Bob Thune challenges some long-standing assumptions and suggests that we might need to consider some other avenues for theological training.
Here are some of the concerns and solutions that Bob lays out in his post...
- Seminary pulls pastors “off the streets” for 3 or 4 years to isolate them in a sterile academic environment. While this might be great for paper-writing, it’s really bad for missional living.
- The nature of the business means that seminaries are always juggling the best interests of students, faculty, donors, and accrediting agencies. These players are never in agreement, which means that no one is ever happy.
- Seminaries seek to accomplish theological training apart from immersion in a local church. Though most require their students to be active in a church, seminaries tend to be a breeding ground for Monday-morning-theologians who want to critique the church rather than serve it.
- Because professors are pressured to publish and gain tenure, the classes they teach are often little more than laboratories for their latest projects. One seminary student in our church told me that every one of his classes this semester uses a book written by the professor.
- Seminaries have to pay the bills, which means it’s in their best interests to keep students around as long as possible. Seminaries continue to promote the M.Div. as the “flagship” degree – even though a 2-year M.A. with well-chosen electives is often just as good, and about $15,000 cheaper.
- Seminary graduates tend to exit with heads full of theology, but without worshipful hearts or authentic relationships with non-Christians. I am aware this is an over-generalization. But unfortunately it’s an accurate one.
- Because of a seminary’s need to cater to a diverse student body, most seminaries can’t offer a truly systematic theological education. Students end up having to piece together the fragmented bits of data they’ve accumulated in so many haphazard, out-of-sequence courses. The idea of a cohesive “body of learning” is all but lost in the modern academy.
- The primary place for pastoral training and development should be within the local church. Good, theologically astute elders can guide aspiring leaders through a year or two of seminary-level reading and study without ever removing them from their church body. Rather than paying thousands of dollars for a packaged seminary education, aspiring leaders can get exactly the same level of reading and study (minus the classroom interaction) for free, with the added bonus of mentorship and community with others in their local church.
- Regionally influential churches should band together to host theological training academies, similar to what Mars Hill/Acts 29 has begun to do with Re:Train (NOTE: Or Porterbrook Southeast, beginning in the Deep South in Fall 2010). Cadres of a couple dozen students can fly top-notch professors in, wine them and dine them, and pay a hefty honorarium for their labor, and still come out way ahead of the $400 or $500 per credit hour that seminaries charge.
- Theological students should use technology to access “the best of the best” teachers and theologians. Many seminaries offer lectures for free through iTunes U. Others allow students to audit classes via videoconferencing. If you want to learn systematic theology from Wayne Grudem, church history from John Hannah, and apologetics from John Frame, why not?
- Seminaries should continue to hire and equip the best and brightest academic minds in Christianity to do battle on the field of ideas. We need good theologians doing high-level academic work, and seminaries provide an important context for that. But rather than paying the bills by lassoing directionless Bible-college grads for a 3-year M.Div., they should focus their recruiting efforts on doctoral students, pastors who want ongoing training, and “a la carte” students who would pay to access the wisdom and expertise of the most talented professors in a given field. Seminaries could cut all the “adjunct” faculty and retain only the best and brightest thinkers.