To Seminary or not to Seminary

A few expanded thoughts on seminary:

First, it’s time that we let die the illusion that the old models of denominational norms and structures are normative.  They’re not.  Churches really aren’t doing it the way they used to.  And the churches that have their eyes and ears covered are just going to cease to exist.  So the question should not be “Should you go to seminary.” The question should be “Are they going to seminary?”

I got my M.Div from Princeton Theological and my D.Min from Fuller.  And I’m not wholly fond of seminary.

What I love about seminary is the intellectual stimulation that comes from sustained time to reflect on the faith in light of the wiser and smarter who have gone before me.  That, I think, is invaluable.  However, I don’t at all believe that seminary is the only or best way to do that.  If anything, seminary is an entrenched boundary that excludes people from institutional religious structures who don’t have the money to go back to school.  With the birth of the information age, books aren’t contained in libraries anymore, and you can study just as well without tuition.  Someone might respond that you don’t get theological dialogue by studying on your own the way you do on a seminary campus.  But that only makes me wonder why you’re not having those theological dialogues at church.

Worse yet, a number of seminaries have become so disconnected from churches that many of their faculty do not see training people for ministry as the end game.  The fact that you can get an MDiv while learning nothing about leadership, management, finances, counseling, or how to preside at a funeral makes you wonder who’s writing the curriculum.  At least you can say, “I don’t know how to do this” in Hebrew.

I loved that seminary gave me a nuanced view of theology, so that I could not join the great cult leaders of history in assuming that if I had the Bible in one hand and the Holy Spirit in the other I had all I needed to do ministry.  It taught me that wise and well-meaning Christians disagree on some major issues, which, in some small part, contributes to whatever hint of humility I might have.  But again, I don’t know that this study comes best through seminary.  Again, this just sounds like Christians in community with a wide exposure to Christian literature.

All that to say, I don’t wholly write it off, but I haven’t followed in the footsteps of my predecessors who told me that there is no other way.


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