Sunday, January 15, 2012

Princeton - 200 years later

In case anyone missed it, Princeton Seminary was founded in 1812 - or 200 years ago. Expect a lot of stuff coming up all year about Princeton. And there are lots of things to praise about Princeton. A century of excellence and a legacy of fighting the good fight for orthodoxy. If you want to join in on some celebrating and learning, check out Greenville Theological Seminary's Conference dedicated to Princeton. Blogs are in on the action as well. Expect more remembrances all year long. Even the Young Restless and Reformed Gang at the Gospel Coalition is in on it all year. And so you should expect more rebuttals about that too.

But the question remains, did Princeton get it right? Is it the model we should be following? I expect to get yelled at, but let me venture the answer. No. They didn't. Everyone always points out that no seminary was orthodox longer than Princeton. Most are lucky to make it 50 years, much less 100. And its direct descendant Westminster has made it quite some time as well (with less success). But the fact remains. Princeton went bad. In fact most seminaries go bad. That is just a fact that cannot really be denied. Whether they are church supported like Calvin Seminary or more independent like Knox. They go bad.

Let me just remind everyone that Andover Theological Seminary and Princeton Seminary are two of the first in the nation. Before that people learned in the homes of pastors. Or they stayed extra at Yale or a place like that reading theology before going to take an exam. Princeton was a fundamental shift in how theological education was done. It became modeled after school. Education was done by the professional scholar not the everyday pastor. This is, I believe, Princeton's fundamental flaw. Every seminary today is based on this model mostly because of Princeton (in the Reformed World at least).

Princeton turned out great scholars, and they battled liberalism in print more than anyone else. The Princeton Review was influential and the world renown of the scholars is nothing to sneeze at. But did they win the battle in the pews? Hard to say, but maybe not. Take a look at their most famous students.
Charles Hodge - never pastored a church but went on to a great career training pastors.
Joseph Addison Alexander - never pastored a church, but taught at Princeton.
B.B. Warfield - was a stated supply at a couple of place, but spent the majority of his life as a professor.
Geerhardus Vos - never pastored a church but was the founder of modern Biblical theology at Princeton.
Casper Wistar Hodge Jr. - never pastored a church and was ordained after he became a professor at Princeton.
J. Gresham Machen - never pastored a church, but did serve in the Great War for which he was ordained. Professor most of his life.
Robert Dick Wilson - never pastored and was a professor that went to Westminster
O.T. Allis - never pastored a church, and was a professor that went to Westminster.

Now many professors did pastor. AA Hodge pastored, as did J.A. Alexander, and his brother J.W. Alexander (who actually quit being a professor to go back to pastoring). But with all of these great professors who did not ever serve in the pulpit, one has to wonder how good were they at applying their truths to the daily ministry? Lest you think I am making this up here is a quote from David Calhoun's wonderful history of Princeton:
"Practical theology was Princeton's weakest area. It was difficult to find the scholar-pastor-preacher combination to fill the need, and there was apparently some reluctance on the part of the faculty to develop this department fully, fearing that it would detract from the more academic work." Vol. 2 pg. 216
The students actually complained in 1909, but the faculty viewed that as a just plain lack of intellectual prowess in the students. However, I think that the end shows that perhaps the faculty misunderstood the fundamental nature of preaching and pastoral work.

Now a student studying with a pastor would not get the access to so many brilliant minds in one place. But he does get a heavy does of pastoral reality, a good handle on the practical nature of theology, preaching, and church shepherding. The question becomes is it better for the church as a whole if many get a rigorous academic training for the ministry to become scholar-pastors, or if an entire army is equipped to be preaching-pastors. I at least think the answer to that is up in the air, and that as we celebrate Princeton we be willing to throw out their model altogether.


Anonymous said...

The pre-Princeton, American model was an historical anomaly, an ad hoc solution to a practical problem: no schools.

Prior to the American colonial experiment, Reformed pastors had ordinarily been educated in universities (Leiden, Heidelberg, the Genevan Academy) and that followed the establishment of the great European universities in the high and late middle ages. Before that pastors were trained in cathedral (regional) schools and before that in catechetical schools.

Historically, the norm has been that pastors became scholars in the academy or did both simultaneously (e.g., Calvin and Turretin). That still happens. Compared with the older European schools Princeton Seminary was probably a little unusual in hiring scholars without pastoral experience. We should not ignore, however, the fact that the Princeton men were churchmen and preachers during their time at Princeton. It was not as if they were isolated from the practical life of the church.