Among the many questions I’ve heard over the years, a slew of them deal with preparing to go to seminary. One of the most common is, “What should I read to prepare for seminary studies?” There are certainly a lot of theological works that a person can read to get ready to go to seminary, but here are some of the most fundamental.
First, know your English Bible. There are many people in the church these days who have been Christians for years but have never read their Bible from cover to cover. It’s a sad but true fact. Moreover, many people are unfamiliar with the chief features, people, stories, and doctrines. If you want to become an expert in the Bible, then you need to have a basic familiarity with it. Read your Bible daily. I remember a professor of mine once told me that he and his wife read through the Bible every year. There are a number of different ways to do this: Bible reading plans, special editions of the Bible that divide it into daily readings, or just sitting down and reading the Bible like any other book. Basic Bible knowledge has become quite weak among incoming seminarians. About a decade ago we at WSC had to institute a basic Bible exam. If you fail the exam then you have to take English Bible Survey. We’ve had many students rave about this class, but it does reveal that basic Bible knowledge, even among life-long Christians, isn’t what it used to be.
So, read your Bible. Outline your Bible so you know its basic divisions. Outline books of the Bible so you know the basic structure of the major sections. Learn when the various books of the Bible were written and by whom. Most study Bibles have done this legwork for you. Read your Bible!
Second, learn the basic categories of Christian doctrine. This doesn’t require significant in-depth study. Rather, reading and even memorizing the Westminster Shorter Catechism or the Heidelberg Catechism can give you an excellent foundation. These short documents will give you the basic categories, doctrines, and classic terminology that you need. They are also a wonderful devotional resource—study while you pray, and pray while you study. Your devotional life never has to be divorced from your study of the Scriptures.
Third, once you’ve covered these basic categories, if you still want more, then you can read through a number of classic works, such as Augustine’s City of God, Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, or Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology, or his shorter editions such as his Manual of Christian Doctrine. As you read these works, make a list of terms, study them, learn and memorize them. These classic works can give you more of the basic framework for the materials that you’ll be studying in greater depth once you arrive at seminary.
The most important book, I believe, you should study is the Bible. Read it, memorize portions of it, meditate upon it, and learn it. It may seem cliché, but the most important book you can read to get ready for attending seminary is your Bible.