Saturday, December 05, 2015

Seminary in a Nutshell 1

1. A few years ago, I came across David Horton's, The Portable Seminary. What a brilliant idea, I thought then, condensing the rudiments of a seminary education into a 784 page book. My friend Brannon Hancock recently pointed out that Zondervan was selling a package called, Seminary in a Box. It's three books in a bundle.

I don't think anyone actually thinks that either of these resources is really a substitute for a seminary education. But I also get frustrated at the "all or nothing" attitude that so many academics have. It's as if they would rather people have no education if they can't have three full years of residential theological education somewhere.

That sort of thinking drives me crazy, people choosing nothing if they can't get their ideal. In the current climate, they should prepare to get a whole lot of nothing and then lose their jobs when their seminary closes.

2. Of course neither of these projects come close to what I have come to think a seminary education should include. The second is entirely Bible and theology, and the first one is heavily Bible, theology, and church history. These are obviously crucial elements of a seminary education, but there are two key problems with the way they are usually approached:
  • There is no straight line from the Bible, theology, and church history to life, let alone to ministry. The application of these disciplines is always spiritual, selective, communal, and contextual.
  • In that sense, these really aren't "foundational" in the sense of being necessary before beginning to address subjects like leadership, mission, or worship. I think I would rather call them the "nuclear" or the central disciplines. All the other disciplines must surely engage them, but their relationship is not exactly derivative. Bible-theology-and church history are integral to the practice of ministry, but they are not exactly the building blocks. You don't have to master the Bible before you can master leadership, but hopefully the Bible informs your leadership in some way.
3. Since I'm in the final stages of the systematic theology I've blogged through for a year and a half (here's the now complete series), I'm considering starting another long term blogging project. Because I was intricately involved with the creation and implementation of a seminary curriculum, I feel like I've attended seminary several times in the last decade. Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University really put together a quite ingenious curriculum with a number of important correctives to seminary business as usual:
  • Bible, theology, and church history were focally integrated with the practice of ministry. They weren't isolated out on their own.
  • Spiritual formation was integrated with the practice of ministry.
  • A somewhat problem-based approach was taken to learning about the practice of ministry, so that even the practical disciplines were driven by practice (as opposed to most seminaries where practical disciplines are driven by the theory behind practice).
It remains to be seen whether these innovations will stick. They are hard to administrate (could it be that these innovations themselves could prove to be impractical ;-). They also don't suit the typical faculty situation very well.

4. Even when the seminary began, I pictured faculty and friends creating innovative textbooks in leadership, mission, etc, that put this integrated approach down on paper. It didn't happen, in part because of how overworked we all were in the start up phase. And the more people you have in the room, the harder it is to get everyone to agree.

So I think I'm going to take up the idea again myself as a blog project. For the next couple years, I think I'm going to blog steadily through a seminary curriculum as I conceive it, relying on what I think are the best insights of my nearly decade long involvement with the founding of a seminary. Here's some of what I see being in the first part of the project:

Pastor and Context
  • The domains of ministerial education (the pastor, the context, the traditions, worship, mission, proclamation, discipleship and spiritual formation, relationships, and leadership)
  • Call to Ministry/types of ministry
  • Personal strengths and spiritual gifts
  • Pastor priorities (God, family, ministry)
  • Cultural Contexts
  • Traditional Contexts

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