Friday, April 23, 2010

Seminary or Bust

Seminary kicked my butt. And I am happy to admit it. I am a better pastor and my congregation is better fed because of it. I arrived at seminary thinking I was special, that I had what it would take to light the world on fire. Seminary cured me of these notions.

My first quarter introduced me to Dr Horace Hummel. Dr Hummel kicked my butt. I had never worked so hard hoping only to pass. Second year introduced me to Dr Norman Nagel. Dr Nagel obliterated me. And I love him for it. He broke down my legallstic and limited notions of God's work and tore the roof off my understanding of the Gospel. I got to know Dr Jeff Gibbs who introduced me to the sheer joy of exegesis. I got to know Dr Fueherhann who brought thoughtful analysis to my own history as he opened up the ideas that string from generation to generation. I can personally say with no hesitation that I can see farther and clearer because I stand on the shoulders of these and other men who were my teachers during my years at the seminary.

There is currently a movement in our synod to to deprive burgeoning pastors of the treasure trove of seminary education. Through various programs such as the Specific Ministry Program, men can become pastors with little to no residential time on our seminary campuses. In my mind this is sentencing us to poverty.

Think of it this way, suppose you were the owner of a 5 star restaurant famous for its culinary delicacies. Would you turn your kitchen over to someone who studied at home via the internet? Would you want a chef trained from a video series? Or would you want a chef mentored by the world's foremost and best chefs? Would you want a chef who spent time being trained and personally tutored by those who know the craft inside and out?

It is true that there are some pragmatic reasons for moving away from a residential seminary training program. Seminary training is expensive. A three year residential program is inconvenient. Non residential programs provide an easier means for capable men to become pastors. However, at the same time there are those who resent their seminary training. They arrive, as I did, thinking seminary was a hoop to jump through. They are resent their instructors, seeing them as unreasonable and harsh for their expectations. They get through their time at the seminary with a minimum of work and effort and then brag about leaving their Greek New Testament and their Book of Concord on their shelf. I thank the Lord that he moved me to repent of these sins and see the error. Yet I fear that our current "seminary lite" programs are a capitulation to those who deny the fruitfulness of seminary training. I am afraid that our 5 star restaurant could soon become a Denny's.


  1. Good article.

    I seem to recall that the Synod is contributing less and less to our seminaries, and if I recall correctly also, one of the purposes of founding a Synod was to establish seminaries. The Synod is currently in a direction counter to one of its purposes.

    Seminaries, universities, et. al., are not only teaching institutions but research institutions. Because most of our lower-level schools teach at best a smattering of German, French, or Spanish, we might be deluded into some idea is new when in fact it was dispatched as heresy in German, Latin, or Greek.

    Our Lord did not see fit to have his Word and the faith originally delivered to his creation in English, so it is of utmost importance to keep in mind what he said through the prophets and apostles in Hebrew and Greek. Consider for example the number of English translations/paraphrases who botch the theology of the Lord's Supper, for example, much less go as far off the reservation as the New World Translation. We need that research to keep us grounded to the original Word as best we can and to deliver those original perspectives to our pastors.

  2. Rev. Kevin JenningsMay 24, 2010 at 12:59 PM

    Hi, Paul!

    To be sure, there are places for the SMP program. There is one in our circuit - a congregation with faithful members, unable to become a dual parish, and also unable to fund a full time time pastor.

    BUT, this should not be the norm. I believe you voice my great fear that programs such as this will be abused by those wishing to engage in outreach programs which belie a foundation more akin to modern marketing principles than Holy Scripture.

    In this same vein, the establishment of seminaries and teachers colleges was coupled with the sending of missionaries as reasons to establish a synod. Less support for the seminaries and less support for missionaries...