Admission Essay

If anyone is interested, this is my admission essay I wrote for acceptance into seminary for my Masters of Arts and Religion degree. I ended up being accepted. Hope you enjoy it!

I began my walk as a Christian later then my childhood friends growing up. Most of them had dedicated their lives to the Lord when they were between 3-5 years old; something that to this day I am suspicious of. At the time, I remember thinking that such spiritual experiences would be impossible for a very young child – for it takes a serious amount of understanding to fathom the complexity of hearing God’s invitation. For me, the time when I encountered God was much later.

I was 12 years old, and it was early in the morning before the sun had risen in the sky. I was riding with my father in the car on a trip to New Jersey to visit my grandparents. I remember that very suddenly, I became overcome with a strong desire to commit my life to God. I asked my father what is was like when he first became a Christian, and he told me about his conversion experience. My memory of the things that happened next were vague, but I do remember being filled with a mounting awareness of my imperfections, coupled strongly with my desire to draw close to God. I simply called out to God for help, and asked Him to take over.

Looking back, I am amazed at what happened in those few moments. For the first time in my life, I suddenly cared very much about God and our relationship, and could feel the terrible weight of a life trying to be lived without Him. All these thoughts were new to my experience at the time, but in an instant, I completely understood them very clearly. I am amazed at how God can communicate things to people that take so long for us to explain to others, but are passed to us in just a fleeting moment, and we understand completely within some deep part of ourselves. God has a way to speak to us that takes a parable-like form: our mental and rational guards are up, but He takes another route to communicate truth – one that speaks a different language than cold reason and logic alone; one that talks quietly to our inmost being where the message becomes internalized before it can be brought into coherency with our existing beliefs which become in that moment of realization hopelessly outdated.

This first experience with God has been a model of how I have learned spiritual truth that has really stuck with me – truth that has been seeded deep within me and has not been forgotten. These truths most of all are what has kept me spiritually alive when life inevitably became very hard and painful. A person’s theology is full of beliefs, bolstered by a myriad of tangled emotional and rational arguments, but it is not often that these kinds of beliefs sustain me in the midst of hard times.

It wasn’t long before my new life began to invade daily living. I began to question whether or not my activities were in line with my values, or if they jeopardized my relationship with God. I remember it was around this time that my brother and I never fought again, and have been great friends ever since. I also remember another interesting quality I picked up: a very strong thirst for serious study about God and the Christian walk. I might attribute this desire to observing my father who had a similar passion, but it is hard to say if that alone was the fuel that drove me to read book after book late into the night on apologetics, worldviews, philosophy, and Bible interpretation. It was at this time in my life as an early Christian that C.S. Lewis and his particular way of looking at the Christian life really resonated with me, and to this day he has been a strong influence in the way I understand Christianity.

During my remaining tumultuous teenage years, I discovered I had other great passions beside biblical studies, such as art, design, and computers. When the time came to make a decision about what to do with my life scholastically, I decided to follow a path towards a career that suited those loves, and so I set off to get a degree in Industrial and Graphic design. Undergraduate school was such an intense part of my life that I have often compared it to a type of hibernation: I was so completely focused on learning my trade that years went by before I began to once again resurface into the social world and interact with other human beings. It was an awkward transition that took me years to recover from.

Even during this intense time, I never seemed to loose my desire to try desperately to understand my Christian walk and life in general in an intellectual way. I would often be up late into the night – lying in my bed and staring at the ceiling thinking about some aspect of theology that I couldn’t understand. To this day, I have found few people as consumed as I who wrangle with these questions day and night, and would like nothing more than to simply discuss them for hours on end with a kindred spirit. I am sure such people exist, and with greater passion, but I have not met many nor have I kept in steady contact with the few that are.

At this point, I would like to clarify what I mean when I say I was “desperate” to understand spiritual truth. I do not mean that my beliefs in God or the stability of my faith were fragile and I was trying to save them. I use this strong word because I can’t think of a better one to describe the intensity of my desire to understand these spiritual things. Although I struggled day and night over some issue, I still went to bed without a worry as to if the basic tenants of Christianity were true or not. To this day, this desire has not cooled, but stayed at a steady level of high intensity. I do not know what drives this. At one point, I thought it was my pride, but life came down hard and wrecked that part of me, yet my desire to know truth continued to haunt me more strongly, even when it was no longer superficially beneficial to me.

Many years after college, I became involved with collage & career age Bible studies and church groups. I was asked to be a group leader in two of them. I gave lectures and led small group Bible studies on a regular basis for years. I also was involved with the affairs of leadership of such groups that did not involve teaching, such as conflict resolution and event planning. It was a wonderful time in my life, the first time that I could be used by God to minister to people and to encourage them to draw closer to God and to help them in their times of need where God gave me insight to help. It was my desire in my ministry to be open about my own failures and struggles in my Christian walk, and to admit I didn’t have all the answers and that I messed up quite often.

However, it was during this time that I became aware of the many problems of Bible interpretation in the conservative circles I was teaching in, and the sects that arise in the church because this. I also noticed a division among people and their approach to interpretation. Some believed what people they respected believed without any personal scrutiny and others (like myself) cared little for what important people believed, but tried to take a more scholarly approach to determine the right interpretation of a Bible passage or theological perspective. What I noticed most of all was everyone’s ignorance (including my own) of important tools that facilitate good interpretation above and beyond good logic and reason – a solid knowledge of the language and culture of the Bible. I would often attend a bible study or teach one that really moved me or the people I taught, only to realize that many of my points and my understanding of biblical culture and my interpretation were entirely wrong. This has been a source of frustration to me. Although it has been a long time since I have been allowed to teach, I restrict my advice to the spiritual truths in my life that are the most deeply rooted and most real to me, and have kept my opinions and perspectives on the less-certain things to myself.

Over the past couple of years, the spiritual life of our family has taken a heavy toll. We were forced to leave a very bad church only to land in another that was in some ways even worse. Since that time, we have moved from church to church, but have never found one that we were comfortable in. This experience has opened my eyes to a very dark side of Christianity that I had never experienced before or even believed could exist. This was a time when all I had to comfort me where the deep spiritual truths that God had given me. Those truths and many more He gave me during this time sustained me. I began to see things very clearly from the shoes of the atheist and the recovering anti-Christian that had been beat up by religious abuse. Most of my time spent over the past couple of years has been listening to people like this and what they have to say about their experiences with Christianity and its many variations. With the help of these hurt men and women, I have gained a painful perspective on the terrible destruction that man-made religious attitudes and behaviors have on the spiritual lives of people and their relationship with God. Their criticisms have helped me rethink many of my beliefs and attitudes. One good piece of advice from C.S. Lewis was to try to see a thing from someone else’s perspective. Whenever you read a book or a topic that you agree with, read one that you don’t. It is in this tension that a greater understanding of things may arise where a narrow perspective would not allow. Because of my bad church experiences, I have been able to follow his advice – to see the other side of religion; to see the valid criticisms and anger of atheists and other non-Christians towards religious societies who easily fall into the trap of corruption and in the process hurt so many people and destroy their relationship with God.

So, where does this leave me now? I believe God has led me on a path back to school again. It is time for my second passion to receive the benefit of higher learning. It is my desire to attend seminary to study the Bible under some of the greatest scholars in the country. This is indeed a great privilege, and it could not come at a better time. I have spent the last 2 years removing the encrustation of a self-righteous religious attitude, one that could be fed by seminary under the right conditions rather than corrected. Instead, I am coming with humility; with the noise of many hurt and angry voices echoing in my ears that will stem the tide of arrogance in me that inevitably accompanies advanced learning of any kind, as Paul mentions in Corinthians. I have seen first and second hand the damage of what religious pride can do, and my intentions are not sided there, but rather to do what I remember doing a long time ago: to be a facilitator to help people draw closer to God. I know as a lived reality that it is within the magic of that relationship where people will receive their deepest spiritual truths, the ones that will be clung to when the hard times of life come.

    12 Responses to “Admission Essay”

    1. Elise Johnson

      Beautiful, thanks for sharing!

      I cannot say I have had a “moment of conversion” in the way that you describe. I have felt the same things you did in that car ride as a young teenager, but I have felt them slowly and over several years (maybe even a decade). I’m familiar with that deep level of communion with God, that unforgettable sense of truth that makes God’s presence and existence very real, but it’s something that has slowly grown deeper and stronger, as opposed to something that washed over me in a matter of seconds.

      Usually, I am quite skeptical when people describe the moment they were saved, whether they say it happened at three or five or twenty years old. For you, when you experienced that at twelve, was it a moment where you moved from a sort of agnosticism to faith? Or was it more like moving from being and uncommitted believer to a committed believer? Would you call that moment the one in which you were saved?

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    2. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      I’m with you on being skeptical! At first, I thought everyone had the same kind of instant moment or minutes of realization and a switch to follow God. However, after talking with many others about the subject, it became apparent that God reaches out to everyone differently. C.S. Lewis talked about a gradual working things out where he grew closer to God over time, but had no real marked point or date of “salvation.” It sounds like your experience is very similar to his – you’re in great company!

      I think most Christians would use the term “saved” for that event. The concept of “saved” is one that the word “saved” doesn’t represent, (if we are talking about my experience) and seems more of a ambiguous religious word like “glory” or “holy” whose meaning I don’t understand as it is used today, nor do I understand what it meant to the original writers who wrote them. To me, what happened in this event was God introduced himself, and from that point on, we started a serious relationship – one that grows closer as the years go by (probably similar to your experience.) If a person’s relationship with God was a gradual one, at what point can you say you were “saved?” The same question could be asked of my wife and I. At what point were we committed? It was a friendship that gradually grew serious. It would be hard to pin-point that exact moment. Some people fall in love at “first sight.” Some couples fall in love over time. I believe the exact principle occurs here.

      The concept of “conversion” wouldn’t describe what happened because I already believed fully in God. It’s like meeting someone for the first time when before you just read about them or heard other people talk about them. With people, actually meeting them is never as interesting as what you imagined them to be like. Encountering God is the very opposite. Upon meeting God, I was overwhelmed and could not imagine something so wonderful. It was the first point of real, serious contact.

      For some reason, God’s presence at that moment was incredibly strong, so the feelings that go along with any encounter with God were amplified in this case (my guess here!) I noticed that when God’s felt presence occurs other times after that first time, I have the same feelings I had back then, only I am more used to them now, and can enjoy the time together rather than being completely overwhelmed.

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    3. BiV

      I am relating to what you wrote about wanting to talk about religious ideas for hours on end. I feel this way too, and I can never find anyone who wants to hash these things out over and over like I do. It’s one of the reasons I blog. Most people assume if you have such a raving desire to talk these things out, you must have some problem with your faith, but that’s not it. I’d really love to enter a religious studies program one day, just for that reason.

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    4. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      You would LOVE seminary! That’s all we do!! We talk for hours each class about theology, then we go home and write papers for another 10 hours each week! Then we come back and discuss what we wrote about. It’s heaven for people like us. There are some ground rules (God exists, Jesus was his son, etc.) but after that, the main point of each class is teaching YOU how to THINK for yourself, not shoving crap down your throat without telling you how they came up with it, which is an insult to people who care very strongly about deep thinking. Ideas and perspectives are based on a person’s grasp of the original language and common sense exegetical methods for Bible interpretation (i.e. this passage had an audience… what was the writer saying to them… ,etc.) All the rest involves my favorite part- the countless hours of logically and rationally understanding it and fitting it all together with everything else we believe.

      A good friend of mine and I, before we were both married, stayed up all night debating about how we should treat our wives. We walked away with vastly different perspectives, but the thinking was deep and rich and I learned a lot about different aspects I had not yet considered about the subject – it is so much fun to talk like that…

      As a Christian, you have every right to criticize and second-guess the bible interpretation of spiritual leaders. Even Paul thought this – he admonished the Bereans for checking if what he said jived with the Old Testament scripture. Even Christ himself drew authority for what he said based on the Old Testament revelation – he showed the two men on the road to Emaus how he (God) was all over the scriptures to further validate who he was. If even God himself when he comes down is obedient to the authority of scripture, I think we can safely make this a rule of thumb. No personal revelation or opinion of ANYONE trumps scripture. Neither Jesus or Paul would be in agreement with such a thing.

      This is not to say we cannot learn from people’s opinions or perspectives on bible topics or areas of theology. Its always good to be humble and listen in case they know something we don’t. But no person is a final authority – only scripture is. And the best authorities IMHO are the ones whose opinions are the most informed -the scholars that understand it best though rigorous study.

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    5. Behind the Infamous Veil (BiV)

      Oh, yeah.
      I have to tell you about this experience I had a few years ago. I was in a religious bookstore and I picked up a thick book on Old Testament symbolism. Something caught my eye and I was reading and digging in my purse for a pen and paper to jot down notes it was so fascinating and I was catching snatches of conversation from little groups of people who were discussing other books. I suddenly got this overwhelming feeling like I was in heaven and any minute the Savior would walk in the door. It is the picture I get in my mind now whenever I contemplate heavenly bliss.
      So a religious studies program is right up there on my list of 100 things to do before I die. (ARe there any women “of a certain age” students in your seminary program?)

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    6. Behind the Infamous Veil (BiV)

      And thanks again for that great comment you made on my blog.

      Reply to this comment.
    7. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      You’re welcome! I really enjoy those kinds of discussions!

      Your feeling was probably real – I think seminary is in your future! Definitely pray about it, and it will happen. God draws some of us down this path very seriously – we are the scholars and teachers – drawn to study and learn – a very honorable calling. I can’t believe it happened to me. At the seminary I am going to, most of the women I am in classes with are in their 40s-50s. Almost everyone is a part-time student who takes night classes because they have full time jobs. It’s geared towards people like yourself. Symbolism in the OT is what I will be taking next year – The OT prof there covers that material in great detail in the Pentateuch class. OT symbolism is huge- because it is sprinkled thoughtout the old and new and is very helpful to understand. If you’re not enrolled yourself and learning this stuff, I’ll be sure to post some insights I learn then.

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    8. Shelly

      Thank you for your thorough essay. I truly appreciated reading your story. I am struggling with writing my seminary application essay. I am thorough and to some long winded, so I’m struggling with the length specifications of 400-500 words. Thanks for this touching example.
      Best of luck,

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    9. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Thank you Shelly!! Good luck with your essay. I know you’ll love seminary. I just started up my classes again – I’ve taken a semester off and have sorely missed being there.

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    10. Shelly

      Hello again, Jonathan.

      I did write my essays and have been accepted to one seminary and I am currently waiting to hear from another (hopefully this week or next).

      I am excited! I just love being a student, right now I am a World History teacher–so its a welcomed change.

      The reason I decided to comment to you again was to ask if you have read The Shack? What are/were your thoughts? My Bible Study group is reading and discussing it right now. I saw your book review section and wondered. It has stirred up much in religious circles–both for and against. And a theologian, Randal Rauser, wrote a book about The Shack called, Finding God in the Shack.

      I know being in seminary has you doing a lot of reading, so I didn’t know if you have read it or maybe it was/is a topic of discussion in your circles.

      Would enjoy hearing your thoughts on the book, if you have time.

      Many thanks and continued blessing,

      Reply to this comment.
    11. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      I’ve heard more about this book since you mentioned it. My parents have read it—my father liked it and my mother did not :). Sounds like it will be fun to read! As soon as I read it, I’ll do a review myself. I think by writing I understand it better anyway.

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    12. creative title for compare and contrast essay

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