Is Seminary Relevant? The Pro Argument

by on May 7, 2009

tylerIt was entirely coincidental that within about a week of each other, two seminarians would write blog posts on the relevancy of seminary education, one arguing in favor of it, the other against it. I contacted them soon after to see if they would be willing to submit their posts to the site so we could engage a wider audience on the issue, to which they agreed. First up is Tyler Braun arguing that seminary education is still relevant for today. Tyler is a student at Multnomah Biblical Seminary and the praise band director at Sunset Presbyterian Church in Beaverton, OR. Here are his thoughts. (We’ll run the contra argument on Monday)

Being in seminary I hear a lot about why it is or isn’t necessary for pastors. I hear “seminary isn’t relevant anymore” or “I could just work at a church and read books instead.” I’m don’t want to be legalistic and say it is a have-to, but to just throw seminary out as irrelevant is disingenuous to me.

I recently read an interview with Leland Eliason, who is about to retire from Bethel Seminary. It spurred on a few thoughts in my head about whether seminary is relevant to today’s world or not.

  1. Seminary is more relevant in preparing today’s church leaders than ever before. Why do I say that? Today’s world knows less about Christianity and the Bible than ever before. Seminary is the one place where a student can give full devotion to learning about theology and the Bible in an accredited process.
  2. Sometimes we get too wrapped up in being relevant. I loved what Leland said in the interview. “What I often say to people thinking about seminary is that a seminary degree will create a structure of discipline for you to read and study and learn in areas that you would want to learn anyway. Without the structure seminary provides, you may not find the discipline to make it all happen.” Seminary doesn’t have to be relevant to be vital. The one thing I’ve seen in the past 2 years is that seminary is instilling in me a discipline to be able to handle church ministry for the next 50 years.
  3. Reading a bunch of books does not prepare you for ministry. I’ve read a number of blogs and heard a number of people say that a pastor could get a seminary education by simply reading a ton of books on theology, the Bible, etc. Seminary is interacting with students and professors, writing position papers, praying, doing an internship, and much more. Reading books is only a small part. Leland said, “Seminary provides the tools to mine the truths of God’s Word over the long haul.”
  4. Seminary allows you to learn from Godly men and women who have gone ahead of us. Most professors have already been in pastoral ministry. They know the ins and outs, and know what it takes to make theology hit the ground running. I have several professors who always talk this. Theology to them isn’t about learning systems or terms, but it is about life change through doctrine. Professors aren’t out to just earn a paycheck, they are working at seminaries to be mentors and to invest in others.
  5. The process of a seminary education has been tested and proven effective. That doesn’t mean seminaries never change, because clearly the best seminaries are adapting to the shifts in culture, but the premise behind how seminary prepares you for ministry has been proved.
  6. Seminary is humbling. It took about 2 weeks for me to realize I was in over my head. The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know, and that I am no where near understanding God’s revelation. Everyone needs to realize that they cannot do ministry on their own and seminary will teach you that lesson quickly and often. Seminary teaches you the need for accountability, support, and wisdom from others and a strong reliance on God.
  7. Seminary provides you with a base that will allow for a lifetime of successful ministry. Leland knocks it out of the park with the ultimate value of a seminary education:

    “I think the danger of doing pastoral ministry without the equivalent of seminary education is in being contemporary without having roots in the history of the church. The history of Bible and theology, for example, turns up every conceivable heresy that we find in our world today. They have surfaced before in an earlier setting. They may be called something else, but in essence there are rarely new heresies. If you have the benefit of church history, it shapes a world view that diffuses the enthusiasm for everything that’s new by tempering it with the truths of God that have been given to us through the Scripture and godly teachers down through the centuries.”

So what do you think: Is seminary relevant?

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Comments

Amen to this. I have found that seminary has done a great job of helping me to think more critically. My seminary isn’t trying to catechize me, but is providing a framework for me to make sound decisions. It is also forcing me to think through some theological issues I may otherwise avoid.

I look forward to the con argument on Monday.

More relevant in what way?

As a seminary educator for 20 years, I’ve had my share of discussions with colleagues about how to make seminary education more relevant. Most of these discussions centered around how to make seminary more relevant to local church ministry, a task seminaries have been working on for well over 100 years.

But I’ve found seminary students often have another idea about relevance – “Is seminary relevant to my calling?” “Is my seminary study helping me development in ministry competency?” “Will my academic program help me take the next step in my learning journey as a minister of Jesus Christ?”

I think that seminary is relevant because you will definitely learn at a higher level than that of a college or university. Seminary has taught me a lot about myself and has provided me the skills and tools needed for ministry. I am one year away from finishing my second Masters degree. I also look forward to reading the opposing viewpoint.

Well said, Tyler. Spoken like a true Multnomah student 🙂

Perhaps another question is: “Is seminary relevant to the mission of the Gospel and the local church?”

Those questions are related, but above we see an argument for how it is relevant for students who want to lead in the church.

The other question points us to the people of God in general — if seminary (a single one in a certain place or all in general) were missing, would the church be impacted. I think so.

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