Posts Tagged ‘formal’

Is formal theological education good or bad? PART 1

November 1, 2008

Years ago, I would have never imagined that I would ever be pursuing a formal seminary education.  The Christian community/tradition I was in was pretty anti-institutional in many respects.  We called seminary “cemetery”, and it was only for stuffy, proud, rich young men who had turned Christianity into an intellectual pursuit, much like the other sciences.  Formal theological education was only for the “hireling” who was seeking to make merchandise of the saints by applying for the CEO (pastor) position at a local hymn singing country club (typical church) so he could hear himself give speeches (sermons) to as large crowd a crowd as he could muster (congregation), hoping to make his name great. 

And now, years later, after many paradigm shifts, here I am, with seminary applications in hand.  And I need to ask myself honestly, ‘have I sold out?  What has changed?’

Some things have indeed changed, and some have not.  I would still extend a critique to the way many of us in America (and around the world) ‘do church’, as many of our gatherings reflect the ways of the world rather than the pattern entrusted to us in the Scriptures.  I am still grieved by the way that many are making merchandise of God’s people, and the way we perpetuate this problem by handling church leadership like a corporate office over a business venture.

But now I look at many of these churches, and in them, I see many of God’s beloved people, struggling to see the Kingdom of God while keeping one foot in the world.  People gathering with other believers to be inspired by the Holy Spirit, worship God, and to be exhorted by means of His Word.  They are looking for encouragement, discipleship, and others to walk with on this calvary road, and all too often they come to the church only to hear, see, and be surrounded by the same things they are seeking refuge from.  They hear contradictory messages from different corners of the congregation, and being untrained in the scriptures, many of them choose to follow whoever is speaking the loudest.

I want God’s Word to be what is loudest in those churches.  I want them to hear things, that by the Holy Spirit, will fight back the flesh and encourage the Spirit.  I want them to be encouraged to trust a Holy and Perfect God, even when everything in their life seems amiss.  I want to grow with them in discipleship and discerning the will of God, cherishing the one who rescues us through His own shed blood on the cross.  I feel called to shepherd, and I want to learn, I want to study, I want to be mentored.  Certainly, not all the training (or even most of the training) needed for tomorrows elders takes place within the four walls of a Seminary.  However, I would argue that in our present day, Seminary is one of the best places to:

1. Study the heritage of the faith passed down and entrusted to us, and to learn from  the lives of Godly men and women who have gone before us.  

2.  Acknowledging the mistakes of the past so that we might avoid them as a church in the future.

3.  Consider the struggles of those who are in our churches today and considering how to care for them in light of God’s Word. 

4.  Develop and practice rhetorical skills to be used in defending right doctrine and proclaiming the truth in a winsome manner.

5.  Grow in critical thought as it relates to theology and the church.

6.  Study God’s word on a daily basis in a community that is thinking critically and pastorally.

7.  Learn to read the Bible in the languages it was originally written in.   This may help us grow to understand the underlying misconceptions in many modern day controversies, and walk in the awareness of any assumptions translators may have made while translating the texts into English.

8.  Spend time listening to older people who have spent dozens of years pouring over the Scriptures.

9.  Spend more time reading.  

10.  Spend time learning to communicate well through writing.

These are all important skills that are invaluable to our next generation of church leaders.  There are indeed many dangerous things that Seminary may bring before us.  Many Seminaries are steeped in bad doctrine and are unhelpful all together.  Many things about our current conceptions of Seminary itself are  just plain unbiblical.  However, God is still using many Seminaries as a key component in the training of tomorrow’s church leaders.  

All this to say, we should work towards reform in our Seminaries… more on this to come.  But just as a teaser, here is the way one Church/Seminary is reforming the way Seminary is done: The Bethlehem Institute.

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