Monday, July 07, 2014

Time to reconsider the Seminary

Perhaps the time has come for us to completely abandon the seminary model.  Don't quit reading just because of the radical nature of that comment.  Remind yourself the church existed for 1800 years without it.  Let us just look for a moment at the fruit of the seminary.

Most Reformed and Presbyterians would agree the high point of the seminary was Old Princeton.  It gave us B.B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, Archibald Alexander, and J. Gresham Machen just to name a few.  It was faithful for 100 years.  And we can be thankful for those great men. 

Yet, during this 100 years of faithfulness the Presbyterian Church split multiple times.  It had the Old School - New School split.  It had the Northern church and Southern Church split as even the Old School guys could not manage to stay together.  And the 100 years ended when the Liberals took over and the OPC split occurred.  Prior to the creation of Princeton Seminary the denomination split 1 time for a total of 17 years before it reunited.  And that split revolved around the proto-seminary of the "Log College" under the Tennent family. 

The RCUS had a similar experience splitting for the first time when they created a seminary and required men to go there.  What would become Mercersburg Theological Seminary started off an entire generation of warfare in the RCUS ending with liberalism in control.

And let us not forget that these seminaries feuded with each other.  Princeton feuded with Union Theological Seminary over Scripture.  Princeton and Mercersburg feuded over the Lord's Supper.  And we could go on and on.

Today the situation is even worse.  Westminster Seminary California feuds with Mid America Reformed Seminary over Two Kingdoms.  Reformed Theological Seminary fires a professor for his creation views, and Knox is right there to hire him.  Covenant Seminary is in the middle of fights for the PCA putting it occasionally at odds with Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  Westminster Theological Seminary cut ties with Westminster Seminary California because they are not the same, and Knox cut ties with its western campus, which becomes New Geneva Theological Seminary, because they are not compatible.  And these debates/arguments do not stay at seminary, they are brought into the church.  If you disagree, go tell a recent MARS graduate you are Two Kingdoms and just see how the conversation goes. 

And should I even get started on the "Academic Freedom" issues?  This issue comes up any time we get a Norman Shepherd or Peter Enns, and it is brought up because the seminary is modeled after academia where academic freedom is deemed an important thing.  The seminary model is the academic graduate school model.  You go to class, pass class, and get your higher degree.  Professors are encouraged to publish, and need to be a drawing point for the seminary. 

The problem with this is of course ministry is not an academic pursuit.  I am not saying people should not be educated or smart.  By no means!  But there are other ways to get an educated ministry.  And one is the old mentorship model or even the Oxford model that is mostly reading based.  Even a return to the Log College or Swamp College days would be preferred.  The academic model has been tried now for 200 years, and it seems to be failing. 

The academic model has brought us the "celebrity" pastor culture.  It has brought on a multiplication of independent seminaries, which are not the church.  The very nature of the independent seminary beast seems to require a quarreling about words in order to draw out a niche group of students so that the seminary can make money, which will also lead those seminaries to give degrees to men who are not gifted nor qualified for ministerial office.  Telling a passing student "you are not cut out for this job" is something that probably never happens at seminaries because 1) its the church's job and 2) they need the tuition.  Does this cross the line of I Timothy concerning "godliness for gain" and needless "quarreling about words"?  It is worth thinking about. 

At the very least it is time to stop and give honest assessment to how we are training men for the ministry.  The seminary model has serious problems that the church cannot afford to ignore. 


Matt Powell said...

I have a lot of sympathy for a lot of your argument here. But- what would be your preferred model? The mentorship model you suggest in your post?

Lee said...

I think the mentorship model is what I would lean toward now. It gives the best church oversight, it could be the least disruptive to the life of a prospective ministerial candidate, and provides a look at pastoral ministry up close as opposed to the view of pastoral ministry from the class room.

But I am open to more suggestions.

Andrew Duggan said...

That was the most fun and refreshing thing that I've read online in a long time.

Imagine there's no seminaries.
It's easy if you try.
No church splits or fights
Only mentoring in what's right
Imagine all the churches
Ministering in peace...


Jeremy B said...

There are distance programs which incorporate meny outshot like Whitefield Seminary, , any thoughts on that approach?

Just a note, but Bob Grossman is/was one of the professors.

Jeremy B said...

Sorry, thats mentorship not "meny outshot"

Lee said...

It seems to me Whitefield records class room type lectures and then you get to watch them at home. So while there is some contact with a local guy (I think) the model is really still class room learning.

Whitefield still separates the teaching and instruction from the local church. In some ways it even further removes the education from actual contact with the student. I do believe Whitefield has found the model of the future for seminaries (low cost, no need to convince people to move, and little to no effort), I think it is still a seminary model and outside of church control. I don't think I like it.

Jeremy B said...

Thanks Lee

Imagine one could level the same critique at distance education provided by any of the seminaries, which is being done by most, if not all. Of course, low cost and not moving would be two things it would seem that you'd be advocatig in favor of. Whitefield does have students have a local mentor that they are to meet with periodically (ideally ones pastor), so as to continue under church oversight. As a seminary they are connected with the RPCGA, so they are very much under church control denominationally as well.

A local teaching model can only happen when pastors give themselves to the work of mentoring those under their care. Truth is, one cannot so much as get some pastors to communicate with them, much less meet for lunch, much less act as a mentor.

So yes, lets lament the state of the seminary. Also though, lets lament the state of the pastorate. While we're at it, lets lament the state of the church as well. All are symptomatic of the same problem, so lets lament when the state of our own souls and our own sin has contributed. Lets give ourselves to the mutual edification and commitment to the sound pattern of words of Scripture and as summarized in those faithful creeds and confessions to which we adhere.