Monday, April 04, 2016

Rethinking Seminaries Part 2

Continuing a discussion about seminaries started from Dr. Pipa’s article “Seminary Education” from the Confessional Presbyterian 2007, we move into the discussion of how seminaries came into existence historically.

Dr. Pipa begins with the catechetical school in Alexandria.  This began as a place to train new converts, but apparently at some point begins training men for the ministry too.  Dr. Pipa admits that this first seminary fails and leads the church into error because of its foundation on the allegorical approach and Greek Philosophy.  This example then seems to be as much against seminaries as for them.

The Middle Ages presents the monasteries as the equivalent of seminaries.  Here Dr. Pipa suggests the monks were often better educated than the priests, and he points to Jerome in Palestine and Cassiodorus in Italy.  The problem here is he often neglects how in the middle ages the monks were bigger problems too.  It is the monks of Egypt who kill Bishop Flavius of Constantinople at the Robber Council of Ephesus.  It is the monks who demand the reinstatement of images and the Second Council of Nicaea while many priests were opposed to the images.  Leaving out such prominent negative examples seems to cast doubt on the supremacy of this method of training men for the ministry.  One could also make the argument that training men to be monks is not the same as training men for the ministry, but we will not pursue that avenue. 

I must admit that I am a little surprised Dr. Pipa leaves out the school of Charlemagne.  Perhaps because it was not meant to be for men going into the ministry, but just people in general.  Although it seems probable that some of Charlemagne’s illegitimate children were educated here and ended up in the ministry like Hugo and Drogo.  It was here Charlemagne gathered Alcuin, Theodulf of Orleans, Einhard, and others helped create a Caroligian Renaissance.  If Dr. Pipa ought to include counter examples, so should I. 

Dr. Pipa then points to the early Universities that helped spawn the Reformation.  The University system clearly aided the rise of the Reformation with the majority of Reformation leaders coming from Universities.  However, this could also serve as a counter example.  The point of the University was to turn out men in the Roman Catholic Church, but failed miserably by letting people read the Bible and allowing criticism of the church and non-conformity.  While these university/seminaries were great for the Reformation they failed in their job to provide an educated clergy for the Roman Catholic Church.

Dr. Pipa also notes the early American colleges that were meant for training ministers.  Harvard was founded just a few years after the colony itself was founded.  It was clearly important to the Puritan men.  He goes onto say that when “Harvard began to slip, Yale was formed; when Yale began to slip, Princeton developed. (pg.225)”  This is true, but shouldn’t this be another sign of the problems with seminaries?  And if we continue to look at this trend when doctrinal divisions arise the parties often responded with their own college.  College of Delaware was Old Side to combat Princeton (New Side).  Kings and Queens college were founded by opposing sides of the Dutch Reformed church.  We could go on.  This seems to point to a controversial nature embedded in seminaries that I think is part of the problem.  More on that to come. 

But Dr. Pipa sees some of these problems.  His answer to the failing results of seminaries is found in systematic theology, classical education, and a confessionally united faculty.  This, for Dr. Pipa, protects against the slide to liberalism by demanding confessional fidelity as well as not jettisoning systematic courses for practical theology (a problem he believes many modern seminaries have pg.228).  Much of this is taken from Princeton Seminary and their founding documents and teaching with slight updating to hit modern problems and issues. 

Yet a glaring problem is that Dr. Pipa assumes the greatness and superiority of Princeton rather than actually proving it (probably for lack of space in the article).  It is however an issue that deserves closer attention.