Download entire issue: Let’s Talk Issue 20.2: Theological Education [pdf, 66kb]
After the graduation recessional ends and the diplomas are safely mounted, what should a theological education leave its students with? “Whatever contextual education I may have had in seminary in the late 1960s was irrelevant by the 1980s and totally forgotten by the 2000s,” Frank Senn writes in this issue, but “I still needed to exegete biblical passages and look up words in lexicons to verify my understanding.”
The tensions in theological education between classroom and context, tradition and innovation, professional preparation and avocational enrichment are not new, but they are felt very keenly now. Seminaries are responding to related crises of finances and of identity, through which the life of public theology and the church as a whole is dimly figured. The current issue of Let’s Talk looks at theological education—its challenges, opportunities, and purposes—in the midst of this time of entirely unpredictable transition.
Audrey West, adjunct faculty at LSTC, writing as “a part-time peripatetic professor” not directly tasked with navigating an institution through these choppy waters, sees much to appreciate and admire in seminaries today. She shares impressions of the new diversity of students hearing a call to theological study, the variety of worship and preaching experiences on campus, increasing flexibility within and cooperation between degree programs, and a continuing passion for discipleship.
Robert Saler, Executive Director of the Center for Pastoral Excellence and Research, takes us more deeply into one such new and diverse seminary initiative: seminary courses open to clergy and lay participants, at a modest cost, alongside the degree students. “The classes demonstrate in embodied form that laity are hungry for the intense nuances and intellectual capital amassed by the Christian theological tradition(s) over the years,” Saler tells us, “and seeing this in action is tremendously empowering for future pastors as they envision their teaching/co-learning roles within congregation.”
In many settings the experience of diversity is being extended to students from non-Christian faiths. Cynthia Lindner reports firsthand on the gifts and challenges of adapting a traditionally Christian (and Protestant) ministry program to the reality of a multi-religious student body. While even the vocabulary for inter-religious is unsettled, and the experience can be “awkward and challenging,” nevertheless, students “apprehend and experience their own traditions and practices much more deeply having articulated them in the presence of religious others, and the practice of sustained conversation with these others grows students’ capacity for awareness, compassion and courage,” Lindner writes.
Beyond changes in curriculum and student demographics, the form of seminary education itself may be open to revision. In his column for this issue, Ben Dueholm thinks back on his own preparation for ministry: “I did not think it at all odd that my credentialing in America’s cultural elite (daydreaming worrier subsection) was more or less continuous with my credentialing in the earthly assembly of a crucified Jewish God-man. But there it was: seminary was Jesus College,” he writes, before imagining a very different social format for training pastors.
Finally, what exactly should a seminary education teach? Frank Senn, in his column, draws on forty-five years of pastoral ministry to argue for a two-year course of scriptural, theological, and pastoral knowledge, possibly linked to church colleges. “Quite frankly,” he writes, “in my experience my various congregations greatly appreciated receiving substance in all areas of church life and ministry because people turn to religion for meaning more than for anything else.”
And so, as always, we invite you into conversation: what should theological education do? What should it look like? Be in touch and continue the discussion.