How Not to Train Pastors (2)

Part 1

There has been considerable discussion about this post over at The Puritanboard

The PB thread was started my my friend Jerrold Lewis. I haven’t read his blog post, so I’m only responding to the discussion on the PB.

I see there has been clucking about the the fact that Clark doesn’t seem to know that the cost of computers has come down.  I wrote the “necessity” essay about 10 years ago or so. Still, a laptop can run $1500 without much difficulty.

As to whether this is like the home school v traditional school debate, that’s interesting because we home school! I recognize that primary education was done at home or at least privately for centuries. The modern idea that primary/secondary (seminary being post-secondary) education must be conducted in a factory is quite novel and has proven to be not entirely successful. There is a rather large difference between home schooling and distance ed: home schooling is still a face to face tutorial whereas distance ed is not. There is also a significant difference between the general education that occurs at the primary and secondary levels (trivium) and the more technical education that occurs at the post-secondary levels.

The proposal that we should go back to the 19th century American model of full-time ministers training candidates for ministry seems to ignore several facts. First, it’s been tried and abandoned. It was abandoned because it didn’t work very well. It was an ad hoc way of dealing with circumstances not a principled rejection of the University (which is where ministers were trained for centuries before the New World). Further, the Old Side was quite critical of the Log College and quite preferred that candidates for ministry receive a formal theological education.

There are massive practical problems with ad hoc theological/ministerial education. The fact of intellectual specialization has been in evidence since the 13th century – it’s not a wholly modern phenomenon. The speed of specialization has increased with the development of communication technology (printing, telephone, computers etc). The amount of information that must be learned and processed is considerably greater now than it was in the 19th century.

The movement away from the Log College to Princeton was a natural development that followed a pattern that is evident in the early medieval and high medieval periods. We had catechetical schools in the early church organized around a single teacher (still face to face education mind you!). Those schools became associated with cathedrals (sort of an ecclesiastical county seat). Those cathedral schools were larger but not specialized. One “prof” taught both the arts (trivium) and theology. The need for specialization helped create the universities in Oxford and Paris with distinct theology and arts faculties. There was already too much for one person to teach by the 12th century. That process has only continued.

Today, it is not possible for even the most brilliant minister to tend his flock, study for his sermon, and keep up at a professional level (let’s assume he has a PhD and is expert in a given field) with one field let alone four to seven departments, depending on how one divides things. It’s not even possible for a full-time scholar who doesn’t have the daily demands of telephone calls, pastoral calls, hospital visits, small groups studies, crises, sermons, catechism lessons, and planning and session/consistory meetings (as our full-time pastor does) to keep up with more than one field. I teach in three distinct fields and I despair of doing a good job in each. Two of them are closely related (church history and historical theology) but just keeping up with developments and literature in the one theological locus I teach (the doctrine of God, not to mention the other loci of theology) is overwhelming!

So, I take it that one would have to argue that it’s really not necessary to have specialists/experts teaching in each department (exegesis, systematics, history, and practica), that a general knowledge of these things is sufficient. In that case, one has embraced an apparently pious but anti-intellectual approach to training ministers. At the end of the day, that anti-intellectualism will show itself to be impious.

We’re training MINISTERS of the gospel here. We have a spiritual and moral duty to see to it that our ministers have the best education possible. They have the highest calling and the toughest job on the planet. They must be highly trained because they will be pressed on every side (I know!) and pulled in every direction. They will be called to render unexpected judgments in hospital rooms. They must be able to draw on serious (and prayerful) training received at the hands of ministers with highly specialized training. Ministers call upon that training every day in a hundred ways. Now more than ever it is evident that we cannot allow the training of our ministers to slip one iota.

Appeals to the apostolic era are non-starters. Unless you can raise men from the dead, shake off serpents, or heal the lame, unless you were at the feet of the Savior for 3 years and unless you had a tongue of fire on your head, if you would be a minister, you should go to seminary.

To the claim (in another post) that we should be reading mostly 400 year old books (which, as a teacher of history it is my calling to read and teach at WSC!) I ask, is that what John Owen did? Did he actually spend most of his time reading 400 year old books or was he one of the most well-read and intelligent theologians of his time? Was he fluent in contemporary Protestant, Roman, Socinian, and Amyraldian, and rationalist theology in Europe? Yes. The point is that we ought to read Owen (and the rest of the British and European classical Reformed theologians) but we ought to do in our age what Owen did in his. Were Owen alive today I’m quite sure he would be thoroughly versed in all the aberrant ideologies and theologies of our day as he was in his own day. He certainly wouldn’t be telling us that we should be reading mostly or only 400 year old theology at the expense of a thorough knowledge of the latest scholarship.

Finally, my question is why doesn’t the analogy with lawyers and doctors work? What is there about the vocation to the ministry that demands LESS training than the vocation to the law or the vocation to medicine? Why should ministers have a less rigorous education (or none at all?)

Are you anti-brick and mortar seminary proponents willing to trust your legal and medical well-being to home-grown doctors and lawyers and if not, why not? If we may have ministers who have been trained solely by other ministers then why not lawyers and physicians trained solely by other lawyers and physicians? Because no lawyer who actually knew anything about the law would dare attempt to train other lawyers in place of law school. No sane physician would attempt to replace med school. There’s no way that a single person or even a private co-op could replace the work done in med school.

A seminary is quite like med and law school. It is an extended internship/apprenticeship, arts education, and technical education in one over the course of several years. This combination cannot be replicated away from school. The alternatives all sacrifice one or more elements.

So, which of the elements are we prepared to sacrifice as we educate our pastors? Knowledge of the Biblical languages? Knowledge of archeology? Knowledge of church history (please say “no!”), knowledge of systematic theology? Time with experienced pastor-scholars who help to shape future ministers in and out of the classroom?

The good news is that we don’t have to sacrifice any of these things.

Part 3

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