When Theological Education Goes Wrong…

Hey friends, sorry for the silence.  I’ve been busy working, resting, etc.  I have also been thinking a bit about Theological Education.  And I wanted to share those things and hear your thoughts.  I’m sure that Theological Education can go wrong in more ways that what I’m about to share, but I have three that I’ve been reflecting on.   We could unpack these significantly, but I just want to draw some attention to them.

First, when Theological Education is disconnected from the HEART, it fails.  When the glorious truths of the Living God are spoken of with the same level of academic disinterest as a biologist speaking about spores, we’re lost.  I recently heard someone summarize Thomas Goodwin’s philosophy of preaching like this: “Communicating God’s Heart (that’s the content) to the Hearts of the congregation (that’s the target) from the Heart (that’s the preacher).”  I love that.  And if that’s true, then Theological Education is “Studying the Heart of God.”  This is often why we get the Seminary and Cemetery jokes.  Why many leave the faith when they leave seminary.  What if our graduates left class with their hearts aflame for God?  What difference would that make in the Church and on the mission field!?!?  So, theological educators must delight in God and raise up pastors and scholars who do likewise.  Theological institutions must be JOY FACTORIES!

Second, when Theological Education is disconnected from the CHURCH, it fails.  We know this when pastors come into the pulpit to argue some theological minutiae and his flock goes home starving.  This is NOT arguing pragmatism.  I’m NOT saying that only practical theology and ministry courses matter.  But I am saying that whatever our topic/class, if I’m not studying it with an eye towards the people of God, then I won’t know what to do with it afterwards.  I’m left writing monographs on 2nd Temple Judaism’s understanding of how to lay bricks OR the sexual practices of temple priests in the Roman world.  When our students say, “I don’t need to go to church because I’m in class all the time” or “I go to Chapel,” it shows how thin our Ecclesiology is, and we can begin lamenting now for the future of God’s people.

Some institutions are denominational, and this can help keep a connection with the local church, but being a part of the same denomination doesn’t necessarily mean your training pastors and scholars FOR that denomination.  You may simply be running programs that look like everyone else’s, with no reference to the local church.  Some institutions are interdenominational, and in that case, I think you need to work even harder to have some sort of commitment to and for the local church.  And professors can’t be free agents, independent academics, but must be churchmen.  The blood of Christ was poured out to purchase the Church; therefore, that MUST be the raison d’être of every theological institution.

Third, when Theological Education is disconnect from the MISSION of God, it fails.  My very first class in seminary was Greek I.  The first words out of the mouth of my professor, Dr. Ed Keazirian were these: You are here to learn Greek so that you can help fulfill the great commission and for no other reason.  He later said that knowing Greek was like wearing underwear…you should always have it on, but never have it showing!  The BEST theology in history flowed out of the missional intersection of the Gospel with false teachings.  Whether it’s the early church’s external struggles against Roman philosophy or internal struggles against Arianism, Gnosticism, etc. the great theological work of the early church was articulating God’s truth over and against the false gospels and gods of the world.  In the Reformation, we see the same; namely, the clarity of the Gospel proclaimed in opposition to false Catholic dogma.  The two richest theological seasons of Church history are that way BECAUSE the leaders of the church were missional theologians.

I heard Michael Reeves define theology from Judges 6 and the story of Gideon.  God told Gideon to destroy the altar of Baal and the Asherah and to replace them with an altar to the true God.  Reeves says that’s theology!  Destroying false belief and replacing it with true faith!  Instead of being seen as safely removed from society for the sake of leisurely study in quiet and isolation, perhaps theological institutions should see themselves more like a boxing gym…preparing fighters for the day when the Devil takes his gloves off and comes for their congregation.

How else does Theological Education go wrong?  What should look different if these things are true?  What institutions are doing a good job at these things, and how?

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