Unintentionally, I have caused several heated discussions in churches in recent years over my stance on seminaries and Bible colleges. While thankful for their role, I question the wisdom in relying upon them as frequently as we do. It seems that more often than not a seminary degree is a litmus test for both a potential pastor’s knowledge of the Bible and his ability to apply that knowledge (i.e. preaching, counseling, compassion, discipline, etc.). Close to my heart is the friendship my family has with a husband and wife, whom we have a high respect for. As they consider next options for their life, he is finding that he is unable to find a pastorate. He has years of experience as a pastor, church planter, and while doing that serves as a Bible teacher. Both his knowledge and wisdom that come from his foundational study and continuous study in the Word are quite profound, yet he lacks one thing that every church seems to want: a seminary degree (he does have a Bible certificate from a Bible institute).
With this story in mind, Denny Burk, in response to a story in the Wall Street Journal, briefly addressed this week the seminary crisis in the United States. Seminaries are finding it harder and harder to stay open and Burk rightly draws the connection between this and theological liberalism. However, the crisis is real not only for seminaries, but Bible colleges can be added to that as well.
Lessons can be drawn from these closures, lessons that are deeply troubling. First and foremost is the recognition of how much theological liberalism has impacted these schools. Although certainly this is not the sole factor, it is a defining one and it shows some intense affects. More than merely affecting theology it brings about death: death of a school, death of a church, and death of the soul. What we see taking place in seminaries is reflective of the struggles that are taking place in the churches. It also exposes the great weakness in relying upon higher learning institutions for all of our biblical training. Personally, I would propose that we get rid of seminaries and Bible colleges.
That proposal is quite extreme and I recognize that. However, the reality is that these institutions are supplanting the church and taking on the responsibilities that should be delegate to the church. Are there benefits of such places to send people for teaching? Absolutely. If it were not for their existence, I would never have been equipped for the ministry roles in which I have been placed, and it’s probably not out of line to say that most in ministry would not be equipped for their roles. Seminaries and Bible colleges are making up for the church’s lack of responsibility for training it’s own people. However, the purposes of the church would be better fulfilled if we aided and enabled churches in this process rather than simply abolishing that responsibility by sending people elsewhere.
There are certainly limitations of the church and I am not naive to the fact the abolishing the seminary will solve this major crisis in the church. First off, whether or not seminaries exist has no bearing on the existence of theological liberalism or any other heresy. People are sinners prone to go their own way and therefore we can expect that heresy will continue as a result. Furthermore, churches will not be able to train up all people in all things. This is because there are certain people who simply have no desire to grow and move forward. Second, sometimes certain areas are more difficult and churches may not have the expertise to fulfill a complete teaching of that area (i.e. Biblical counseling). However, this second issue is easily solved simply by partnering with biblically solid, like-minded churches and organizations. It’s not about self-existence, but about leveraging our gifts, individually and as a church body, in order to build up the global church.
With that said, placing a greater emphasis on the church is not only biblical, but practical (which is probably why the Lord emphasized the church as a means for Christian growth because of the relationship between the two). First, it simply brings more emphasis to the church by elevating it to the right position of authority within the Christian life and God’s plan. Not only does it make the church more responsible for its people though, but it also makes people more accountable for their actions and growth because it brings a deeper relationship between the church and its people.
Truthfully, we are not in a position to simply do away with seminaries and Bible colleges because our reliance on them is so deeply entrenched into our lifestyle. Because of this, it would also be irresponsible to abolish them in one, swift move. As of right now they serve a vital role in the equipping of our people for leadership within the church and we should not negate that in any way. However, as more and more institutions close, there becomes a greater need to take on the responsibility of teaching the flock at a more profound level. Therefore, my hope is that we would at least examine the role of the biblical educational institution and the church in a biblical manner that brings a deep conviction about the role and responsibility that the Lord has placed upon church leadership.
To read Denny Burk’s article and the original Wall Street Journal article referenced here, click the following links:
Photo “The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary” courtesy of user Joseph Spurgeon and Flickr.