Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Seminary Wrongly Applied

There are a decent amount of articles popping up on dangers of seminary education.*  I want to offer something that I see as a student beginning my second year. 

A few things to get out of the way first.  First, I absolutely love Southern Seminary and the education I am receiving.  The professors that I have had so far are brilliant, humble, gospel-centered men.  Secondly, I attended a Christian college and received a degree in Christian Education and a minor in Youth Ministry.  Then I spent almost 6 years engaging in youth ministry in the local church while picking up theology in the trenches (though my “trenches” were nothing compared to what many brothers and sisters face).  I am also currently an associate pastor while attending seminary. 

Now that is out of the way, I will offer my suggestion of a danger to the seminary education.  Keep in mind this comes from a limited perspective that could be wrong.  Seminary students often get massacred in their first few churches because they are trained in mastering the Word but not in how to “pastor” in the midst of brokenness. 

I doubt I know the solution.  I think my school, SBTS, has seen this problem and they are doing many things to combat it.  There is much that is encouraging me that Southern will be used by God to assist churches in producing ministers that do not become a sad statistic.  But, my fear is that student naivety is winning the day and gems of pastoral wisdom that professors are passing along are lost in the midst of theological debates. 

We excel in fighting for truth but something is missing when it comes to fighting with truth.   In other words we are not excelling in applying the truth to broken souls.  We often fight the wrong battles. 

Most people in my congregation are trying to figure out the compatibility of a paltry paycheck with a rising mortgage payment.  Seldom do I hear them discussing the compatibility of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I think such theological truths actually provide an anchor and solution to not bouncing checks.  But do we know how to make that connection? 

The professors and seminary leaders are doing everything they can to train us in ministering to brokenness.  They do this because many of them are pastors and they deal with broken people (like us students) all the time.  But I fear, from some of the questions I hear in class, that students are listening for how to win an argument with the Pretribulational 4 Point Calminian that lives next door and largely ignoring many pastoral helps. 

The assumption is that if we can just get our theology correct then everything will fall into place.  But there is a whole host of strongly orthodox believers whose shattered lives and families testify otherwise.  Not to mention the highly orthodox devil himself.  Right theology wrongly applied (or not applied at all) stinks. 

The other assumption is that if we can just figure out how to “do ministry” then everything will fall into place, our churches will thrive, and some day our picture will be on the latest edition of Christianity Today.  But mastering theological truths, and even the “how-to’s” of ministry will mean little if we refuse to apply the gospel to our own souls. 

If we are not deeply in tune with our need for grace and fighting for our own souls, we may still grace the cover of CT--but it will be as the latest in a string of moral failures that rocks Jesus’ precious church. 

I realize that many of the things that I have mentioned are really not supposed to be filled by the seminary but by the local church.  The seminary is to assist and partner with the local church.  And one way it can do that is by laboring to point out its radical inability to produce pastors by tests, papers, and reading books. 


*Rather than link to a ton of them, I’ll link to this one by Colin Hansen, encourage you to read the comments and follow some links there.  Also check out Between the Times, they have stuff pop up there a ton.

1 comment:

  1. I think the problem also lies in the students themselves. As you well said, many students are looking for gems of truth to win an argument with friends more then they are looking for gems of wisdom to nurture a soul. I am honestly glad that I've put off seminary until I've had a chance to actually pastor a church first. Not that I'm all that skilled, but now that I do have several years of pastoral experience under my belt, I feel much more eager to go to seminary next year because I'll actually be going to learn what I need to learn. I know my weaknesses and that's what I want to strengthen. And I don't care to win an argument. I care to know how to heal a broken soul.

    I guess in short, you get out of seminary what you put into it. If you take a casual attitude about it, you'll ignore a whole lot of the really important stuff in favor of the things that won't matter much to your current or future congregation.



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