(Eighth in a series. To be continued.)
One of the principal advantages of bringing the training of Her shepherds back under Her authority is the Church’s ability to avoid the danger of Biblical scholarship practiced in the setting of higher education by a scholarly class of men carrying on their trade outside local congregations.
It’s time to pull the education of pastors back under the loving care and direction of church officers busy caring for God’s sheep. Legacy seminaries have had their day but a new day has dawned—and none too soon.
There are many reasons to reconsider seminary professors off on seminary campuses removed from the local church.
Having gotten my undergraduate degree at one of our nation’s top research universities and having spent most of my working life in the shadow of another, I must divulge something I’ve learned those with earned doctorates will find unpalatable. The work required to earn a doctorate today is more an acculturation process of acquiring manners and a certain vocabulary than a scholarly process of discovering truth—let alone gaining wisdom. What are the manners and vocabulary the aspiring seminary professor learns while earning his doctorate?
First of all, he learns to be cautious. Tentative. Collegial. He learns to doubt himself.
He also learns to avoid repeating anywhere anytime our Savior’s rule, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” In other words he must deny the Fourth Preliminary Principle of American Presbyterianism:
That godliness is founded on truth, and a great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness; according to our Saviour’s rule, “by their fruits ye shall know them.” And that no opinion can be either more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon the same level, and represents it as of no consequence what a man’s opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.1
Despite Scripture being filled with ad hominem arguments,2 the man aspiring to be a seminary prof must forswear them. Among the scholarly class, pointing out the immoral origin and fruit of lies is verboten, so those earning the terminal degree hone their vocabulary and argumentation until the profs on their dissertation committees are comfortable certifying them as true scholars to other academic institutions.
Yet safe vocabularies and rhetoric are unbiblical because they are destructive to the souls of God’s sheep.
Nevertheless, this man successful in getting his terminal degree will begin to teach men aspiring to the office of pastor. He will confer the MDiv on his students who will go out to shepherd the sheep having inculcated his priorities beginning with what may be accurately summarized as squeamishness; or, more accurately, effeminacy.
But there’s another thing the seminary prof learns while pursuing the terminal degree. He learns that teaching is for the dummies (which he most certainly is not).
I spent the past two weeks with a man who has a very long CV and chairs his department at a major European university. We worked writing a book on the eldership each day, but evenings we talked around the dinner table. One evening he was discussing the difficulties of working with young academics today and with some exasperation, exclaimed, “None of them want to teach!”
To which I responded, “Of course they don’t want to teach! They learned it from their profs. Profs despise teaching. They want to do research and publish. Seminaries service the pride of their really important men by granting them the title “Research Professor,” so why wouldn’t their students aspire to be research professors, also? Who wants to mess around teaching lowly students when they can jet off to conferences and hobnob with important scholars on Bible translation committees and write books that pull in royalties and give papers at ETS?”
I’m sure some readers are huffing and puffing at this point. “You obviously have a very jaundiced view of higher education—a view I certainly do not share! I am so grateful for the godly men who taught me at seminary! They loved to teach and gave unstintingly of their time to students!”
Yet I too would say the same about several of my seminary professors; but also my professors at UW-Madison. There are good Christian and good pagan professors and I’ve had a number of them for whom I’m very grateful. Jon Moline who taught an upper level philosophy course on environmental ethics at UW while an agnostic serving as chair of the department. (He later confessed Christ, God be praised.) Roger Nicole who taught me the inspiration of Scripture, sadly despite his undermining Scripture’s authority by denying the plain meaning of 1Timothy 2. My brothers and I loved Dr. Nicole partly because he refused to write. Teaching was his sole priority and we took everything we could from him.
Legacy seminaries would say the only local church able to give instruction equal to the instruction a seminary can provide would be a church nearby a good seminary whose profs were willing to give the men of the church for free what they get paid by seminary students to give them.
Meanwhile, those engaged in pastoral training housed by local churches would point out almost every seminary has profs who are not feeding their students well, but corrupting them. Obviously, then, it’s right and proper for seminaries to lose the privilege of training the church’s shepherds.
Denominational seminaries are almost inevitably the major corruptors of the denomination’s doctrine and practice. Look at Calvin Seminary’s promotion of feminism and the subsequent approval of women pastors and elders within the Christian Reformed Church. Look at Covenant Theological Seminary’s promotion of the gay Christian movement and the subsequent corruption of Revoice spreading across the Presbyterian Church in America.
This argument is hard to avoid and maybe even harder to win, but for myself and most men working to pull pastoral training back under the local church, we have seen the fruit of seminaries and we’re not going back. Speaking for those of us at work building the local pastor’s training institute just named New Geneva Academy, we have studied under profs unfaithful to the Word of God at the legacy seminaries where we earned our MDivs. We are ashamed this didn’t stop us from sending the men of our congregations who were aspiring to the pastoral office off to legacy seminaries, also. But through their experience we learned our lesson a second time and intend not to to have to learn it any third time.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me a third time…
(Eighth in a series. To be continued.)