Is there something wrong with Seminaries or is it Seminarians?

During the past week, several bloggers have taken on Seminaries. Allow me to share my pre-Seminary opinion of the matter. Let me first note that I haven’t yet spent one hour in a Seminary class, but soon will; I am writing as one who is trying to be objective.

Celucien makes a good point when he writes,

Fundamentally, I think the problem with Seminary education is not the lack of rigorous theological training but the inability for many seminary students to engage with the culture, and to think critically and intellectually.

It is the nature of any degree field, I believe, to seek a more exclusive pedagogy;  they want focus, and even more so when the student goes higher, in that particular field. Yet, no field of instruction that I know of requires the student to only know what is taught. Perhaps our view of education is that it is the sum total of knowledge and instruction. In public school, we are taught the basics, yet nothing except for parental laziness, excludes the student from engaging other sources of information or cultural interaction. In the history of the War Between the States, we are taught, generally, the simple ‘truth’ of the matter, but for students who engage sources from New York and New Orleans the ‘truth’ becomes more fiction than reality. Or in science where one is presented with an assumed notion of a theory while in scientific journals, theories are challenged frequently by other credible scientists. It is not the educational institution which is at fault if students are unable to ‘engage with the culture, and to think critically and intellectually’, but the fault of the student.

Let’s be honest. We live in an age of free information, for the most part. Further, some of that information is presented in a teaching format. As a matter of fact, a person could easily learn to think more critically by willingly choosing a book which challenges their presuppositions, yet, for the most part, our culture tends to enforce the fact that challenges to oneself is blasphemous. Like all educational institutions, it is not the ending point of an educational course, but one which lays the foundation for the student and provides basic tools to further him or herself. If you view the educational institution as the only thing you need to qualify for your field, then you have missed the point entirely.

Celucien brings up a point, however, that seminary curriculum’s, from those that I have looked at, seem to be narrow and rarely engaging the outside world. So, why doesn’t the student do something about that? I do know of at least one Seminary which actually makes it a mandatory part of the curriculum to spend 10 days in cultural immersion as well as having contextual ministries where the student is tied to a local church or community.  But even then, students must not rest on what the Seminary or other educational institution gives them. There is no such thing as ‘Everything I need to know, I learned in Seminary/Kindergarten/from watching Star Trek, etc…’. Not if you want to be an active contributor to society. Finally, to this point, most educational institutions focus on the West in some way, because, they are in the West. This is not the best way to reach the wider world, but this can easily be changed – if the student wants it to be. If students aren’t aware that the West is not the only center of Christianity or ‘good in the world’ then having a teacher, for a semester, try to teach them this, might not take off well. Again, think about what higher education is for a moment. It is about learning what someone else learned. Fine – but the students, whether in elementary school or doctoral work, must be willing to learn something for him or herself, even if that means challenging the notion of ‘West is the Best.’

This feeds as well into the issue which John Hobbins discussed in his article from some years ago. He disparages the fact that many Seminaries simply do not require the teaching of biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek first, followed by Latin and German). Now, this is a problem, I think, but then again, it falls back to the Student to know why these languages are important and to take it him or herself, to learn, and to make use of what the Seminary offers. Yes, perhaps Seminaries and all educational institutions should require biblical languages or other forms of classical education, but, if they do not, this does not excuse the Student from the responsibility of learning these things him or herself. Perhaps it’s me, but I do not see the educational institution as the sole source of knowledge or instruction. Instead, they are the primer – they give you the basics, and more so the higher you go, but to be an active contributor in your field, one must continue to learn and to engage. Further, where they may see a deficit, it becomes a sin to not fill it.

Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe we should simply see Seminaries and all forms of Higher Education as the single source of instruction for students. Just to be clear, I agree with Mr. Joseph and Mr. Hobbins, but I would say that instead of the onus being on the institutions, it is more on the students.

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8 Replies to “Is there something wrong with Seminaries or is it Seminarians?”

  1. For my part, I think the problem with a lot of seminaries is that they are too theologically partisan, and that is why they don’t develop a culture of rigorously critical thinking. Scholarship that reinforces their position(s) is treated much less critically than it out to be, and scholarship opposing said positions is treated unfairly.

  2. Should, but the reality is that the seminary is often set up in such a way so that it attracts people just as partisan as them. Set up by people who think like them, taught by people who think like them, and existing for people who think like them, so that they can graduate still thinking like them.

  3. Joel:
    The thinking student learns beyond what’s taught in the seminary classroom. But, I still believe that seminary curriculum needs to be changed considerably. A few courses in cultural studies will not hurt the mind.

  4. Glenn:
    This phenomenon is prevalent in most confessional seminary schools such as my own denomination SBC. Dallas Theological Seminary is another example.

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