possessed. Peter, now with an acute ability to read the human spirit, knew immediately that Simon’s heart was not right in the matter. In fact, Peter went so far to diagnose Simon’s deepest problems: bitterness and envy. Peter knew that it was not enough to dazzle others with one’s religiosity; he knew that transforming religion is far more about the heart and its dispositions.
So, when I sit in a classroom where Simon the Seminarian has just interrupted the teacher a third time in one class giving his two cents about the little he knows, I think about Peter. Now, Simon has paid his silver to come to seminary and perhaps is recently emerging from an all-star ministry (sorcery in Simon’s case), but he will be greatly disappointed when, if Peter bursts his bubble. But in a market like ours we won’t take the time or energy; many seminaries operate with the bottom line as its main priority, and if it is not careful, it might just take that silver and stamp its approval on Simon. Simon will burn out in time, or inflict a deeper harm than we could imagine. But the deeper issue is not whether the seminary takes Simon’s money; it is what it will do with Simon when he gets within her doors.
A theological school will gladly take in this former sorcerer, but unlike Peter it will never cut to the heart of the matter. A theological school will give space for Simon to grapple with the right questions and perhaps equip him with some answers, and Simon will be convinced that he will then be able to impart the Holy Spirit on those he encounters. Simon will be getting everything right yet all the while getting it all wrong. As Peter shows, Simon does not need a Theological Education; he needs some years in an arena of formation. If we listen to Peter here, we see that Simon needs his heart transformed, his bitterness sweetened and his envy humbled. The religious world is full of Simons; will we take their silver and reinforce their sorcery, or will we give them their chance to repent like our Simon did in Acts 8?
When I leave the seminary setting, I will remember well the Simons. But I will count it a great blessing to have been touched by the Baranabas’, Pauls, Phillips, Peters, Marys whose lives and wisdom testify that their transformation will become a great beacon of hope in this world. I pray that as a seminary among seminaries, the whole endeavor will remember that it, like the early apostles, must be in the business of holistic formation that transcends a simple theological education.