Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Seminary and Spiritual Growth

This week a particular blog exchange caught my attention. First, one of my favorite church historians, Dr. Carl Trueman, wrote this post in which he remarks that the primary job of seminaries is to impart the skills needed for future ministry, but that seminaries "cannot really engage in spiritual formation in any deep way"; such formation takes place in the context of the church, where the Word is preached and the sacraments administered, just as it does for every other Christian.

Later, another respected church historian, Dr. Michael Haykin, responded with his own blog post in which he agrees with Trueman that the seminary is not the church, but argues that Trueman downplays the formative role of preaching, friendship, and faculty mentorship in seminarian formation. Trueman comes back with an interesting and appreciative response here.

This has been a fun exchange for me to read because it's a question I have considered before myself--exactly a year ago, wouldn't you know!

You might recall that one of my disappointments about my own seminary experience was that, as I wrote before, "there is little shared sense of how, or for what end, students are to 'formed,' or shaped, for service." Of course, it was a different issue for me than for the kinds of seminarians with whom Trueman and Haykin are mainly concerned, in that I wasn't attending seminary with the goal of ordained ministry. Plus, my situation was a little unique in that I was of a different theological stripe than most of my classmates (something I hadn't quite expected coming in), and it had been some years since I had been really immersed in the life of a local church. For both those reasons, I leaned on my church much more heavily than the seminary in order to grow in my faith--I needed a refuge, and I needed to learn how to be in the church in the first place! It was only in church that I learned to submit to the teachings of Scripture, to come to the Lord's Table, and to walk with brothers and sisters in Christ. The same kinds of accountability, kinship, and grace were not at work in the seminary classroom, generally speaking.

With that in mind, I incline toward Dr. Trueman's perspective on this. The question he poses--"what does the church do that the seminary cannot?"--is vital and needs to be considered in light of the historical development of seminaries and their relationship to the church. Still, I'm intrigued by some of Dr. Haykin's comments, particularly on Christian friendship as a means of grace! It's always exciting to follow a rigorous and respectful exchange between world-class historians, and I hope to see further discussion of this important subject from them and others.

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