Saturday, March 18, 2006

Reform the Seminaries!

An article in the St. Patrick's Day New York Times says that enrollment in Protestant seminaries is increasing, even as the number of graduates entering pastoral work is shrinking. This is no surprise.
I have watched with dismay as all the major "theological schools" in Canada have shifted from training preachers and missionaries, to graduating "Christian professionals." Here it comes - hoogly!
Seminaries on the whole have completely lost focus. What is the purpose of the seminary if not to help train men how to perfom pastoral ministry both locally and "to the ends of the earth?" I fear what motivates decisions more than anything else in this realm is money. As post-moderns grow increasingly bored with genuine Biblical thinking, school enrollments nose-dive. As numbers decrease, the powers-that-be decide to "broaden our course offerings" in order to get more students. It happens all the time.
Of course, when a school does this, it must shift resources to fill in all the new course addtitions. Professors end up teaching things they are not as skilled at. New professors have to be brought on staff in order to offer key courses. Course schedules get stretched into wonkiness and students end up spending too much of their week on campus instead of in their local church. I could go on.
In my opinion, the bottom line is that true "theological education" suffers. Not a sudden death, but a slow blood-letting that fools those in the middle of it that nothing is really that wrong. Then one day everyone wakes up and they are the new Liberal School of The Day.
My solution is this. Let the seminary be a seminary!

I think it would look something like this:
1. Courses are taught by elders of local churches.
2. Courses are geared toward "the grammar subjects" - like languages, theology (Biblical and systematic), Bible surveys, in-depth book studies (like a semester in Philippians!), historical theology, and even grammar (English, Greek, Hebrew) itself.
3. Courses are restricted to men (at the very least in the M.Div. program).
4. All the other good things that seminaries could teach are sent to some other school or local church to teach.
5. Personal spirituality is the greatest emphasis with regular accountability in Bible reading, prayer, evangelism, purity, and personal character.
6. No man gets a degree who cannot have a board of elders affirm him as an elder in their own church.

That's at least a start .


  1. Yes, I get scared everytime one of my friends tells me that they are heading off to study at a "seminary" which as far as I am concerned is merely a liberal arts university named after some great father of the faith. I agree with your list of possible reforms but I cant see why women would be kept from the mdiv program...It might just be that I don't really know what happens in a mdiv program but having well educated women in a church is probably good. I guess I want you to clarify why an mdiv program would not be appropriate for a lady...I wonder if having gender focused classes even at a seminary which would teach men their biblical role and teach women how they are to be leading biblically. I admit my ignorance in this field. I'm not saying that women should be trained for positions of authority in the church rather seriously trained for service and leadership.
    thoughts kerux?

  2. Amen, Paul.

    Reading Wells' "No Place For Truth" a few years back was a real eye-opener - I was at ACTS Seminary out West at the time. I'm doubtful that we can see a reform of the existing schools, but then SBTS has made amazing reforms under Dr. Mohler. The key is for solid, Reformed churches to get involved in the process!


  3. son of man -
    My reason for limiting a Master of Divinity program to men is simple. Only men can be pastors.
    Having taught seminary classes with both men alone and men and women mixed, I know firsthand the difference. Men and women being equal in value are different in roles - it is God-designed. And I believe there are matters that must be taught pastoral students that are only appropriate to be discussed as a group of men. I am not thinking here primarily of sexual issues, but more in the realm of how to lead. Leading is the one activity women in the church are not to exercise over men.
    These are some preliminary thoughts...

  4. Terry -
    I agree with your evaluation. There was a time when all the seminaries were both funded and directed by local churches. If this were to be more the case, I believe we would see far less straying off into academic nonsense. There is a growing movement in the US of small seminaries directed by one or two local churches. Men can stay in their churches and train as they live. I see this kind of model happening more and more at TBS and I love it. The men there are involved in local assemblies and the pastors are taking more of an active interest in the seminary... I pray there is only more of this!

  5. Kerux, I obviously agree with you (about male pastors and leaders). I think my comments were unclear, let me explain. If the sole purpose of having an mDiv is to be a pastor, then its fine to restrict it to men. Is there no other purpose to an mdiv? (that is a question, not a question that seeks to make a statement.) Do you think that it is unnecessary for a lady to have this particular type of education (ie mdiv)to make her (biblical) role more powerful or effective? Maybe a woman can achieve all that she needs to properly lead (as her role is outlined in scripture) by dedicating herself to the word without the formal training.

    ps. when I said "leadership" in the last post I meant it in the sense of influence (a merely godly Influence free of title or authority.) I hope you didn't think me some kind of heretic. :)

  6. son of man -
    You would have to do a lot worse for me to think of you as a heretic!!!
    Yes, I think the seminary should restrict itself to training pastors and that is all. If some of those men sense the Lord's call to plant churches in a foreign land (what we mistakenly, I think, call "missionary work") then fantastic.
    The Bible does have some things to say about older women training younger woman... and the local church and its teaching ministry are still in the equation. I can think of dozens of godly women who've never set foot in a seminary. So, in that sense, I think it is not needed.

  7. sweet. good answer, pastor. All clear in this kid's mind. I think you should blog on church planting vs "missionary work."

    ps. I hate having to type some unintelligible word in order to leave a comment here.

  8. I, with som, think you should post: "no more missionaries". That would be great. Then you would have to make it "kerux top 8" on your sidebar.

    I totally agree on the seminary issue. Having been at a "seminary" that attempts to offer everything to everyone, without offering any real biblical direction to anyone, I understand first-hand how useless these institutions are.

    The question, of course, is money. How do you fund these things? That's the problem where these places get tripped up.

  9. Kerux,

    I certainly agree with the heart of what you're saying. When I started seminary a little over four years ago I would ask my new friends what they wanted to do when they finished the MDiv. I remember most saying that they wanted to pastor or be a missionary. When I ask these same people the same question now, they say "I'd like to finish a PhD and teach at a seminary."

    This disturbs me, for reasons you have already articulated. However, I am also a little hesitant about your proposal. It seems to me to go to the opposite extreme (where only pastors and no theologians are being trained. Of course I believe that pastors should be academic, but I am talking about people who can engage in scholarly research, write articles and books, and combat the errors of the day. I have been blessed to study under men who have been on the frontlines against things like Open Theism and the New Perspective. Pastors generally don't have the time or scholarly ability to combat these things.

    It also seems a little barbarous to withold education and degrees from people who "don't qualify" (eg. women, and men who couldn't be elders). An MDiv is an educational degree and anyone who meets the requirements of the degree should be granted one. To quote Keith Green out of context: Getting an MDiv doesn't make you a pastor anymore than going to McDonalds makes you a hamburger. There are other checks already in place to make sure that only qualified people enter the pastorate - pulpit committees, ordination, etc.

    Just some thoughts.

  10. Dave,
    Some great thoughts (as always!).
    I agree with you that our best intellects need to be trained, but I still believe that historically the best Truth-defenders were pastors. Calvin, Luther, Lloyd-Jones (more currently)... these men were all pastors. I believe (although I am not positive) that your own man Mohler is in pastoral work besides the seminary, isn't he? What I am trying to say is that pastors are quite capable (responsible?) to stand on the frontlines against OT, NP or ECM. Some will be more gifted than others - that is a given.
    Also, I would like to thank you for using the word barbarous! That was awesome!
    The latter part of your paragraph agrees with my premise entirely - it is not the degree that ordains the man it is the church. Where we part is on the philosophy of how to train. If a seminary exists to assist men to pastor locally and around the world (missions), then we need to think how that is best accomplished. I addressed this a little in the third comment on this string, but I think I will reserve more for an entire post later.
    Anyway, I should be clear (and was NOT in my post) that I am not of the opinion that every seminary in the world is "selling out!" Southern (where you are studying), The Master's Seminary, Toronto Baptist Seminary and many other schools are doing a great job. My post was reacting more to a mailing that came from a slipping school nearby. Slipping in the sense of my post.
    You should also read Michael Haykin's comments re: my post as he offers some other (and perhaps more accurate) reasons why schools tend to drift.
    Just as long as you graduate and come back to Canada... that is all that matters to me, Dave!!! :-)


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