Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Time To Rethink "Seminary"

I've much enjoyed Tony Jones's The New Christians. He's an excellent writer, very biblical, and radical like you-know-who.

On pp. 209-210 Jones says it's "time to rethink seminary." I say, "Why not?" And, "Of course it is?" Look, I went to seminary, and currently teach at three of them. But we're starting in my church a ministry school, which I believe will grow as the years go by until God tells us "It's time to rethink the Ministry School thing."

Jones has two problems, minimally, with modern seminary education. First, "there's nothing particularly theological about the structure of the seminary education. Instead of reflecting some theological convictions or virtues, seminaries are entirely reflective of secular universities." Yes indeed. Of course they are. For example, a while ago I met with two Presbyterian seminary professors who asked me to consult with them re. the spiritual formation component of their seminary. These professors longed for a real God-encounter at their institution, and described it as a place where God does not really have a place. Please listen to this. They told me that even the word "God" is not fashionable there. This did not surprise me, I've seen it before. Bring God and the Holy Spirit and Jesus (viz., the Trinity) into a seminary discussion and you could really get into trouble if you meant by these words the God who answers prayers and speaks to us and guides us and is powerful as well and loving and merciful.

Problem #2 for Jones: "Most seminaries are residential." For many, "the sacrifice of one's rootedness in community for the temporary "community" of a residential seminary is too high a price." (209)

Jones is intrigued by a monastic apprenticeship model of mentoring leaders who are followers of Jesus. In my church we're doing something a bit like this, with a lot of personal mentoring, prayer assignements, submission of spiritual journals to a spiritual director/coach, and so on.