Application to Law School (August 2009)
I am 41 years old and have been the pastor of a medium-sized evangelical church for the last 15 years. Why do I now want to go to law school?
I’ve always been interested in law. It was the subject of my project for the fourth grade career fair. I won a state championship with our high school debate team in 1984 when the national debate topic was the criminal justice system. I majored in Philosophy/Pre-Law as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois. But during college I felt a call to Christian ministry. Although I did not grow up in a religious home and although I began my spiritual searching in the writings of Eastern religious thinkers, I eventually came to believe in the good news that Christ died for the forgiveness of sins.
I have not lost this faith in Christ, but I have just about lost my faith in the institution of the traditional American church. I still pastor a church and I still love the people I am serving, but it is becoming increasingly clear to me that as Christians we have domesticated the mission of the church. We look to our pastors to be directors of family-friendly programming and providers of religious goods and services rather than leaders in the mission of doing justice and showing mercy in the world.
In the last two years I have also become more Lutheran in my theology. Luther’s doctrine of vocation declares that there is nothing more holy about a call to be a minister than any other calling. Luther has assured me of the freedom not to be a pastor. Some contemporary Lutheran theologians have critiqued the evangelical subculture as a “new monasticism”. This subculture exists as a far less inspiring but equally wrongheaded way of avoiding engagement with the world. But as Luther experienced no little persecution for shutting down the monasteries, so jeremiads against the evangelical subculture do not play well in Peoria.
But I know that if I go to law school as a second effort to save the world, I will just experience a very expensive transition from disillusionment with the American church to disillusionment with the American legal system. There are some noble reasons for a Christian to be an attorney. As Christ is called our Advocate with the Father, so I could be a voice in the courts for those who cannot speak for themselves. In June we became foster parents to an infant and this has brought me into the courts and rekindled my interest in being an advocate. For the last two years I have volunteered at a homeless shelter that serves as a transitional facility for many men just released from the penitentiary. In the course of helping one of these men I have again found myself in the courtroom. But I won’t get fooled again. I don’t want to be a lawyer so I can change the world. But I do want to live out my faith more in the world and less in the monastery of church culture.
Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 says, “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil– this is the gift of God.” I hope to find enjoyment in my second career, and if I get to do a little good along the way, thanks be to God.