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Is Seminary Biblical?

Written by: on February 22, 2019

The Scandal Of The Evangelical Mind by Mark A Noll was an interesting read for me. Mark A. Noll takes the positions that the evangelicals have not been doing enough to lead the way in progressive thought for the world. They have lagged behind the secular and catholic worlds and have rarely produced thought leaders. Noll takes a couple chapters and discusses some of the history of  Christian evangelical universities, as well as the separate Seminaries.[1] In this explanation he says the Christian universities have slacked off in producing thought leaders, but have simply avoided major questions by producing their own flavor of academics. It was simply the same as secular education but plus God, or secular education but minus the world evolution. Because of this, the world has progressed without them and the new leaders that became the influencers in the world have not tended to come from these bible colleges.

This is significant for me because my dissertation takes a serious look at the sake of Christian higher education and Pentecostal higher education. In it, I attest that the Pentecostals have lagged behind the evangelical world as a whole in reproducing theological leaders and strong foundations of thought. But Noll says that even the mainline evangelical selection of denominations have lagged behind their secular counterpart. This only highlights how much more behind Pentecostals and my own tribe, the assemblies of God must be from the rest of the world.

Noll writes a book that inspires me to do something different than the rest of Christian universities. A few times while reading the book I felt I should put it down and just start doing the things he was talking about. I wanted to start working towards creating systems where these thought leaders could be raised up.

The scandal of the evangelical mind dove into some of the history of the Christian universities and also the decline in trust that the American public had in clergy and all authority in the 20th century, but it missed some of the initial history of the seminary and I thought it was interesting to share with you here. The seeds of seminary started much earlier, but it’s actualy inception can be pointed back to the Council of Trent which met from 1545 to 1563. This council met over the long period of 18 years to address many church issues, one major issue being the continued immorality of the clergy and clergy students. The council blamed two things for the cause of this corruption in the clergy students and came up with two solutions to purify the church. Their first solution was to send out a militia of men armed with plaster and covered up all of the naked statues.[2] The second solution was to move all the clergy universities students into a “watchable place.” (The word Chancellor means “one who peeks through the lattice.”)[3] It was out of a demand for purity that they decided to separate the ministerial students from the “worldly” students and place them in a setting of their own. They called it seminary. Not only did the idea of a theological degree start outside of Scripture’s guidance, but so did the idea that the clergy should be separated and taught in their own microcosm. Gene Edwards summarizes this: “Fig leaves for naked statues and separate schools for priests! These were the birth of today’s seminary.”[4]

From here, things only got worse as the modern university system started from the University of Halle in 1694[5] and educational priorities in the university and seminary became infatuated by enlightenment values. Seminary became more intellectual and less spiritual and has more or less stayed there for the last three hundred years.

To lay out a theological foundation for the idea presented in this dissertation is impossible without also pointing out the huge theological fracture that seminary has had in its own existence. To our shame, these questions were never asked: “What is the New Testament theological education?” and “How would Jesus train new pastors?” Seminary began with the Catholic church wanting to control doctrine, and it quickly grew into needing these liturgically trained priests to stop sleeping around. Beyond this, there was no theological foundation to explain why “seminary” even exists, let alone why a theological studies bachelor’s degree is the way it is.

The scandal of the evangelical mind presents a tension for me. In some ways, it validates what I’ve been trying to say about the AG. But it also highlights the other side of the pendulum, and that is an overvaluation of the academic studies. In my mind, the AG was lacking and the evangelical world was more or less balanced. Noll is saying, however, the evangelical needs a lot more depth of thought and critical thinking. I’m not sure if I fully agree with this. I think this would error to heavily to being overly academic and falling into the ivory tower. However, I know that my own filter is heavily influencing me, and it’s no surprise that an AG guy here is saying something is too academic and not practical enough.

 

 

 

[1] Noll, Mark A. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994.

[2] Sarah Bond, “Medieval Censorship, Nudity And The Revealing History Of The Fig Leaf.” Forbes. Last modified October 27, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/drsarahbond/2017/10/27/medieval-censorship-nudity-and-the-revealing-history-of-the-fig-leaf/.

[3] Gene Edwards, Paul’s Way of Training Workers Or the Seminary’s Way (Jacksonville: Seedsowers Publishing, 2007), 48.

[4] Edwards, Paul’s Way of Training Workers Or the Seminary’s Way, 48.

[5] Dockery and Morgan, Christian Higher Education, 22.

About the Author

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Kyle Chalko

6 responses to “Is Seminary Biblical?”

  1. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Kyle,

    Yes, oh YES, you are going for it. Well done! And making sure we don’t become needless intellectuals in the process. You struck a nice balance here!

    I especially like how you connected this to your dissertation topic, as well as taught us something new about seminary and chancellor.

    What agreeable alternative would you suggest for seminary? Perhaps it would be the Jewish system–taking the head knowledge of the bar mitzvah and then transitioning to “walking in the footsteps” of the Rabbi…like a four year internship maybe.

    https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/rabbi-teacher-preacher-judge-but-not-priest/

  2. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Kyle,
    Part of the reason for these was to “keep the clergy from sleeping around” man I love this line, it shows that there is nothing new under the sun. You think back to the patriarchs and Judah sleeping with his daughter-in-law thinking he was sleeping with a prostitute. Makes one wonder if the seminaries were hotbeds of corruption or were they the right thing. Great perspective brother.

    Jason

  3. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Kyle,

    I believe that you are in the perfect place to encourage change not only in your own denomination but in the broader evangelical movement. We certainly do not want intellectualism at the expense of the pragmatic and emotional aspects of Christian faith experience that has been the hallmark of evangelicalism. Perhaps you are better placed than any of us because of your youth, your denominational commitments, and your intellectual ability to help the church progress in this regard. Keep up the good work.

  4. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Kyle, I knew this book would challenge your thinking connected to your dissertation. I guess I would pose the question – what did your research show? Academics important? If so, how important?

  5. I’m looking forward to reading your research, Kyle. Perhaps you will be able to come up with a better reason for theological education than the prevention of fornication. The Edwards quote is hilarious.

    Do you think that Christians should lead the way in other academic fields? Of if not lead the way, at least not be IN the way and find ways to be ON the way?

  6. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks, Kyle! I echo what others have written in their comments to say that you are right in the right spot. As an AG guy, you stand in that tradition, but you also have the capacity for broader learning that may lead you beyond the usual boundary markers of the AG. You kind of represent the classic tension between something that is “academic” and something that is “practical”. What is the right admixture, and how do you maintain that balance…

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