There’s a lot of really good stuff on the Patheos symposium, maybe the best stuff that’s ever been collected on this subject, and from a very wide range of perspectives. You’ve got everything from an evangelical saying that seminaries need to doctrinally retrench, to a former evangelical who runs an inter-faith seminary. I don’t think it’s even possible to have a wider range than that.
The robustness of the conversation has, I must admit, surprised me. It seems there are still lots of people who really care about graduate theological education. I think that’s a good thing.
From my early days as a speaker at the National Youth Workers Convention, I sensed that there was a deep desire among attendees for theology. That started with debates featuring me versus Duffy Robbins, Phil Chalmers (remember him? — his latest great idea is a “Juvenile Homicide Boot Camp – Coming to a City Near You in 2012” — I shit you not), Fred Lynch, Chap Clark, and more. That evolved into a late night theology chat, which drew scores of youth workers who simply wanted to talk through theological issues. This year, theological forums at the National Youth Workers Convention show that the appetite for theology is unsated.
A decade later, many more youth workers are seminary-trained than were at that time. But they all aren’t. And that brings me to my final thought on the future of seminary education: I suspect that as our society becomes increasingly pluralized, more and more Christians will feel the need for serious theological education. But they neither want nor need a degree. They just want more history, more systematic theology, and more practical theology.
Indeed, I run into people like this all the time. And I consider it an enormous failure of the church that seminaries are still primarily, if not exclusively, interested in training professional clergy, and at a very high cost.
This is failure cannot go unaddressed. So Doug Pagitt and I plan to address it with a new venture, launching in 2013.