Seven Seminary Clichés (AKA How to Understand Seminary Students)

I feel for the friends and family of seminary students. I really do. Seminarians incessantly name drop dead Puritans, use big words that end with –ology, quote books you’ve never heard of, and spice up their conversation with Greek and Hebrew. To the untrained ear, most seminarians don’t make a lick of sense.

Throughout my seminary career, I collected a list of the most common seminary clichés — and what they really mean — to help you understand what your seminarian is talking about.

“Land the Plane.”

Example: “I know we’re talking about some weighty theology, but soon we’re going to land the plane.”

What it really means: “I’m finally ready to tell you why this matters.”

No, your seminarian didn’t accidentally register for flight school. When he tells you he’s going to land the plane, it’s usually because he’s been droning on about a difficult-to-understand topic and he’s finally ready to tell you the point.

“Hermeneutical Gymnastics.”

Example: “Boy, those open theists have to do some crazy hermeneutical gymnastics to explain their view biblically.”

What it really means: “They’re twisting the Bible to justify a belief.”

Despite what you may think, hermeneutical gymnastics is not a seminary-exclusive sport or a Christian version of yoga. Instead, you perform hermeneutical gymnastics when you try to justify a belief by twisting or misinterpreting the Bible.

“Pregnant”

Example: “That professor had a pregnant definition of preaching.”

What it really means: “His definition was full of meaning.”

Some seminarians use pregnant to mean “full of meaning” — especially when talking about theology or definitions. For example, a “pregnant” definition concisely, densely communicates something which can be broken down into more in-depth study.

(To be clear, your seminarian probably will also use pregnant in the traditional “full-of-baby” sense. Something about poverty-inducing three-to-five-year masters degrees really inspires seminarians to take God’s command to “be fruitful and multiply” seriously. Seriously.)

“Do Life Together.”

Example: “We’ve been doing life together.”

What it really means: “I see Christians on days other than Sunday.”

This ubiquitous cliché is a trendy way of saying that you’re living in biblical community– as opposed to just attending church on Sundays. Practically, it probably means that you meet up with a fellow church member to share struggles, encouragement, and (definitely) a cup of coffee.

“Importance Cannot Be Understated.”

Example: “Barth’s importance to neoorthodox theology cannot be understated.”

What it really means: “He’s really important.”

When you think something is important, you probably just say so. You know, like a normal person. But when you enter the hallowed walls of academia, you feel the pressure to write and talk like a smart person. Unfortunately, “write and talk like a smart person” too often translates into “be as confusing as possible and make every sentence read like the opening of a Shakespearean tragedy.”

“Contextual/Missional/Multiplication/Organic”

Example: “I’m seeking to be contextual by developing missional, organic communities that will multiply.”

What it really means: “I want to be a church planter.”

Every field has its buzz words; these are the buzz words of a church planter. If you hear any combination of these words in a conversation, your seminarian is probably pursuing church planting. Other clues include coffee addiction, beards, and the presence of tattoos.

“Idol”

Example: “She’s turning her children into an idol.”

What it really means: “Her kids are way too important to her.”

Many pastors have encouraged Christians to think about how we can accidentally allow good things to become ultimate things — replacing God as the center of our worship. This is a much needed message. But… I hope this helpful distinction isn’t becoming a trite cliché. I mean, if everything is an idol, is anything really an idol?

What other seminary clichés can you think of?

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