Theology for the Long Haul

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm Calling For A Reformation!

Many Western seminaries are having an identity crisis. Though the majority of students enter seminary in hopes of finding encouragement from their Bibles and passion for the gospel ministry, more and more are leaving discouraged. A smaller number are giving up on the ministry, having been convinced that their faith is no longer tenable (defensible).

How did it get to be this way? It is my belief that the modernism of the last century has paved the way. It was the modern age that convinced Christian academics that unadulterated objectivity (having no bias) was not only possible, but helpful. It was modernism that introduced the fallacy that scholarship is a calling to academics, but not to ministry. As a result a number of seminaries have come to employ ministry oblivious academics. Their teachings do violence to a student’s confidence in the word of God, resulting in people being led astray. In my opinion, there are two reasons this is happening.

1) The false belief that God calls people to scholarship, but not to ministry. In the New Testament there is no such position. The only time teaching is mentioned, it is mention within the context of the church (I Cor. 12:28, Eph. 4:11).

2) Christian scholarship’s (intentional and unintentional) legitimation of scholars who do not claim a saving faith in Jesus Christ. I have been reminded of Paul’s words in 2 Cor. 6:14:” Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?” What can someone who doesn’t claim to live a life in relationship to Christ and the Holy Spirit possibly contribute to the interpretation of the Bible? I for one, do not think that it can be done ( I do not mean to say that non-believers have nothing to contribute, or that God cannot speak to or through non-Christians, only that if scholarship is a ministry, then nonbelievers can no longer speak into this context. It would be similar to ordaining non-believing pastors or elders).

So what might be the way forward? Well, it is a long road ahead, of that there can be no doubt. It has taken generations to get us where we are, and it will take time to reform the academy in the ways it needs. The bottom-line is that Western seminaries have some difficult decisions to make and seminary students need to strive toward biblical faithfulness, even if their teachers do not.

That said, there are Godly seminaries, and even Godly professors at some not-so-Godly seminaries. My goal in this post isn’t to undermine a scholarly and well-informed education, but to encourage necessary boundaries. Professors I have studied under that teach scholarship as ministry, have played an invaluable role in both my academic and spiritual growth.

So, how do you tell if an institution has good boundaries? Well, checking their doctrinal statement is a good start. Here are some questions you might ask.

1) What does this seminary believe and teach about the Bible’s authority?
2) What is their primary mission…is it the preaching of the gospel and discipleship?
3) What institutions did the faculty come out of and what are the values of those institutions?
4) How committed is an institution to the ministry of the church?
5) If the institution publishes an academic journal, read some articles. Ask yourself if the articles strengthen or weaken the ministry of the church.

These are my thoughts...What are yours?

1 comment:

  1. I agree 100%! Phil & others I think that in many ways this reflects upon the local churches willingness to "turn over" intense theological instruction and training to seminaries and universities instead of seeing themselves as the primary training ground for good theology. Much of the difficulty is, as Phil pointed out, when theology gets separated from practice.

    I agree that the road ahead is long but I believe it must begin with local churches recognizing their fault in the problem and then committing to raising and training local leaders.