What Seminary Education Ought To Be [Part One]

What Seminary Education Ought To Be [Part One] June 18, 2012
The Fuller Seminary Doctor of Ministry Cohort in Christian Spirituality

On Friday, the above photo was snapped. I’d just come off the water with 10 Fuller DMin students, Brian McLaren, Courtney (my spouse), Albert (my dog), and three guides. Today, I sit at my family cabin as the students rise one by one, pour a cup of coffee, and sit with books to start the day. One is cutting strawberries for pancakes. Others are still asleep.

It seems odd to call these ten “students.” While I am, indeed, the “professor,” and I grudgingly grade their papers and presentations, I struggle with stratification implicit in the professor-student relationship. While I have an expertise forged by Princeton and experience, it is abundantly clear that each of us here is a learner. And each is a teacher.

The first half of our ten days together this year was spent canoeing in the 1-million-acre wilderness called the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The BWCAW is arguably the most pristine wilderness left in the continental U.S. No motorized boats are allowed, and only a limited number of permits are granted each year.

We were outfitted by Boundary Waters Experience, and I can’t recommend them highly enough. Everything you take into the Boundary Waters, you’ve got to carry on your back. That means clothes, tents, food, cookware, and canoes. While the canoeing can be challenging, it’s usually relatively easy and filled with enjoyable conversation. During the portages, on the other hand, no one is talking. That’s when you hoist all that gear on your back and scramble up rocks and over logs to get from lake to lake.

It’s a physically challenging task to canoe in the BWCAW. Your feet — wool socks in leather boots — are wet all day, your shoulders ache, and the mosquitoes are bloodthirsty.

But to sit around a campfire at the end of the day, pipe in hand, and talk about the doctrine of creation… Well, I can barely understand how anyone could learn anything in a classroom.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Tony,

    Outdoors? Check.
    Grueling? Check.
    Theology? Check.
    Campfire? Check.
    Pipe? Check.

    Sounds like a good time.

    Curious though, what pipe do you prefer? I like the pipes from this guy in TN: http://handcraftedmckiepipes.com/


  • Since you are doing it, isn’t this what seminary education IS? Looking forward to what comes out of this. Near term blogs and long term affects.

  • Greg D

    As a seminary graduate I greatly valued the theological insight I gained from attending seminary. But, the deepest conversations, and perhaps the greatest depth of learning came not from hitting the books, but from the campfire chats with a cold brew and a cigar with my friends from different theological persuasions.

  • Perfect! Something about the experience of living together as natural, rather than as formal “other” that speaks to the nature of Christianity.

  • Dan

    My problem with these sorts of “unconventional” classroom settings is their relative inaccessibility to the dis-or-unabled bodied folk. First and foremost, the classroom, and especially seminary classrooms, should be accessible to all and in all ways, not just to the intellectually and physically privileged.

  • Jon M. Sweeney

    Sounds like you are rediscovering Socrates. Not books (they are “too easily swallowed whole”), not orators, but the give and take of conversation, that’s where knowledge is discovered.

  • Tony, I think you need a dean of a 127-year-old mainline Protestant seminary to say: how cool is that! Could it really be the future of theological education? You bet. Count me (and Claremont School of Theology) in…

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  • Bill Wiley

    Did the smug drown out the smoke from the fire?

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