“The Specialization of Theological Education” – an excerpt from A Dangerous Calling, by Paul David Tripp
If you could go back, let’s say, a hundred years, every professor in the classroom would be a churchman. He would have come to theological education by means of the pastorate. In these men there burned a love for the local church. They came to the classroom carrying the humility and wisdom gained only by their years in the trenches. They taught with the hearts and lives of real people in view–the people with whom they had wept, become angry, rejoiced, and contended. They came to the classroom knowing that the biggest battles of pastoral ministry were fought on the turf of their own hearts. they were pastors who were called not to quit pastoring but to bring pastoral love and zeal into the ecosystem of theological education.
But over the years theological education began to change. It became more specialized and more departmentalized. Over the years more and more professors came to the seminary classroom with little or no local church experience. They got to the classroom not because they were successful pastors and therefore equipped to train and disciple the next generation No, they got to the seminary classroom because they were experts in their field. So the energy in the classroom was not cloning a new generation of pastors but cloning experts in apologetics, ethics, systematics, church history, and biblical languages. It has been a subtle but seismic change in the culture of the seminary and the kind of results it produces. In some situations it all degenerates into a culture of little feudal kingdoms (the kingdom of systematics or ethics, etc.) with the professor as the feudal lord, guarding the kingdom he has built and protecting the turf he has acquired against the expansion of other kingdoms. The student matriculates from kingdom to kingdom, always being assured that the particular kingdom of his present focus is the most vital to the health of the federation of kingdoms that makes up the world of theological education. It is a politically charged culture, more given to gate keeping than to pastoring and more focused on vital information acquisition than on character development. I write these things as a pastor with a heavy heart who lived in this culture for twenty years. I know what I have written will make some angry, and I know that the system has a way of rising to defend itself, but it’s a price I am willing to pay The stakes are that high. Seminary self-examination is that important. Honest talk is vital.
I appreciate Dr. Tripp’s reflections here. When I was a seminary student, a then-professor at Regent College, now a pastor of a prominent downtown church in Vancouver, BC, advised me to remain a student at ACTS (www.acts.twu.ca) and not transfer to Regent for the reason that most of the professors at ACTS were former pastors, whereas none of the Regent faculty were pastors. ACTS was not perfect, but it was helpful in this regard and valuable for me.