The Future of Seminary: Non-Residential

The Future of Seminary: Non-Residential October 18, 2011

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

One of the hallmarks of the emerging church movement, from its earliest days, has been its call to deep community.  For some of us, that’s meant rootedness in the places we were reared.  It’s also meant that some church planters (think Doug Pagitt, Chris Seay, Dan Kimball, Tim Keel), it’s meant a long-term commitment to the churches they founded (not very Pauline of them!).

So it’s seemed odd to us that when individuals in our communities desire more theological education, the requirement is that they uproot themselves (and their families) from our churches and move somewhere else for three or four years.

Indeed, that’s what I did.  But I was a 22-year-old, fresh out of college, when I matriculated at Fuller Theological Seminary in the fall of 1990.  I wouldn’t do that today, nor would I encourage a person of that age who’s finding life and ministry opportunities in abundance at Solomon’s Porch to do so.  I would encourage them to stay put, and to get innovative at how they extend their theological education.

There are, of course, ample opportunities to study theology online, even with accredited seminaries and divinity schools.  I’ve taught a few of these courses, and I’m not a huge fan.  Learning happens, to be sure, but it’s not an ideal learning environment.

At this point, my encouragement to students of this sort — whom seminaries refer to as “non-traditional students” — is to find a seminary that suits their needs and desires, and take classes á la carte; that is, take intensives.  That’s how the D.Min. that I teach at Fuller Seminary is arranged.  However, that means you can’t attend Princeton Theological Seminary, because they don’t allow non-traditional students.

So it’s an imperfect solution, and it’s temporary.  It’s a stop-gap measure, developed by seminaries and divinity schools, and it’s fine for now.  But, as I will explore later this week, there is something better on the horizon.

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