Sunday, June 28, 2009

Seminary Vision (6-28-09): Integrated

I've been featuring the IWU Seminary videos. So far I've looked at the Missional and Communal emphases of our new MDIV.

Today I want to feature the Integrated vidcast.

Don't get me wrong, a "disciplinary" approach has its place. Indeed, there is a possible world in which we have OxBridge style MAs in Bible, theology, and Church history up and running in a year's time. In them, you would be able to plum the depths of the most obscure and minute topic... if you can find a professor willing to advise you :-)

But what pastors need most in ministry is not a depth of knowledge in particular subjects. What they need most is the skill to integrate knowledge and skills in specific, concrete ministry situations, guided by godly and effective dispositions. It's hard to teach this skill, because it needs to be used in such diverse situations that you can really only model and practice it in general in preparation. The variety of specific outworkings of integration in ministry come at you like a pitcher with a wicked curve ball you've never faced before.

So we are convinced that the "siloed" approach to seminary education--each discipline separate and in its own place--has the significant weakness of forcing you to do all the integration of things together on your own. And little attention is paid to developing this essential skill.

The Bible means nothing to anyone today--or it means the wrong thing to people today--if you have not developed the skill of appropriating it to practice with integrity. Similarly, so much of the pop banter you read about flows nicely from a shallow understanding of Church history. And what good is theology other than a hobby if you don't know how to apply it?

Of course a similar problem exists with some practical courses in seminary. It is one thing to study anatomy and physiology in a textbook. It is a significantly different thing to find these things in a corpse. And it is quite a different thing yet to know what to do with a living person on an operating table. Most seminaries these days at least have you do practicums--that's like dissecting the corpse. We'll study while you're in a ministry capacity at your church.

So there are two key features of our program that ensure that integration takes place:

1. It is an "in ministry" degree. You have to be working in a local church at least 20 hours a week to be in our program. You will do action research with members of your youth group or congregation every week. "When would you say you were 'converted'?" "What was it about this church that convinced you to try it out?" "If these are the stages of a church's life cycle, where would you say we are?" "If these are the four types of forces that cause change in a local church, which one or ones would you say are most in play right now?"

2. Bible, theology, and Church history are incorporated into every week of the course, and there is an iconic Integration Paper in which you run a specific church problem through biblical exegesis, theology and Church history.

For example, in the same week you are looking at institutionalization as a phase of a church's life cycle, you will read a piece by Bud Bence in defense of Constantine. In the same week as you are talking about strategizing for mobilization, you will read excerpts from John Calvin and John Wesley and then compare and contrast classical predestination with Wesley's prevenient grace--how if at all does it affect who can be reached?

In this way, the various disciplines of theory across the board are presented in the context of practice.

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