Should Theological Education be in the Church or the Academy?

Over at SAET website (Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology), of which I am a fellow, there is a very interesting and important debate going on between Jonathan Pennington, Associate Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Spencer MacCuish, the Academic Dean of Eternity Bible College, a church-based college associated with Cornerstone Community church over the question of the most appropriate context for training pastors.

Here’s the introductory blurb:

In recent years evangelicalism has seen an increase in church-based theological education programs that endeavor either to supplement or entirely replace traditional seminary training. Those in favor of church-based theological education, particularly as it relates to ministry training, insist that traditional modes of theological education too often create a false dichotomy between praxis and theology. Those who support traditional academic theological education maintain that the academy has a unique role to play in partnership with the local church when it comes to theological education and ministry training.

What do you think?

  • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com/ John Thomson

    Church-based. I do not discount academic education. Christians should seek to influence all sectors of society but Athens is not Jerusalem. How far the academy has contributed to real biblical knowledge and to reverent study is moot. Equally moot is whether its influence has been overall good or bad. In any case, the NT places teaching/training firmly within the remit of the church and not some other body – especially not a secular academy.

  • http://johngreenview.wordpress.com/ John Thomson

    Church-based. I do not discount academic education. Christians should seek to influence all sectors of society but Athens is not Jerusalem. How far the academy has contributed to real biblical knowledge and to reverent study is moot. Equally moot is whether its influence has been overall good or bad. In any case, the NT places teaching/training firmly within the remit of the church and not some other body – especially not a secular academy.

  • David Baruch

    I ran into Kevin Vanhoozer at a lecture he gave on this very topic at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary last year. He said to me that we do not need more academics in the class room, we need them in the Church. Apparently, he thinks we should keep the training the same. If the training is life giving, then communications barriers should be overcome and the content remain the same.

  • David Baruch

    I ran into Kevin Vanhoozer at a lecture he gave on this very topic at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary last year. He said to me that we do not need more academics in the class room, we need them in the Church. Apparently, he thinks we should keep the training the same. If the training is life giving, then communications barriers should be overcome and the content remain the same.

  • Pingback: Dwight Wallace

  • Pingback: Graeycie Maze

  • David A Booth

    Part of the reason why there is a false dichotomy between praxis and theology (I write in terms of U.S. evangelicalism) is because of who we send to seminary. My experience with two U.S. seminaries suggests that many seminary students became excited about Christianity in college through para-church organizations. Then, without passing GO (without spending a few years vitally involved in a local church), they went immediately to seminary after graduation from college.

    A second challenge is that many evangelical seminaries in the U.S. are para-church organizations. While I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with that, I have noticed that the prime directive for many of these schools over the past two decades has been to get bigger. This means that these schools will admit nearly anyone who can give evidence that he or she is able to do seminary level work. Perhaps this is fine, but we shouldn’t expect such individuals to be ready to pastor churches when they graduate.

    The problems with trying to address this deficiency through church based education are manifold. The two most pressing are: (1) Very few churches have the academic resources necessary to provide an adequate education; and (2) Church based eduction tends toward overemphasizing the distinctives (both theologically and methodologically) of the senior pastor of that particular local church. This is particularly the case when the only churches with large enough pastoral staffs to address the first concern are by definition large churches.

  • David A Booth

    Part of the reason why there is a false dichotomy between praxis and theology (I write in terms of U.S. evangelicalism) is because of who we send to seminary. My experience with two U.S. seminaries suggests that many seminary students became excited about Christianity in college through para-church organizations. Then, without passing GO (without spending a few years vitally involved in a local church), they went immediately to seminary after graduation from college.

    A second challenge is that many evangelical seminaries in the U.S. are para-church organizations. While I don’t think there is anything intrinsically wrong with that, I have noticed that the prime directive for many of these schools over the past two decades has been to get bigger. This means that these schools will admit nearly anyone who can give evidence that he or she is able to do seminary level work. Perhaps this is fine, but we shouldn’t expect such individuals to be ready to pastor churches when they graduate.

    The problems with trying to address this deficiency through church based education are manifold. The two most pressing are: (1) Very few churches have the academic resources necessary to provide an adequate education; and (2) Church based eduction tends toward overemphasizing the distinctives (both theologically and methodologically) of the senior pastor of that particular local church. This is particularly the case when the only churches with large enough pastoral staffs to address the first concern are by definition large churches.

  • http://www.eternitybiblecollege.com Smaccuish

    In response to David:

    I agree with your concerns regarding the dangers of church based training: first that few churches have the academic resources (perhaps because the academies have taken them all) and that church based training could reflect the bias of the senior pastor.

    Do you think both of these concerns could be addressed by utilizing a consortium model? Where a few local churches partner together to provide training. That way local pastors/scholars are able to teach to their strengths and education will be more balanced. In addition this model also allows for the burden of resources to be shared amongst a few churches and not just one.

    would love to hear your thoughts on that (in part because that is the model we are utilizing at Eternity Bible College).

    • David A Booth

      I do think that a consortium model makes a lot of sense. I’m curious about how this is being played out with Eternity Bible College. Is this a consortium of churches or of pastors (i.e. are local churches contributing financially to the school and also providing oversight?)? Can new churches join the consortium and how can current member churches leave?

      A consortium model can make good sense if we recognize that we may not be able to provide every aspect of the training “in house” and are willing to outsource some of it. Regretfully, few pastors are competent to teach Aramaic or advanced level courses in Hebrew and Greek. Such deficiencies can be met through local universities, other seminaries, or even sending students away for short periods. So, if you only offer Introductory Hebrew, students could be sent to say Harvard or to Israel for 8 weeks in the Summer to take Intermediate Hebrew. The cost of doing this may seem high, but it is much less than the cost of building facilities and hiring full time faculty.

      Of course, if the school grows large enough it make make sense to higher one or two full time faculty members to teach such courses – in which case you would move from a consortium model to a hybrid model. Such a hybrid model would be church based, with many of the classes taught by pastors, but some of the classes being taught by those who dedicate all of their time to teaching.

  • http://www.eternitybiblecollege.com Smaccuish

    In response to David:

    I agree with your concerns regarding the dangers of church based training: first that few churches have the academic resources (perhaps because the academies have taken them all) and that church based training could reflect the bias of the senior pastor.

    Do you think both of these concerns could be addressed by utilizing a consortium model? Where a few local churches partner together to provide training. That way local pastors/scholars are able to teach to their strengths and education will be more balanced. In addition this model also allows for the burden of resources to be shared amongst a few churches and not just one.

    would love to hear your thoughts on that (in part because that is the model we are utilizing at Eternity Bible College).

    • David A Booth

      I do think that a consortium model makes a lot of sense. I’m curious about how this is being played out with Eternity Bible College. Is this a consortium of churches or of pastors (i.e. are local churches contributing financially to the school and also providing oversight?)? Can new churches join the consortium and how can current member churches leave?

      A consortium model can make good sense if we recognize that we may not be able to provide every aspect of the training “in house” and are willing to outsource some of it. Regretfully, few pastors are competent to teach Aramaic or advanced level courses in Hebrew and Greek. Such deficiencies can be met through local universities, other seminaries, or even sending students away for short periods. So, if you only offer Introductory Hebrew, students could be sent to say Harvard or to Israel for 8 weeks in the Summer to take Intermediate Hebrew. The cost of doing this may seem high, but it is much less than the cost of building facilities and hiring full time faculty.

      Of course, if the school grows large enough it make make sense to higher one or two full time faculty members to teach such courses – in which case you would move from a consortium model to a hybrid model. Such a hybrid model would be church based, with many of the classes taught by pastors, but some of the classes being taught by those who dedicate all of their time to teaching.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X