Theology for the Long Haul

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Why the Church Needs Evangelical Academic Institutions

The following is the second installment in an ongoing debate about the locale for theological education. Here is Southern Baptist Theological Seminary's NT Prof. Jonathan Pennington's argument in favor of confessional academic institutions.

"I am a churchman from first to last. This means that all that I do in scholarship is ultimately for the building up of the Church universal. In this sense it makes no difference whether I am preparing to teach Old Testament survey to middle school children or writing a paper on the details of Greek voice for SBL. All of this labor is undertaken with the conscious goal of increasing our knowledge so that faith in Christ might spread and deepen. As one who consciously stands in the great tradition of orthodoxy my gifts and calling are constrained and guided by this ultimate end. My understanding of Holy Scripture calls for this, and my hermeneutical commitments (which may be described as ‘theological’ and ‘confessional’) guide me to understand the goal of study to be personal transformation..."

Read the rest here...

Read the opposing viewpoint here...


  1. I respectfully disagree with that Professor. There is no biblical support for having seminaries. Now, I don't think they are evil by any means. A friend of mine, Sean Biddle, recently wrote about how those pursuing ministry are set-back by the high amount of loans that come via academic institutions in order to be a church leader in his blog (
    Jesus himself had no degree that we know of. He discipled the 12 apostles in the "school" of life through discipling them for three years, rather than having them read lots of books for that period of time.
    I don't think seminaries are necessarily wrong. However, I favor having more leadership training being done "underground." What I mean is that leadership training should be grass roots a it was in the Bible, rather than being institutional.
    For another example, Paul the Apostle wrote the Pastoral letters (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus). To both Timothy and Titus, he wrote to them on the qualifications for a minister. A degree, such as an M. Div. or a Doctorate is not one of Paul's criteria even though he was a learned Pharisee in his past.
    All in all I just wanted to say that the word "seminary" is not in the Scriptures. So, why do we have them? Again, I'm not trying to bash those institutions (I attend one), however, I think we really need to question the traditional methods we have created in developing leaders and look more at and practice the Biblical ones more so in the future instead.

  2. Steve,

    Thanks for your insights. I have to say that I tend to share your skepticism of the academy. We do, after all, have decades of the academy becoming more and more naturalistic and less and less useful to the church, but I still think they are necessary.

    A couple thoughts:

    1. Unlike the Apostles we don't have the benefit of learning from Jesus in the same way that they did... we have the Bible (and the Holy Spirit, of course); and while I do believe in the perspicuity of the Scriptures, I also recognize that study and research are necessary for us to get all that God intended us to get. Bad translations/interpretations have led to serious misunderstandings in the past. If scholars and theologians are not educated, then they won’t be equipped for their duty of protecting the church from false teachings.

    2. Paul was highly educated; and not only that, he used his education to write rhetorical letters and make philosophical arguments. In some ways, Paul was indebted to his education (which God provided Him with). I think Paul is a good example of how an educated Christian should live and minister.

    That said, I think we need seminaries that are more closely tied to and regulated by the church. I believe that more ecclesial accountability would provide more useful scholarship (and a healthy reminder to teachers that their career advancement isn't as important as obedience to God’s Holy word). What the academy needs is reform and renewal.

    Those are my thoughts