My Problem With Seminary

Before you read this, please read Larry James’ most recent blog. Powerful stuff. In fact, if you don’t read Larry’s blog, skip my post altogether and check out a few of his more recent posts.

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As I take a break from reading Denys’ The Complete Works for my Theological Explorations class next Monday, I am thinking about people. Real people…in coffee shops, bars, book stores, street corners, cardboard boxes. Real people who don’t know the Lord.

It’s days like today — solid studying from noon to dusk — that make me really cynical about seminary studies.

Don’t get me wrong — I love ACU, and I love my missions program. But after spending a weekend in Austin with a guy who is planting churches and loving people, it depresses me to know that he is out doing what I want to do with hardly any theological education on his resume. Thousands of church planters are out there spending time with people, having never read The Philokalia or learned how to exegete a passage of scripture. Both of these activities are worthwhile, but after sitting across the table from a lost guy in Austin last weekend, they seem pretty rediculous.

Why is it that we put so much emphasis on transmittion of information in higher theological education for ministers? This hasn’t always been the case. Think about the disciples. Most of these guys were as ordinary and unschooled as they come, and their only education was chillin’ with Jesus for three years. “Yeah, but it was Jesus,” you say. Touche…but the point is that Jesus’ only stipulation for discipleship and making disciples was to follow him. Their “schooling” was living in community with the Master. I’m confident that even those who were a little rusty on their Torah picked up enough to get by in those three years.

I’m not proposing that we trash seminary studies tomorrow. I’m just proposing that we alter them a little. If the end result is a team of women and men equipped to love people and communicate the gospel to them, then shouldn’t loving people and communicating the gospel be the main educating tool in seminary? Consider this wild idea: Five men or women come to live together in a house, “doing life” together much like the monks. They are involved in God’s mission in their city. They are learning how to live in community. They are learning chunks of theology in the process. They are contributing something to society and the economy, just like many monastic communities do. After a year or so of living in community, seeking the Lord, and learning how to love people, they are commissioned to go out and love people the rest of their lives.

That’ll never happen, though, you say. Actually, it is happening. Check out what my friend Greg Willis has established. It is a monastic community in the center of Austin created to nurture and educate young ministers-to-be (shouldn’t that be all of us?) in missional living.

Our seminaries have got to stop pumping out “sermon writers” and start nurturing and empowering “missional people-lovers.” For this to happen, however, something’s got to change in our Christian schools. Our society is changing, and the modern forms of theological education will need to follow suit. It’s a shame that the innovative, interactive, communal forms of higher theological education are the exception today.

But you’ll have to excuse me…I need to get back to good ‘ol Denys now.

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