should we reinvision theological education?

booksSome recent discussion on this blog, as well as the meeting with the visiting committee yesterday, has re-sparked some thought in my own mind about how we train ministers. Because several seminarians or seminary-trained folks regularly read this blog, I hope everyone will weigh in on this issue.

Here are two comments that “Canuck in Taipei” and “Chad” made on a previous post regarding how we train ministers:

Canuck: Seminary – on a university or church campus – is one of the biggest cogs in the machine of collective influences that perpetuates our comfortable Christian segregation.

Who’s absurd idea was it that the best way to train people who will guide others in life together with God is to isolate them in a bubble in which they’ll have to try and especially include ‘practical’ training aspects (SPM?)? That approach to Kingdom leadership development didn’t come from people reflecting on the intended nature of our life together with God through Christ in His Spirit, distilling the traits needed, and identifying appropriate intentional experiences.

Segregation may happen – the American caste system may be self-perpetuating – but life with Christ is subversive to it.

Chad’s Response: This is an interesting phenomenon. I think in America a lot of this is cultural. When I lived in the South, well, just about everyone I knew went to church. The bookstore I worked at had several agnostics or lapsed believers, but outside of that – shoot, even the gay waiter at Waffle House believed in Jesus. When I moved to Boston, now most people I know don’t know the first thing about faith except what they see on TV. So as I’ve grown older, I now know more non-Christians, but that’s as much a function of geography as it is an intention on my part.

Second, to disagree with Canuck, I think it’s an overstatement to blame seminary for instilling a “bubble” mentality. That may be true at someplace like ACU (though I don’t know), but it’s not true of BU, where I’m at. In fact, I’m almost bombarded with too much info about stuff I don’t possibly have the time to address. I couldn’t stay in a bubble here even if I tried.

But again, maybe this just points back to geography as the key to this whole thing.

Finally, here’s Canuck’s response:Chad wrote: Second, to disagree with Canuck, I think it’s an overstatement to blame seminary for instilling a “bubble” mentality.

I’m saying that the seminary mode of training perpetuates and contributes to the bubble/marginalized sub-culture nature of Christianity in America. This is not a secret: PhD’s and Barna write on this. Yes, your school can expose you to and overload you on all kinds of challenging ideas or simulated situations (ACU did the same), but that is a far cry from living with real people sharing real life inside and outside of Christian or intentionally formational circles. Internships are good, but they are still artificial to some degree. Miller and Steve’s program [EDITOR’S NOTE: READ ABOUT “MILLER AND STEVE’S PROGRAM” HERE] is a good step in addressing this issue (there Miller – go do your homework! =)

The mode that is seminary training was not determined by the nature and needs of Christian life together; it was determined by pagan Greco-Roman educational, spiritual, and social values/ideals. Seminaries are great if we’re turning out the Greco-Roman ideal of an educated person, who will then function like the Greco-Roman ideal of an educated person. But maybe Christ-birthed communities need something different. The Greco-Roman ideal and function may or may not be significantly different from distinctly Christian ideals and functions that address needs relating to the distinct nature of Christian community.

I haven’t read it, but Robert Banks’ book, Reenvisioning Theological Education: Exploring a Missional Alternative to Current Models, speaks to this issue.

I’ve pointed folks to these guys before, but I really like this model of theological education over the current model. What do you think?


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