Perhaps you've heard the tale. Don't go to seminary. You'll lose your faith... or at least your vitality. Seminaries teach you useless stuff and don't really prepare you for real ministry in the real world. It's a waste of time, a waste of money. AND, you have to uproot your family and go live somewhere for three years when you could actually be DOING it!
OK, some of these things are true... or at least used to be true. And some of them certainly have been experienced that way. But let me give you my perspective on what is real here and what isn't.
1. "You have to uproot your family an go live somewhere for three years"...
False. There are still of course seminaries where that's true, but for the most part it simply isn't. You can get an MDIV at IWU, Asbury, or Bethel and never move anywhere.
2. ... "when you could actually be DOING it!"
False. The fact that you can go half time without moving anywhere means you can be "doing it" WHILE going to seminary part time. In fact, in IWU's new MDIV, you HAVE to be doing it or you can't be in our program.
3. Seminaries teach you useless stuff and don't really prepare you for real ministry in the real world.
Well, that's a matter of perception. But the fact that so many seminarians perceive it to be that way means it is certainly a reality of some sort. If the goal of teaching is learning (rather than just talking), then seminaries have apparently done a horrible job of communicating what is valuable about what they do teach. And that's a failure of a fundamental sort.
People go to college these days mostly to be able to get a job. I strongly believe college should be about much more than this, but that is the presenting itch that gets warm bodies in the seats. So most ministers would value seminary if they actually felt like it gave them the tools they needed to actually do the things that scream at them every day in the church.
Seminaries by and large, I think, do NOT typically do a very good job of scratching this itch. IWU's "seminary" has been designed to bombard the student every class not just with I CAN use this but you will actually BE USING it, with your church as the patient :-)
On the other hand, this is not to say that much of the other stuff is not useful, helpful, or even essential. The undergraduate student just looking for a job, but if we can trick them into being better thinkers, able to see things from other people's points of view, give them a sense of where we are in the flow of history and ideas, help them appreciate the blessings of humanness--these are things that make for better humanity. They are actually more important in the long run than getting a job, but they don't seem important if you are hungry.
In the same way, understanding how to read the Bible in context, what Christians have believed for 2000 years, or knowing where you stand in the flow of Christian history can prevent a load of Christian mess and disgrace. These things provide depth; they redirect misguided trajectories, they point out gaps and incomplete ministry.
So the problem is the priorities and lopsided nature of seminary education, not the elements themselves.
4. You'll lose your faith... or at least your vitality.
This was the line that brought on my title. There are some who hate seminary, not because they think it is impractical, but because they think it is spiritually dangerous, and they claim that statistics back them.
On the one hand, this is a curious line of thinking. It's as if the voices of seminary are like the sirens of the Odyssey--once you come under the spell of their singing, you can't resist them. Your ship is destined to crash on the rocks. What is this great power that seminaries have, that takes a vigorous, vibrant Christian and inevitably forces them to lose their faith?!
What great power, to take away the free will of vibrant Christians! Why these seminaries are apparently more powerful than the Holy Spirit! If we take the rhetoric seriously, the beguiling singing of seminary professors is so strong that only those who tie themselves to the mast can safely pass through the waters of Scylla and Charybdis without losing their faith!
I think there is a problem here, but the problem surely can't be what the anti-seminarians say it is. After all, if the problem is wrong ideas, then the zealots would simply tear the arguments to shreds. Surely the problem has to be that the ideas are mostly convincing, but seminaries don't do a good job of helping students grow spiritually to handle them.
My own experience of seminary was destabilizing, even though Asbury was by my accounts a very conservative place. Even Oswalt this morning reminded me of how conservative he is. Didn't the Egyptians practice circumcision? He treated circumcision as if it were invented by God just for Abraham. I thought it was (to irritate Viola) a pagan practice that God sanctified. Not my field, I could be wrong.
My thoughts on this subject are 1) the heart of the pre-seminary church is mostly right but 2) it's head usually can't go the distance. Traditional seminaries adjust the head and lose the heart. I can't come up with a more plausible explanation. And the seminaries that form their identity around fighting the ideas of the other seminaries--they're the most worthless of all for they neither train you how to do ministry nor preserve the pre-seminary heart.
The ancient-future movement, for lack of a better room, makes a space for traditional orthodoxy in a (post) modernist world. Hate the bad parts of postmodernism if you will, but the good parts have made a space for heart and head to coexist going forward. I am not now speaking of IWU's seminary... just calling it how I see it.