Discussing
Bridging the gap between seminaries and churches

Andy Rau

John Carroll
March 12, 2008

Insightful thoughts Andy on the why...we have seen this coming too.<br><br>At Fellowship Memphis we have decided to fund a scholarship at a local seminary and a local Christian College while being strategic in who gets those scholarships to ensure the gap is bridged. <br><br>We have also started a Fellowship Institute though, because we don't think all people in church should have to go to seminary to get a great theological education.

Jesse Phillips
March 12, 2008

very interesting. What if Seminaries are unbiblical?<br><br>Does the body really need a Theological ELITE to make them Love God and Love others?<br><br>I fear that the elitist separation between clergy and laity is helping keep people docile in the pews. We all have a responsibility to one another: to use our gifts, to love each other and support each other.<br><br>Seminarians have the reputation of speculating on irrelevant things. We need theologians that will get their hands dirty and help us focus on the essentials: loving God and loving others.<br><br>Am I being to simplistic?

Amy B
March 12, 2008

I think your simple response gets to the heart of some real concerns. We should have a group of individuals that devote a big chunk of their time and energy to study of God's Revelation. However, they of course should not be seen as elite whatsoever. Yet, while our command from the Lord is to LOVE (not to be really smart and understand complex systems of theology), nevertheless sound doctrine is important (as Paul himself insists) and does inspire greater love when communicated well. The Body of Christ needs all these different parts - the brain (theologians) and the mouth (those who can preach the truths of God) and the hands (those in everyday ministry) and so on.<br><br>I think, if possible, having close ties between churches and seminaries is an excellent way to challenge the church to grow in the knowledge and love of God, and the best way to seminarians and theologians grounded in reality.<br><br>Like Andy, my church is fortunate to be within driving distance of the seminary of our denomination (Covenant Theological Seminary - Presbyterian Church in America). So we have several seminarians, several professors and several retired pastors and missionaries in our church. Yet there is no sense of social stratification - those who have not gone to seminary are still sought out to be involved in ministry, leadership and decision making. Having a close relationship with the seminary has only served to make the life of our church richer.<br><br>Sorry for the long response - I also like John's comments as well!

SolShine7
March 12, 2008

Good topic. We definitely need to bridge the gap.

Scott M
March 12, 2008

Personally, I think the thought that there is even a separation alludes to the fact that we are not collectively operating effectively in God's kingdom. We need to use what we know (what God has revealed to us) through experience, academics, etc. to show His love and grace. The fact of the matter is that we need to use our gifts in service. If your true desire is to go to seminary to grow closer in relationship to God and to learn more about God and His ways, because of your love for Him, then what you learn will be used to be a part of His glory. Not our own! What you learn will also help you to use and understand the gifts He has given you effectively in His kingdom. To do that, we need each other. We need teachers, theologians, prophets, preachers, etc. But most of all, we just need each other.<br>-a simple mind (definitely not an expert)

Rhett
March 12, 2008

I think the bigger question is the disconnect and gap between seminarians/seminaries and the Body of Christ, the living organism of the believers-followers- ministers of Jesus around the world. Not just the gap between the professional seminarians and the professional clergy - corporate church. <br><br>We have created, fed and sustained a huge artificial gap between "professional clergy" and the "laity" that is simply not in the Biblical model of the body of Christ, and that gap is encouraged, fed and exacerbated by the professional school seminary model of discipleship and training.<br> <br>Jesus taught his future church leaders through an apprenticeship model of getting dirty in the trenches together every day, ministering to the sick together, feeding the hungry together, praying together...not in lofty ivorty towers where the goal is publishing some erudite analysis of some "theological" tome that is read by relatively few and useful to almost no one. And after He ascended, His new followers were called by the Spirit to minister and ministry during their own apprenticeship in the company of other mature believers who were doing ministry (not just thinking about it). The call to do ministry was every believers, every day, in every place and situation, regardless of whether they had lots of initials after their names or not. Somehow they changed the entire world without one seminary to teach them about how to be a "professional" minister. Simply relying on the Spirit to do what Jesus promised He would do "Teach you all things" when you need to know them.<br><br>The whole seminary process is largely irrelevant to the Body of Christ, produces religion not relationship-community, and is simply the church's accomodation to a secular western cultural corporate educational model. Almost every large secular anti-god university in Americal started primarily as a seminary... then fell into the trap of Mind-as-God and "education" as the altar.<br><br>How many people do you know who went to seminary and completely lost their faith in Jesus Christ? <br><br>I see so much of the seminary model as teaching people to be culinary experts and menu reading experts, who die of malnutrition because they never actually eat anything. Yet Jesus said "I am the Bread," "I am the living water," and unless you eat my body and drink my blood you will not inherit the kingdom of God." I would rather get so excited and fired up by my participation in the feast with the King that I have a passion to learn more about him. The Gospel is an active gospel, not a passive one.<br><br>Until we get away from boxing ministry into "profession" and begin to disciple every believer as "minister" to the body and the world by following Jesus example (rather than the example of secular education and and wall-street corporate organization) we will continue to limit the effectiveness of the Body of Christ and restrain our ability to fulfill the Great Commission.<br><br>I am sure this opinion will be considered very radical. But I would urge you to pray and meditate on this under the guidance of the Holy Spirit while reading the actual story of Jesus teaching his disciplies... listen to Him, and see what happens.

Rickd
March 12, 2008

Strong stuff Rhett. And for the most part, I agree. The anti-supernatural bias in seminaries is overwhelming. I believe the study of religion is a valid form of scholarship but should not be a perequisite for ministry and can actually do much harm to the faith and life of a believing community. So let's keep them away from local churches. By its very nature seminary scholarship encourages an abstract, theoretical and emotionally distant approach to Christianity, giving rise to Form Criticism, dispensationalism and other destructive movements. There are a few seminaries that have been the birthing suites for revivals, such as Fuller Theological Seminary's relationship with John Wimber and the Vineyard Church. But for the most part they have been hazardous to your spiritual health.

Csalzman
March 12, 2008

"How many people do you know who went to seminary and completely lost their faith in Jesus Christ?"<br><br>Perhaps I'm too young, but I'd have to answer with none. I'd challenge your question with another: how many people do you know that have grown spiritually because of an interaction with someone who went to seminary?

Rickd
March 12, 2008

I hope apostates are in the minority however, <br>Start with Bart Ehrman, graduate of Wheaton and author of God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question -- Why We Suffer<br>Bart is now an agnostic<br><br>Then let’s consider 1981 research about the erosion of faith at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary<br><br>------------------------------------------------Diploma----1st Year----Final Yr.-----Grad.<br>QUESTIONS &amp; ANSWERS---------Students----M.Div.------M.Div.-------Students<br>I know God really exists <br>&amp; I have no doubt about it.-------------100%--------74%---------65%---------63%<br><br>Jesus is the Divine Son of God<br>and I have no doubts about it.--------100%---------87%---------63%--------63%<br><br>I believe the miracles actually<br>happened just at the Bible says<br>they did.---------------------------------------96%---------61%---------40%--------37%<br><br>There is Life Beyond Death:<br>Completely true.---------------------------100%---------89%---------67%-------53%<br><br>No doubt it depends on the seminary but as you can see, there is a problem.<br>I do find though that Seminaries often turn out graduates who develop an anti-supernatural bias. This is from experience with the graduates of Dallas Theological Seminary<br><br><br>

Rhett
March 13, 2008

My Lord, <br><br>Rick, your stats are now 26 years old... before the rampant acceptance of postmodernism and existential relativism as the foundation of secular education... and its passive acceptance in so much of Christendom... including the seminaries. <br><br>Now students start seminary having been conditioned by culture, media, and prior education to blindly accept that objective truth, biblical or not, is a myth... that all religions have the same spiritual basis... that tolerance trumps truth... and that diversity of viewpoint on religion is to be valued over doctrine. They ae studying religion, not pursuing Jesus under the compulsion of His call.<br><br>I just checked online to look at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver (old and venerated institution) and found that it honors and celebrates "38 faith traditions" and has a professor of "Native American Indian Spirituality" on staff. With rare exception I would be willing to bet real money that a modern survey at the Southern Baptist Seminary (and almost any other) would produce much more reprehensible numbers today than it did in 1981.<br><br>I am all for worshipping God with my mind and seeking His knowledge and wisdom, and teaching it to others. But it is all embodied in Christ. <br><br>My experience is that when I am active in pursuing Him, His purposes, and His ministry by walking in the Spirit, I am ravenous to learn more of His Word and about Him. But when I am sedentary, inactive and uninvolved in real Body Life or any ministry to real people, then the knowledge tends to be merely stuffing my brain, making me religiously obese. I experience the supernatural power of God when I am active for Him in His Kingdom, and that is when I seek the sustinence of His word.<br><br>I don't want to be a white-washed tomb in the cemetary of religious study, I want to be a light in a dark, hurting, damaged world. A lean, clean fighting machine doing real damage to the enemy by the power of the Spirit and advancing the cause of Christ.<br><br>There is an insidious and very dangerous poisening of faith when we are cut off from everyday community with the Body of Christ and the power of the Spirit and fed a steady diet of philosophy, mind-gymnastics, and worship at the altar of reason/mind. Not just in seminary, but other professional schools (it hurt my walk with Jesus for years when I got a JD from a top-tier nationally prominent law school). There is a better model of discipleship/apprenticeship/community in the New Testament... we don't need to emulate the world system of education to raise up Christian leadership.<br><br>I agree with your comment that perhaps a "gap" between Church and most Seminaries is a good thing.

John
March 13, 2008

Funny, the Pastor who married my wife and I almost 38 years ago is now in the home selling business. We don't know why he changed, just that he did, but he is still a good person. I have had the opportunity to take a few seminary classes as a lay minister and was subjected to several of the seminary students, who for the most part were there because of God. They were a breath of fresh air to all of us want to be once in awhile pastors. I like that maybe I'll use that in my next book, but it's true of anyone who is close to his/her savior. He is the light that shines in those who believe in him and they are the body of the church. So, no matter if you have or have not, remember that it's the person who brings Christ closer; not the institution or school. In God's Grace John

Andyrau
March 13, 2008

I know many people who have gone to seminaries of varying theological backgrounds and of varying points on the liberal-conservative scale. And the vast majority of them are faithfully serving Christ, either as ministers or just in their everyday life (I can't think of anyone I know who has abandoned the faith because of seminary). I am no theologian, but I've taken seminary courses, and found them to be a blessing to my spiritual life.<br><br>That is, of course, anecdotal evidence. But it makes me question your implication that the average seminary is a spiritually dangerous, faith-damaging institution. Of course there are seminaries out there that aren't teaching the true Gospel of Christ, just as there are churches that don't teach the true Gospel. But there are plenty of good ones, and they serve a vital role in the church by training the church's leaders. For one thing, there are a lot of great Christian books and works of theology sitting on my bookshelf at home that wouldn't exist if there were no excellent seminaries training pastors, Bible translators, Bible study writers, church historians, etc.<br><br>It seems like you are suggesting that we ought to distance ourselves from any sort of theological higher education. If there is a tendency for students of higher education to drift away from simple, everyday faith, that to me is an argument for increasing the ties between churches and seminaries, not for jettisoning seminaries. The education people receive at seminaries can be a tremendous blessing to the local church, and the local church can do a great job of helping our scholarship-oriented brothers and sisters to apply that scholarship to everyday faith!<br>

Danr
March 13, 2008

One of the most sobering encounters I ever had was with a visiting preacher at our church for a couple weeks while we were between pastors. He'd gone to Harvard Div School, and I inquired as to whether its reputation as a liberal institution was valid. In fact, he said it was so spiritually lonesome and void of the true spirit and teaching of Christ that he had to go across campus to the Kennedy School of Government for Christian fellowship! How disturbing an irony is that...<br><br>That may (hopefully) not be normative... but I fear from what I've heard (not experienced firsthand) that the curriculum at many (not all) US seminaries is centered increasingly on ecumenism to the point of universalism, and/or social justice to the point of eclipsing individual, personal salvation, discipleship, and holiness. The study of theology, and the training of pastors to teach/shepherd their flocks, certainly still has merit from many faithful institutions and individual professors. However, I don't doubt that some of the most faithful and capable pastor/shepherds never go to seminary, while some seminarians will face judgment with little to show Christ besides some well-framed diplomas and advanced, esoteric academic theological publications.<br><br>Time is short. There are still unsaved to reach, and fellow believers to be built up in love towards Christ and one another. Even putting aside the cost/benefit, time/expense consideration (where God calls, He provides). We should question ourselves, as I once did when considering seminary at my then-pastor's prompting: Is it God's will for my life, for His glory? Or merely what an aspiring servant of Christ is "expected to do"?<br><br>Seminary and ministry aren't mutually exclusive, but neither are they mutually dependent. As Rhett above said, we are ALL ministers. Prepare for future service however you feel led - but serve today.

Caroline Misarski
March 14, 2008

Our pastors and elders are working to bridge that gap by requiring anyone who teaches Sunday School or becomes an officer of the church to take the pastor's theology class. It's now being offered during adult Sunday School. We have a seminary down the street, not of our denomination, but several of the students come to our church, and our pastor has started a theology discussion group with them on Wednesdays.<br> Caroline Misarski

Andyrau
March 14, 2008

That's a great idea, Caroline! Sounds like a really excellent program you guys have going there.

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