05
Feb
10

The purpose of theological education

There’s a nice post from Ben Myers over at Faith & Theology on the purpose of theological education, which includes the following:

“What the church really needs is not cleverer or more relevant or more professional ministers, but women and men who know how to pray and how to bear witness. Nothing could be simpler; nothing more demanding. For true prayer and witness spring only from a life that has been formed in the way of discipleship – the way of Jesus Christ.”

What a great way of summing up the purpose of theological education.  But most people, including many who have had theological education, don’t see it this way.  Those training for ministry often struggle to integrate academic study into their faith.   I remember friends talking about this in seminary.  I’ve seen it in students that I’ve TAed for.  I’ve also heard some cadets from CFOT talk along the same lines.   Why is it that students have a hard time making the connections between the theological disciplines and the life of faith?   I think it is partly due to the fact that popular Christian culture is so ahistorical and anti-intellectual.  On the other hand, theological scholarship has gone the way of increasing specialization (along with other academic disciplines), to the point that many theologians spend most of their time communicating with a small circle of friends who are interested in the same obscure topics.  Philip Clayton recently posted a video on his website criticizing academic theology (including his own work) for this very reason. He may exaggerate a bit but the main point is valid. The kinds of discourse we encounter in our local church are so far removed from academic discourse that it becomes hard reconcile the two, so a lot people veer off in one direction or the other.   

How do we get beyond this?  Obviously there are people we could look to, say scholars who write for general audiences, like NT Wright, or pastors who put great effort into upholding theological integrity in their ministry, like David Fitch.    Students could probably put a little more effort into trying to integrate scholarship and faith, and teachers could certainly make an effort to show how theological questions are related to situations in the life of the Church.  I also think it reinforces the need for doing historical theology, and teaching doctrine from a historical perspective.   Why?  Because most of the great theologians in the history of the Church were pastors and leaders, and they wrote in response to real problems that were arising in the life of the Church as it struggled to live out its vocation in the world.  

Any other thoughts?  As an academic whose deeply concerned about strengthening the connections between scholarship and everyday Christian life, I’m open to suggestions.

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3 Responses to “The purpose of theological education”


  1. February 6, 2010 at 10:09 am

    James, thanks for drawing attention to this urgent issues. All the changes we can make in overcoming this Great Divide will empower laypeople and enable pastors to better carry out their vocation. It can’t hurt professional theologians either!

    — Philip Clayton

    • February 6, 2010 at 10:22 am

      Thank you for posting the video. I was encouraged by your candid reflections on state of theological scholarship. It’s a good sign that people are talking about these issues. Wish I could come to “Theology after Google” but it’s quite a hike from Toronto on a grad student budget.


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