Progressive Christian Channel
The Emperor's (Not So) New Clothes: A Response to Frederick Schmidt
In his recent "The (Not So) New Frontier of Theological Education," Frederick Schmidt raises several trenchant questions pertaining to the nature of theological education in today's church. In particular, he laments the emergence of local formation initiatives aimed at providing alternatives to residential seminaries. Several of his observations are helpful and provocative, but others are decidedly less constructive.
Schmidt works at two levels at once. He makes several comments about the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry (BKSM), a new interdiocesan initiative being developed by the Episcopal dioceses of Kansas, West Missouri, Western Kansas, and Nebraska. He also identifies a range of more global challenges and opportunities confronting those engaged in the work of theological formation.
Relative to his comments about BKSM, Schmidt gets a number of things wrong. First, BKSM is a school "for ministry," not (as he describes it) a school "of theology." The difference is significant: a curriculum organized around preparing people for ministry (ordained and otherwise) is quite different from one organized around preparing people for more scholarly vocations. At BKSM, the focus is clear: we are about preparing and equipping people to participate in collaborative forms of ministry.
Second, Schmidt implies (more than once) those on the faculty of BKSM do not have sufficient background or credentials to provide quality theological formation. In fact, the majority of those on the faculty at BKSM have completed either Ph.D. or Th.D. studies (and a few have completed D.Min. studies), and several are actively serving at other colleges, universities, or seminaries in the region. The qualifications and experience of the BKSM faculty are as solid as one would expect to find at many residential seminaries, and their commitment to the formation of their students is beyond reproach.
Third, Schmidt worries those enrolled at BKSM will not be informed they are not receiving an education of the "first order" or of the realities they will face when they take up the ministries to which they have been called. In fact, those enrolled at BKSM are very cognizant of the challenges before them: every student admitted to the school first goes through a discernment process designed to help them clarify the nature of their ministry (and hence the kind of formation they will need), their preparedness for the rigors of the programs offered by BKSM, and the challenges of ministry in today's church. The sacrifices these people routinely make are significant, and their commitment to ministry is commendable.
At a more general level, Schmidt (indirectly) identifies a number of things he expects would improve the state of theological education and contribute to the furtherance of ministry in today's church. Among these he includes the following:
- organize formation programs around goals and objectives relevant to contemporary ministry;
- adapt to the social and cultural changes that are reshaping mission, ministry, and education;
- make theological education more affordable;
- identify and equip leaders capable of implementing high-quality formation programs;
- better integrate the formation process into the broader life of the church.
Andrew Grosso serves as Dean of the Bishop Kemper School for Ministry, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church (Atchison, KS), Canon Theologian for the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas, and Adjunct Professor of Systematic Theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary (Nashotah, WI). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.