- 13 Reasons Why (Traditional) Seminaries are Irrelevant (For Church Leaders): Part 1
- 13 Reasons Why (Traditional) Seminaries are Irrelevant (For Church Leaders): Part 2
- Why Seminaries are Irrelevant: A Postscript
- Seminary: Have we Lost our Imagination?
- Reinventing Seminary
- Reinventing Seminary: The Goal
The other day Jake Belder linked to a post about 5 Reasons Seminary is Relevant. As someone who is in seminary and also interested in how to best train and equip church leaders I found this post interesting while at the same time disagreeing profoundly. Below is my response, but first I should qualify that I define traditional seminary programs as full-time residential programs that require someone to relocate themselves to a brick-and-mortar institution for a period of 2-5 years. I believe these programs are becoming increasingly irrelevant and unhelpful.
Also, my limited seminary and professional experience has been in the mainline church, specifically the ELCA. So, some of the following critiques might not apply to evangelical seminaries, but I believe that most will.
With that, here is why I think traditional seminary programs are irrelevant for church leaders:
- Seminaries remove people from ministry contexts. The traditional seminary model has certain values that undermine local gatherings and remove people unnecessarily from their faith communities. Yes, I know that your fellow seminarians create a community, but there is a significant difference between a gathering of idealistic budding theologians and the average person in a congregation. Much discourse in academic settings is very pie-in-the-sky and not well grounded in reality.
- The process of seminary is no longer effective in preparing for ministry. When the dominant church model was oral proclamation, reasoned argument, and apologetics, perhaps sitting in classrooms studying the minutiae of supralapsarianism, practicing speaking skills, and honing rhetoric was helpful. Today, however, we are moving past such a model and moving towards organic, relational, flat models of ecclesiology and mission, making the seminary model less relevant.
- Denominations are becoming a thing of the past. Many seminaries are bastions of denominational conformity and preservation. Unfortunately for them, today’s younger generation could care less about denominations. Denominations did not arise in force until the 1800s. If they haven’t always been, then it is likely they won’t always be. Denominational seminaries might be the first to go.
- The future of ecclesiology is the priesthood of all believers. Many future church leaders will be bivocational, making a dedicated graduate degree impossible. Dedicating full-time graduate level study to something that doesn’t pay the bills is not a practical option.
- Seminaries are about credentialing as much as training. My school, Luther Seminary, had to (and continues to have to) jump through all sorts of hoops to get the Association of Theological Schools to accredit their innovative Distributive Learning Program, which, to the surprise of the old guard, has been wildly successful in providing church leaders with quality training. We continue to be restricted by ATS from doing certain things that might be helpful in our education. This is all because we are caught up with being accredited, which has nothing to do with the gospel or training church leaders. (I say Luther should consider making the bold move of becoming the first major seminary to break with the ATS in order to do what we need to do to train people for the church. I know it’s complicated and all, but we should at least be considering it.)
- The process of seminary is personally damaging. Maybe this is not happening across the board, but Luther Seminary is doing some research into what happens to the spiritual lives of seminarians between the time they enter seminary and the time they graduate. The results are not encouraging (sorry I don’t have a citation because the results are not published). Not only is ministry effectiveness questionable, but at a personal level seminarians are coming out less healthy than when they matriculated. My hypothesis is that seminary asks deep and profound questions that need to be wrestled with in the context of a constant, steady, familiar worshipping community in order to not inflict the damage that it does. The role of the Spirit is diminished by taking people out of their church community.
You can read reasons 7-13 here. I look forward to some lively conversation.