Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Are Seminaries in Need of a Reformation?

Before raising some questions about the current state of seminaries, some preliminary thoughts. I am currently a masters level seminary student who is eternally grateful for the education I am receiving. There are many godly men who have meant a great deal to me during my education. I in no way wish to downplay the influence they have had on my life, but to raise some questions as to the effectiveness of today's seminaries. With that said, on to the questions...

During the Protestant Reformation, one of the issues that the reformers faced was the fact that the common people did not have the Scriptures in their own language. Only those with special training in Greek or more likely Latin were able to read the scriptures for themselves. The reformers sought to remedy this by translating the scriptures into the languages of their day. I wonder if we are facing a similar situation in seminaries today?

Now, I do not mean to say that the Scriptures need to be translated into another language. What I am getting at is this: the seminary, more often than not, is designed to prepare the "professional minister" to preach and teach to a congregation. This "professional" gets wonderful training in Greek, Hebrew, Hermeneutics, New & Old Testament, and Systematic Theology. He gets to delve deep into God's Word and grows in maturity in Christ. However, this wonderful knowledge that he has gained usually does not get passed on to the congregation he becomes a part of. The "minister" continues to be enriched through his studies, while the congregation continues to eat "previously chewed food."

Therefore, there is a new divide that has been created between the "professional minister" and the common people. There is a dearth of biblical knowledge and reflection among many Christians. There is the "minister" who grows in his faith, while the others have not been taught to read and understand the Scriptures for themselves, but have been trained to get their spiritual nourishment from another man instead of the Word of God.

We must bridge this divide. We must show people how to study the Scripture for themselves. (yes, this even means teaching them Greek and Hebrew!) The church will never be what it is called to be by relying on a few good human leaders. The whole body must be transformed by a deep love for and study of the Word of God.

So how can we reform our seminaries and our churches to reconnect all believers with the deep riches of God's Word? Is it just through pastors making the effort to teach these things? Should the seminaries make an effort to go out and train whole congregations? Are there other ways? You comments are most welcome.


ctroutma said...

It seems like most churches use their education time (Sunday School, etc.) to teach topical studies that deal with 'issues' that beleivers are facing. Perhaps elders should be using this time to train their flock to accurately handle the word of truth themselves in order to face these issues. I fear the church has bought into the specialization of our industrial society that demands experts to solve problems, and people look to the experts (pastors, elders) to tell them how to live.
I think churches (or presbyteries even) should offer intense courses in theology for thoses who are interested. These seminary trained men have the ability to teach and the well-paid-for trainng to do so. If churches invest in a library, or the pastor offers his own, parishioners can use these resources as part of their courses. Perhaps a weekly Greek or Hebrew class as part of leadership development. There seem to be endless, untapped possibilities.

Sorry for the ramble...I came through DBO.

Theron said...


Thank you for your commment. I agree. The church has professionalized the role of a pastor so that many people do not feel that they have a responsibility to dig deep into the Scriptures for themselves. Pastors must entrust these skills in the languages and theology "to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." Does anyone know of any churches that are doing this?


Alan Knox said...

Perhaps much of the problem lies in how seminaries (at least the seminary that I'm familiar with) teach people how to preach and teach. We were taught not to simply teach what Scripture says or means. We must also apply it for the people. Application becomes more important than the author's meaning. I would prefer to teach the author's intended meaning, then trust the Holy Spirit to apply that Scripture to His people.

Theron said...

Alan brings up a good point. Is it the place of the preacher or teacher to apply the intended meaning of the author to the lives of the ones he is teaching? Another question I have been trying to work through is whether there is a difference between "what it meant" to the original author and hearers and "what it means" to the church today. Kevin Vanhoozer has written a good essay on this topic in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. It is worth checking out.


Ioanna said...

"Does anyone know of any churches that are doing this?"

I don't know of any churches, but a number of homeschoolers are doing something which may well lead to the same end: we are going back to the "classical" method of teaching. A newbie at homescooling myself, I've only recently discovered this method, which would take too long to explain here (see classicalhomseschooling.org, triviumpursuit.org, The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers and others if you need a definition/discussion), but briefly, it basically teaches people how to think, or to think for themselves. Currently for us this involves teaching my daughter Greek (while learning it myself), and in the near future we'll tackle Latin (for language roots) and hopefully Hebrew later on. At the same time we are/will be learning to think logically and critically, enabling us to teach and think for ourselves as well as spot errors and sloppy thinking.
At least, that's what we're aiming for!

Mike moulton said...

I like the way John Piper teaches and has been convicted to teach the scripture, which is to lay out the truth, and leave application open ended, thus letting the Holy Spirit show the members the application. An interesting way of teaching and I am sure he doesn't always stick to it, but I think that what Alan says is really shown in Piper's teaching style.

in Christian Love,
Mike M.