A Brief Rejoinder

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Reading Sean's (another friend and another church historian -- I guess it is one of those weeks) response to my exchange with Michael Haykin, a number of thoughts by way of response come to mind but I will confine myself simply to addressing one of his points.  Sean makes the following claim:

Even when seminary faculty view the PhD program as an extension of ministerial training, because the PhD is oriented toward the academic guild, the overarching ethos of the seminary tends to move away from ministerial training toward professional knowledge.

I believe this to be an unwarranted (and, indeed, given its dependence upon the nebulous and rather subjective concept of 'ethos,' both unverifiable and unfalsifiable) generalized claim which presupposes the broad incompatibility, or at least the normative separability and opposition of agendas, of academic research and piety.  Such a view (given its assumed opposition between 'ministerial training' and 'professional knowledge'-- however that distinction is being understood) has, I suspect, much to do with certain debatable contemporary assumptions about theology and theological education.  It also assumes that the presence of a PhD program has a determinative affect on the whole ethos of a school such that it becomes the veritable tail that wags the dog.  Such might sometimes be the case; but I dispute the implication that it is either inevitably the case or even the usual tendency.  It would be good to be given some specific examples that can be verified; though, of course, as I mentioned above, ethos is a very subjective and intangible category when it comes to matters of verification.

My guess is that all seminaries have equivalents to the kind of things to which Sean alludes at Covenant.  The old canard about some seminaries training pastors, others training brains on sticks is a good sales pitch but remains just that -- an old canard.   Yet even if they do not have such things specifically designed  to inculcate piety, my point still stands -- we should not assume that seminaries should take major responsibility for spiritual formation, and certainly not the lion share thereof.

Thus, before we start fretting about trivia such as the existence or not of specific research programs, we should rather spend time reflecting on the matters Michael and I raised, such as the relative priority of church over seminary in spiritual formation, what the emergence of the concept of 'spiritual formation' as an apparently separate discipline or pedagogical calling in seminaries indicates, and why some of the things that are now taught by seminaries are by implication apparently not being taught -- or at least not being taught very well -- by churches as part of basic Christian knowledge and discipleship.

Posted August 9, 2012 @ 2:36 PM by Carl Trueman

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