Friday, April 08, 2016

Rethinking Seminaries Part 3

One of the fundamental planks of Dr. Pipa’s defense of seminaries is the superiority of Princeton to other methods of training men for the ministry. 

There are somethings that cannot be denied about Princeton.  Princeton was a place of great learning.  There is no doubt those who graduated had a tremendous education.  Princeton made a bold and beautiful stand for orthodoxy for a little over 100 years.  That cannot be denied either.  Nor can it be denied that in 1929 Princeton Seminary went liberal. 

Yes, it is true Princeton was orthodox for more than 100 years and that is longer than every other seminary, but it still went liberal.  But, it must also be noted that remaining orthodox for 100 years is not the same as being the best way to train pastors.  The stand for orthodoxy is impressive precisely because of how liberal most seminaries are and how fast they go liberal.  This really ought to be seen as the exception that proves the rule that seminaries are not the best way to educate men for the ministry. 

But let us look beyond the fight for orthodoxy.  For here is the real key to the discussion.  Were the men who graduated from Princeton good ministers, better prepared than those who came before them being trained in a different manner? 

Think about the great graduates of Princeton Theological Seminary.  You think of men like Charles Hodge, Casper Witsar Hodge Jr., Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, Geerhardus Vos, and J. Gresham Machen.  You know what these men had in common?  They never served a church as pastor.  B.B. Warfield was an evangelist briefly and stated supply a couple of times, but never a full time pastor.  And these are not the only names that fit this bill either (O.T. Allis, James Moffat, and J.A. Alexander for example).  Princeton had trouble training men for ministry.  Listen to the evaluation of David Calhoun, a Princeton Seminary supporter, commenting on Princeton ignoring complaints from the student body in the early 1900’s.  “Princeton had maintained faithfully the founder’s priorities in promoting ‘solid learning’ and ‘piety of heart’, but it had lost something of Alexander’s and Miller’s ability to teach and model for the students skills of ministry” (Princeton Seminary Vol. 2 pg. 269).  Or again, Princeton faculty “concentrated their energies on fighting to maintain the legacy that they had inherited from Archibald Alexander, Samuel Miller, and Charles Hodge.  However, in Old Princeton’s desperate struggle, attention to some very good things was lessened.  Sturdy biblical exposition, great preaching, and more evangelistic and missionary zeal – along with its stalwart defense of the faith – would have strengthened the Princeton cause” (Ibid. pg. 398).  Calhoun explains why this was the case, “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 of the seminary” (Ibid., pg216). 

And there lies my chief complaint about the modern seminary.  It is based on the “academic” model, and what will always be stressed above all else is academics.  Dr. Pipa is holding Princeton out as a standard even though Princeton willingly sacrificed preaching and practical pastoral theology in favor of academics. 

Princeton did produce wonderful scholars and theologians.  Some of the best in American History without a doubt.  They produced not only replacements for themselves as professors, but also filled the chairs of other theological seminaries.  Men like William Henry Campbell (professor of languages at New Brunswick Seminary, and later President of Rutgers) who followed the Princeton theology, and some who didn’t like John Williamson Nevin (at Mercersburg Seminary), and some who were in the middle like James Petigru Boyce (founder of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).  And for the record none of those men served as a pastor for any real amount of time.  In the end, Princeton failed to produce enough solid biblical preachers and pastors to combat the worldly influence and the church’s slide toward liberalism.  And producing solid biblical preachers was the weakest part of the Seminary.  Obviously there were many other factors in the Presbyterian Church’s slide into liberalism, but Princeton’s failure in the area of pastor training cannot be overlooked or excused either. 

After all this is a discussion of the best way to train men for the ministry, training men to be pastors, not training men to be future seminary professors.