Models of Seminary

I haven’t posted on my seminary musings for a while, but this doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned this topic. Indeed, as I’ve traveled, conferenced, worked on current classes and future courses, the theology of a seminary education has continued to burrow into my daily thoughts.  So much so that my problem isn’t as much what to say as it is where to start.

I’m tempted to jump into my own ideas about what a seminary education of the future should look like–and I do have some developing ideas–but that wouldn’t show any of the background to my thoughts nor the much wider conversations about a theology of seminary education. And as I’ve poked around the topic, I have found much of worth indeed.  So, in this post I’ll offer a brief summary of key themes and ideas I’ve encountered now in various directions.

First some key books. First is Between Athens and Berlin: the Theological Debate by David Kelsey.  In this book he offers two main types of theological education that exist in North America. The title of the book indicates his terminology. I’ll get to those more thoroughly in a little bit. Quickly, Athens is more concerned with personal formation and Berlin is more concerned with intellectual training.

Second, there is Reenvisioning Theological Education by Robert Banks.  In addition to the two suggested by Kelsey, Banks suggests “Jerusalem” as a third model. This model prioritizes a missional approach to theological education. It is worth noting that the first edition of [amazon text=Paul’s Idea of Community&asin=978-0801045547] by Banks was a central text for me as a sophomore in college when I began to seriously wrestle with the purpose of the church. A number of theological impulses that later landed in my dissertation began with the research I did at that time and with this book in particular alongside Lesslie Newbigin’s works.

A third key resource is an article written by Brian Edgar titled, ” The Theology of Theological Education.” He summarizes the first three I mentioned and adds a fourth which he, following the pattern, calls “Geneva.” This model approaches theological education from a confessional standpoint, in which the student in taught initiated in a particular theological tradition, learning to live and teach within it.  Tradition is seen as the key avenue for knowing God, and so this model invites the student into the relationship with God and with the history of God’s particular work.

Here’s the helpful diagram Edgar uses in his article:
Theol_ed_diagramEach of these is helpful in different ways. That’s my struggle as I think about it.  And I continue to wrestle not only with these models but also how any such model might also be best established in a given context.  How do we approach these models in light of a global and connected world, where students may enter into seminary with different vocational goals, different theological traditions, different experiences and priorities of ministry?  Is it best for a particular seminary to specialize in one of these modes and leave other seminaries to carry the mission of the others?

And more particularly, I continue to wrestle with the way Fuller Seminary can best carry out its own mission, which does not fit neatly into any one of these categories while involving all of them. Here’s the current mission statement:

Fuller Theological Seminary, embracing the School of Theology, School of Psychology, and School of Intercultural Studies, is an evangelical, multidenominational, international, and multiethnic community dedicated to the equipping of men and women for the manifold ministries of Christ and his Church. Under the authority of Scripture we seek to fulfill our commitment to ministry through graduate education, professional development, and spiritual formation. In all of our activities, including instruction, nurture, worship, service, research, and publication, Fuller Theological Seminary strives for excellence in the service of Jesus Christ, under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, to the glory of the Father.

In reflecting on the context of Fuller in light of these models, I think about how best we can prioritize our time and resources to fulfill our mission. I am not an administrator at Fuller, I am a teacher, so my interest is more in those pragmatic directions.

A few things come to mind in light of this that contribute to my theological musings.

Theological education has to be relational, we are formed as persons in the context of a community.  It has to be transformational, otherwise why put in the time, effort, and money. This transformation should include the whole self, including the mind.  It has to be contextual, as students are not objects intended for a general setting but are formed in a context of a particular community located in a specific time and place. Without reflection on and from these contexts, the education will be unmoored and irrelevant.

We are participants in the Christian tradition called to help communicate and shape this tradition in light of current concerns and present struggles.  Becoming creative participants in this tradition is the only way we can balance the many strains placed on us from one side or another. We need to teach discernment and we need to teach engagement, both in light of Scripture, history, and current reality.

Does this mean picking one of the models and digging into it? Whether or not this is even possible, it still doesn’t help answer how any one or all of these models may best be applied in light of current technology and current cultural shifts. Which is why I’ll keep musing on a theology of seminary for a while longer.

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