This post is part of a Patheos symposium on the Future of Seminary Education.
I got tweeted at yesterday by Robert. He asked:
What I thought is, I should be asking you that question!
There are several seminaries from which Robert can choose in the Twin Cities. The majors are Bethel, Luther, and United. Then there’s John Piper’s Bethlehem Seminary and several other minor league options.
Although I’m qualified to teach theology at a seminary, none of the majors would hire me. I’m too liberal for Bethel (and I wouldn’t sign their lifestyle statement), probably too conservative for United (plus, they’re small and not growing), and too anti-denominational for Luther (plus, several of their recent hires have Princeton PhDs, so they won’t likely hire another Princeton PhD for quite some time).
I’m guessing that John Piper won’t be offering me a teaching position either.
If seminaries are to survive, they need to find a place for non-traditional scholars like me.
Thankfully, there are several other seminaries and theological schools around the country who will occasionally hire me to teach a class — and I am grateful to each one of these schools — but at each I’m relegated to the role of adjunct professor, a.k.a., the slave labor of academia.
Being an adjunct professor means that I don’t ever have to go to a committee meeting, don’t have to navigate departmental politics, and don’t have to write academic tomes in order to get tenure. But it also means that I don’t have health insurance, a retirement plan, an employer paying half of my Social Security and Medicare, or any job security whatsoever.
Honestly, I appreciate the freedom. And I like that fact that I can interact with students and faculty from both conservative and liberal seminaries. Thus far in my academic career, I have a very rich and diverse experience. For that I’m grateful. But a little stability would be nice, too.
Actually, I’m not unlike the potential seminary students I blogged about this week. I like Minnesota, and I’m not leaving. My kids are here, as are my parents and friends. Our family’s cabin, my spiritual home, is here too.
If I were willing to leave, I could put myself on the job market. I’d start as a junior-level faculty member at a second-tier school. After a few years there, I’d apply for tenure-track positions at top-tier schools. If I got one of those jobs, I’d start the six-year journey to tenure. If I played my cards just right, I might get tenure by the time I’m 60.
In other words, traditional seminaries don’t have a place for me, and they don’t quite know what to do with me: I finished my PhD at age 43, I’m unwilling to leave my home state, and I’m not interested in writing books for the academy.
I tend to think that there will be more and more like me in coming years: scholars who are uninterested in playing the tenure game and who are more interested in changing the church and society. If traditional seminaries can’t find a better role for us — the freelance scholars — than adjunct professor, then woe betide them. Because we’ll simply find other avenues for our work.