Am I Distinguished? (Don’t Answer That)

Yesterday I started teaching two classes at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Never heard of it before? Not surprising. It’s a small, liberal seminary, affiliated with the UCC, the UMC, and the UUA. I taught a class there in 2012, and last summer I was approached about teaching more. And about a title. So they gave me on: Distinguished Lecturer in the Practice of Theology.

That’s a pretty fancy title for an adjunct professor, but it looks good on the back of a book. Plus, I’ve never heard of anyone with that title before. A Google search shows that no one else in the world has this title, so it fulfills my need for uniqueness.

A funny thing about that title is that I rarely lecture. I do with undergrads, but my pedagogy with grad students — heavily influenced by bell hooks — is to ask trangressive questions and catalyze discussion.

The two classes I’m teaching are dissimilar.

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Honest Scholarship May Not Be Possible at a Christian School

Mickey Maudlin, the capable and well-connected managing editor at HarperOne (think Rob Bell), has an interesting thought in his latest newsletter.  He is promoting the latest book by NT Wright, and proposing the Wright breaks the mold of biblical scholarship by writing from a confessional posture, but still producing popular books.

But I’m most intrigued by his intro:

FF Bruce

The late great Bible scholar F. F. Bruce once remarked that he would not have been able to do his work if he had taught within a confessional institution, such as a seminary or Christian college. What I found odd about his comment was that he was, at the time, often listed as one of the top evangelical New Testament Bible scholars of the day. Why would his work change if the results of his scholarship aligned with the faith commitments of those schools?

I think the answer helps explain why conservative Bible scholars rarely write books that break out into the wider market. What many admired about Bruce’s work was the sense that his conclusions were based on where his arguments led him and not on where he needed to land. One did not perceive that he was steering his readers to the “evangelical” position; instead, readers sensed his curiosity and delight in solving the puzzles he posed. (via Surprised by Bishop Wright by Mickey Maudlin | News and Pews from HarperOne)

Let me ask — and be honest — Do you think that a scholar at a confessional school truly has the freedom to come to whatever conclusions her/his scholarship leads to?

I don’t.  Not if they don’t want to be fired.  And I can affirm this by the emails I’ve received from evangelical college professors who affirm gay relations and rights based on their own academic work, but are unable to publicly state that because they’d be fired.

The Future of Seminary: Wrap-Up

This post is part of a Patheos symposium on the Future of Seminary Education.  You can see all of my posts in this symposium here.

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.

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The Future of Seminary: Free?

This post is part of a Patheos symposium on the Future of Seminary Education.  You can see all of my posts in this symposium here.

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary made news last week, when they announced that beginning in 2015, they won’t be charging tuition anymore:

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (LPTS) will not charge tuition for students in its master’s degree programs in divinity, marriage and family therapy and religion beginning in 2015. Tuition is currently a little over $10,200.

“As a result of this bold decision, Louisville Seminary is poised to make not only a difference in the future of this school and in theological education, but also a difference for the future of the church,” said Pamela G. Kidd, chair of the Board of Trustees, following the trustees’ unanimous and enthusiastic vote.

The trustees also committed to raising about $17 million toward the program. The seminary’s current endowment is about $70 million. By 2021 the seminary intends to offer an additional stipend to every student to cover living expenses.

Total master’s degree enrollment will be capped at 130 ― down from about 150 currently ― to make the tuition-free program affordable and more selective. “Capping the size of entering classes will make full funding of each student an achievable goal within a relatively short time frame,” said Patrick Cecil, LPTS’s vice-president and CFO in a statement released by the seminary announcing the historic program.

Interesting, don’t you think?  I imagine that LPTS will suddenly become a very competitive place to get in to in 2015, which will inevitably raise the competency of of the student body.  How they’ll make it work financially is another question.  But at least if they go down, they’ll be going down in flames.

My only question is this: How many LPTS students are already going for free? I know from my experience at Princeton that most of the students who were on the PC(USA) ordination track didn’t pay for their education.  If most of their current students are already going for free, then I don’t know what the news is.

HT: Patrick Marshall

Seminaries: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

This post is part of a Patheos symposium on the Future of Seminary Education.  You can see all of my posts in this symposium here.

There’s lots of good stuff being written in the Patheos symposium on seminaries.  Most of the good stuff, IMHO, is being written by folks who are not in leadership in seminaries.  The posts by seminary leaders are, I think, pretty timid.  Here’s some of the latest, best stuff, with some commentary by me:

Brian McLaren says “Seminary Is Not the Problem — The Church Is:

But too many seminarians step out of seminary and straight into a brick wall. When they arrive in a local congregation, they experience nearly the opposite of their positive seminary experience.

My Take: I think Brian has a point, but I think he’s letting seminaries off the hook too easily.  Seminaries have exacerbated this problem. Congregations push around their pastors because too many seminary-trained pastors are not good leaders.  The reason that the church is oftentimes a retrograde organization is because leaders are wanting.  That’s a seminary problem.

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Stop What You’re Doing and Read this Post on Christian Sex

This post is part of a Patheos symposium on the Future of Seminary Education.  You can see all of my posts in this symposium here.

Late last week, Tim Dalrymple published a doozy of a post, complaining that his classmates at Princeton Theological Seminary were indiscriminately jumping the sack with one another.  He then goes on to make generalizations about Christians more liberal than he, based on his anecdotal experience at Princeton.

Princeton wasn’t my favorite place in the world, to be sure.  But in my two years on campus, I never knew of an instance where a student had casual sex with another student.  Not to say it didn’t happen, just to say that it wasn’t flagrant in the sense that Tim writes.  So, my anecdotal experience negates and therefore nullifies Tim’s.

Does that render Tim’s points moot?  Insofar as he bases his conclusions on this anecdotal evidence, yes it does.

However, Tim argues that liberal Christians and conservative Christians have different mores regarding sexuality.  That seems a thesis worth investigating.

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The Future of Seminary: Training Tentmakers

This post is part of a Patheos symposium on the Future of Seminary Education.  You can see all of my posts in this symposium here.

At Pangea, Kurt makes good points about the massive debt that many seminarians graduate with.  He’s right, they do.  And they’re headed straight into a field that pays about $40,000 per year.  That’s not enough to support a family in many cities, much less to repay student debt.

But here’s the bigger question, from my perspective: Why do seminary graduates expect to earn a full-time salary for ministry?

I get that’s the norm.  But lots of mainline clergy are heading to congregations that have less than 100 parishioners.  It’s completely unrealistic that a congregation of that size can support a full-time salary with benefits plus all of the upkeep that their buildings demand.  Not to mention that a congregation that commits so many resources to sustaining itself will almost certainly preclude its ability to be missional.

Further, I often talk to erstwhile church planters who want to figure out how they can get a full-time salary with benefits while they’re planting a church.  Puhleeze.  Let’s put it in other words: I’d like to do something risky, but without any of the risk.

Most of the successful church planters I know do not garner their entire income from church work.  They supplement it with another source — or several sources — of income.

And an Episcopal priest I met a couple weeks ago, who pastors a small parish in rural Georgia, also runs a local franchise of an employment agency.  Instead of complaining that the church wasn’t paying him enough, he unapologetically stated that this was a much better arrangement for him and the parish.

Less and less clergy in the future will draw 100% of their income from ministry.  Seminaries had better prepare their students for this reality, or else they aren’t really in the business of preparing seminarians for reality.

Would You Go to Seminary with Muslims and Jews?

My friend, Philip Clayton, is part of a grand experiment in theological education, covered this week by Inside Higher Ed:

Two Schools, Three Religions (So Far)

Claremont Lincoln University is a collaboration between two established schools: the Claremont School of Theology and the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, which trains future rabbis, cantors and chaplains from all branches of Judaism, although Orthodox Jews do not accept the academy’s ordination. A Muslim institution, Bayan College, is in the works: it will be part of Claremont Lincoln, established through a partnership between the Islamic Center of Southern California. Administrators say it will be one of the first schools to train Sunni and Shiite imams entirely within the United States.

Claremont Lincoln also offers a master’s degree in religious leadership in Muslim contexts, a course of study for both men and women that it says is the first graduate program of its kind in the United States.

While many theological schools are adding programs to familiarize students with world religions — whether to increase interfaith understanding or make students more effective proselytizers — the students are usually of one faith. Bringing Christian, Muslim and Jewish students together creates a different, and richer, learning experience, says Najeeba Syeed-Miller, an assistant professor of interreligious education.

via Claremont Lincoln aims to train Christian, Jewish and Muslim clergy | Inside Higher Ed.

The Future of Seminary: Non-Tenured

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.

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The Future of Seminary: Non-Accredited

This post is part of a Patheos symposium on the Future of Seminary Education.

Accreditation is a funny thing.  The primary accrediting body for theological education is the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).  When you’re on a seminary faculty, and especially when you’re in the administration, there’s lots of deference paid to ATS.  They’re talked about in hushed tones.  And if you notice that everything on your campus is being painted and the lawn is especially manicured, you can bet that an ATS site visit is in the offing.

The rub is that the people who accredit your seminary, the ones who decide if your seminary is up-to-snuff are (wait for it) employees of other seminaries!

I suppose that’s a common practice, to a certain extent.  But a hospital ethics board is not staffed exclusively by physicians — it also has nurses, lawyers, and patient advocates.  With ATS, it’s not the foxes guarding the henhouse, it’s the hens deciding who gets to have an official henhouse.

Accreditation is ultimately about standards, and standards are good.  But accreditation as it currently stands in seminary education is driven by two forces: doctoral programs and denominations.

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