Both evangelical and mainline American Protestant seminaries are caught up in major internal struggles, which could possibly change their long-standing position of leadership within the religious community.
Recent books by evangelical leaders and critics are questioning the efficacy of formal training, reports Christianity Today (Jan. 12). These critics ask why seminary education is even necessary when such ministries as Prison Fellowship, Focus on the Family, and Willow Creek Community Church were founded by leaders who “never spent a day in seminary.”
Robert W. Patterson writes that evangelical seminaries need to revamp their programs in order to gain greater support in the evangelical world. Seminaries also should become more selective in their admissions; heretofore almost anyone with a bachelor’s degree could be admitted. Seminaries also should subsidize the candidates’ work to a far greater degree than is done now; they should assist candidates in obtaining calls to congregations; and they should increase the funding of residency programs allowing for more full time study towards a seminary degree, Patterson writes.
Within mainline seminaries, there is a declining commitment of young faculty to the life of the institutional church. In the Christian Century (Feb. 4-11), Barbara Wheeler of Auburn Theological Seminary and co-coordinator of the recently completed study of seminary education supported by the Lilly Foundation, states that much of seminary life and study is healthy and secure. But, “all is not well”. As the budgetary crises and shifting graduate level education programs continue to impinge on seminary life, an increasing number of young faculty are not showing long-standing commitment to congregational life and growth. Instead, they are concerned with their own academic specialization.
To remedy this, seminaries can take steps such as having a high proportion of full time tenure track positions. Today’s heavy use of part time and adjunct teachers only detracts from the need for commitment to permanent appointments. Secondly, seminaries can nurture their teachers’ sense of vocation by giving them meaningful faculty responsibilities and appointments early in the junior faculty’s first years.
The seniors should set junior teacher assignments with great care, pointing them to the larger calling of service and involvement in the church, Wheeler writes.
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Drive, Carol Stream, IL 60188; Christian Century, 465 S. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60605)
— By Erling Jorstad