How Not to Train Pastors (3)

Well, the discussion over at the PB is still going. Here some responses from that discussion and elsewhere.  To Jerrold’s objection I answer (expanding on what wrote originally):

In the interests of time, I would like to focus on one question of principle rather than the particulars of your proposal.

We’ve been round this pole more than a few times and I don’t expect to convince you, but I hope that you will at least appreciate how it seems to me that your approach is a subtle sort of anti-intellectualism.

I think there is a difference between real, professional scholarship and that of the amateur variety. Frankly, most pastors are amateur scholars. By this I don’t mean to be demeaning, but it’s a fact. We do train pastor-scholars and we do expect our students and graduates to be able to recognize and use real scholarship in their ministry, but we don’t train them to do what we do. I realize that this is something of which seminaries are frequently charged (that we reproduce ourselves rather than creating pastors). Folk can’t have it both ways. They can’t say, “you’re reproducing yourselves” and when we stop, they can’t say, “you’re not producing professional scholars.”  Few folks with an MDiv (which used to be a BD a few yers ago) are prepared to do professional scholarship when they leave. It’s not possible in most cases and it’s not desirable in most cases. What we do intend to do is to produce ministers who are well-trained, who are thoughtful and intelligent, but who are ministers.

As Alistair Begg reminded us this week, a minister is God’s servant. He’s called to preach God’s Word. Nothing can get in the way of that. Scholarship has to facilitate that. Any genuinely educated person should be able to recognize their own limits. They can see what real scholarship looks like and they know that isn’t what they do.

Real scholarship involves the reading of primary and secondary texts. It involves the critical appreciation of both. This is part of what separates professional scholars from amateurs. The latter only know what they read from the professionals and, to a larger degree, must rely on the judgment of professionals and they don’t always know how to do that well. They tend to know what the last book they read told them. They lack judgment. For example, I’m working on Olevianus’ Pauline Commentaries. Hardly anyone knows anything about them. Certainly pastors don’t and aren’t in a position to do. My students know what I tell them. Even if they could read Latin (a few of them can) they aren’t equipped to put into proper context what they’re reading. Most of our grads probably shouldn’t be slogging through a 16th century Latin text. It’s nice if they read our stuff and if that informs them a little about the way to read Paul or the way to preach (that’s one of the reasons I’m doing this work) but they ought to be with their people, in the hospital, in the nursing home, in homes, at coffee and most of all in the pulpit and doing the work of an evangelist.

I’m not saying that ministers are not meant to study, far from it. They are meant to study well and deeply. That’s what we train them to do. I am saying that they’re not meant to be full-time vocational scholars and the profs aren’t meant to be full-time vocational pastors (though our faculty are part-time pastors; we all preach, we all visit hospitals, we all serve our congregations; we all do counseling etc so we are not remote from the life of the church as some (not you) like to insinuate.

It seems to me that you’re saying that we really don’t need scholars (as I’ve defined them) to teach our students. You seem to be saying that it’s okay for well-read pastors teach other, younger, pastors. In my view, that is a form of anti-intellectualism, because though it professes to value learning, it only values it as a credential (“union card” to use Fred’s term) or insofar as it is immediately practical to the life of the church.

As to the nature of seminaries, I don’t have time to sketch the whole history of education, but I take issue with your characterization. A university education was the norm from the 12-13th centuries. Calvin’s lack of theological training was an anomaly and not entirely helpful. There may have been some benefits (some have argued) but arguably the Reformed after him and to clean up a bit because of his lack of training in some questions. There are things he didn’t anticipate. His humanism (which some have over-emphasized) did help him leave us with a sound hermeneutic which makes his commentaries still remarkably useful (!) but you’ll notice that the Reformed did not quote him slavishly and even took issue with him not long after his death. Luther’s education was more typical.

To those who have complained about the time it takes, well, since the 13th century anyway, it’s always taken a certain number of years to earn a BA and then a BD or a Masters. These processes developed out of the practice and needs of the church before the Reformation and were revised but not fundamentally rejected by the Protestants. Were our primary education as strong as Calvin’s and our university training as strong as his (in classical education) we might be able to shorten things a bit, but even in the 16th century, when there was rather less to read, they still took their time.

One of Calvin’s great aims was to establish an Academy. He finally achieved it late in life. By the early 17th century, all the Reformed were university educated (with at least a BA, which in England matured to a Master of Arts) and many took a BD as well. Thus, the idea that a university educated ministry (a seminary faculty is, historically considered a university faculty in exile that has morphed in the 20th century into a tertium quid), is a product of the Enlightenment is something I don’t understand at all.
To these responses on the value of DE, I argue:

1. I do know about the online resources mentioned above, but those aren’t the things being proposed by the new seminary.

2. No one should think that a free chapter of a book here or there is a substitute for real learning. There is a chapter of CJPM available at the WTS/P bookstore site, but reading that is no substitute for reading the whole book.

3. Google can do a lot of things, but I don’t think that Google Books can violate copyright. That limits what they can present.

4. I use Libronix all the time. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m not aware that Libronix makes contemporary books available.

5. I notice in my students that they tend to read online resources less carefully than printed resources. They tend not to pay attention closely to online resources because they seem ephemeral. This is an inherent weakness in online resources. Yes, I’m aware of a new palm sized book reader. Great. Have you actually tried to use it? Talk to me when you’re wearing bifocals or reading glasses. I encourage students to print out there online assignments so that they can mark them up and read them actively. Reading is not just scanning words. See Mortimer Adler’s work on this.

6. I don’t foresee Amazon or other distributors giving away books anytime soon! They may be available online, but that is likely some time away.

7. Even if all contemporary books become available online and even if everything between now and 1923 becomes available and hard copy books are rendered obsolete it is still necessary for students and teaches to be face to face. I can no more teach a man to be a minister by distance than a medical school prof can teach a med student to be a GP or a law school prof can teach one to be a lawyer by distance. It’s not possible. There are too many intangibles that are not communicable by distance.

8. Technology is great but it gives us the illusion that we can transcend time and space, but it’s just an illusion. It’s not real. Even with computers, we’re still just creatures, we still have to live with limits.

9. One of those limits that we’re meant to learn some things in community, not in splendid isolation. Online community is not the same as actual face to face, personal communication.

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