In the latest issue of Theology journal, Richard Briggs offers a poignant reflection on teaching Scripture to ordinands and seminarians (“New Directions in Teaching Scripture to those Training for Ministry,” 118.4 2015). Firstly, he notes that many Bible professors are much more interested in their own hobby horses and working in traditional academic categories than they are deeply reflecting on what formational and vocational needs should be prioritized for seminarians. In his own words, he says that he has a troubling sense that “what we are good at in teaching biblical studies does not always equate to what our students need with regard to Scripture for lives to be spent in ministries of various kinds” (251).
Briggs notes that much of what students learn in regards to Scripture is how to write essays. Sometimes they break further beyond that to think more philosophically and hermeneutically about Scripture. But Briggs urges that students ought to be “orientated towards the cultivation of phronesis,” practical wisdom (252). Whether one agrees with Briggs or not (I am inclined to agree with him), our seminary faculty and leaders ought to be reckoning with the question – to what end is the Bible studied (252)? It is not enough to answer: “because it is there” (252, Briggs notes this problematic assumption).
Again, going back to our hobby horses and the trends within the guild, Briggs observes that too often our academic discussions don’t seem to have much clear bearing on ministerial formation. If we think that our academic concerns ought to be important, that should be properly explained.
Why not spend time talking about the church, Christian leadership, and worship? Briggs does not explicitly say this, but he implies that students have a need to learn about the Scriptural foundations of their ecclesial understanding of ministry and worship – why is this not discussed more in introductory courses?
At George Fox Seminary, we are going through a curriculum revision, so it is the perfect time to be re-thinking our Scriptural requirements. The more traditional academic NT survey model does not serve our students well. The textbooks handle “survey” matters well, so I have desired to focus class time more on ancient context, biblical theology, theological interpretation, ministry formation, and ethics. I hope I have tried to model some of the things that Briggs has been calling for. Furthermore, though, the traditional seminary approach is to train ministry leaders and academics (those going on to a PhD) with the same courses. Briggs has made me seriously re-think this. In any case, I hope you will get a hold of his article if you teach Scripture to seminarians and ordinands.