Thursday, March 31, 2016

Rethinking Seminaries Part 1

In the 2007 edition of the Confessional Presbyterian (vol. 3), Dr. Pipa has an article entitled “Seminary Education”.  And it is a defense of seminaries as the way to educate our future pastors.  I would like to challenge that article because I am no longer convinced seminaries are the way to go. 

Dr. Pipa begins by admitting that formerly Presbyterian ministers were the best educated men in town, and that is no longer true.  He admits that this may be the worse trained generation of ministers ever and points not just to not being the best educated, but also to the state preaching and churchmanship as proof.  He also freely admits the high cost of maintaining seminaries serves as another strike against seminaries, but he continues to believe it the best idea. 

Dr. Pipa then goes into a biblical defense of seminaries.  The main biblical support for seminaries is the “sons of the prophets” found in places 1 Samuel 10:5.  Dr. Pipa’s main argument appears to be that there was a group of people called “sons of the prophets” who appear during the time of Samuel and continue and appear to dwell with prophets and serve them.  Dr. Pipa argues that from these men are drawn future prophets, so they are sort of a prophet in training.  His proof for the assertion that most prophets came from the school of the prophets comes from Amos 7:14 where Amos denies being a sons of the prophet, but rather a man who shepherded.  He claims they studied and became the historians of the divided kingdom and he points to verses like 2 Chronicles 12:15 as proof.  Although those verses speak of Iddo the Seer and names prophets, it never says the person was from the Sons of the Prophets.  Dr. Pipa also assumes that bible training would have taken place as well as musical training and poetry readying them for life as a prophet.  Dr. Pipa concludes then the Sons of the Prophets were OT seminaries. 

Now, I think this is shaky proof at best.  We don’t really have an example of an attender of the “sons of the prophets” becoming a prophet.  Amos specifically says he was not one.  Elisha is not one despite the Sons of the Prophets being around.  Isaiah is not one.  Jeremiah is not one.  Ezekiel is not one.  Thoes three were priests.  Daniel does not appear to be one.  Neither does Zephaniah, who may also have been a priest.  These are a lot of exceptions.  The best picture of someone who was a son of the prophet being a prophet himself is in 1 Kings 20:35 where a certain man of the sons of the prophets commanded someone to strike him and he died when he did not, and that son of the prophet then delivered a prophetic message to Ahab.  Dr. Pipa is assuming that the rest of the prophets came from the sons of the prophets. 

But let me put forth an alternative suggestion.  Perhaps these sons of the prophets are the source for the 400 false prophets of 1 Kings 22.  Here there are four hundred men who are pretending to be prophets of God, but are accepted by the king and many others as legitimate prophets.  I have read some who suggest these are the 400 prophets of Ashoreth that are not mentioned as being killed by Elijah on Mt. Carmel, but how would they be accepted as legitimate if they all switched from Ashoreth to Jehovah?  Something has happened to make people believe these prophets are legitimate.  And what of the false prophets like Hananiah opposing Jeremiah in places like Jeremiah 28?  Could they not be products of the sons of the prophets?  It might help us understand why so many listened to the wrong voices.  Would this not mean that the Bible is really telling us seminaries are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs because they will lead the church astray?  This seems to fit a bit better with more modern historical evidence like Calvin Seminary and the CRC or the Mercersburg Seminary and the RCUS. 

But in the end, the Bible is not saying either what I just put forth or what Dr. Pipa puts forth.  We are both drawing conclusions through assumptions.  The Bible in the end is not saying anything about seminaries.  Yes, it teaches we should have an educated clergy (see 1 Timothy 4 and 2 Timothy 2).  But, the how of that education is really not spelled out.  This gives the church freedom to do what they deem best to educate men for the ministry. 

Next I will look at some of Dr. Pipa’s historical points. 


Jeremy B said...

Do you view there to be much of a difference between seminaries which have denominational ties versus those that are independent?

Lee said...

Not really. Denominational ties are only as good as the willingness to police the seminary and independent seminaries are unpolicable. Both use the academic model, which I think is a problem.