The Future of Seminary Education

During the months of October and November, Patheos is providing a unique look into the future of seminary education.  They have invited 25 leaders to write blog posts exploring the topic.  In reviewing the October contributions, I found the following remarks of considerable interest:

  • Jim Burklo: “I envision a time when seminaries are better known as retreat centers for lay people than as schools for professional pastors.  If seminaries have a much wider cultural focus and impact, I believe they’ll be better able to serve their traditional functions for the church, as well.”
  • Philip Clayton: “A cookie-cutter curriculum can’t create transformative leaders; only experiential education can.”
  • Bruce Epperly: “Seminaries will survive and flourish only if they commit themselves to creativity, novelty, adventure, and prudent risk-taking. While many seminaries will continue to limp along toward irrelevance, healthy seminaries will be adventurous in pedagogy and outreach.”
  • LeAnn Snow Flesher: “If seminaries are to become relevant to contemporary culture(s), we must be open to new structures and standards as well as new course content.”
  • Carl Gregg: “Seminary education could benefit strongly from a greater emphasis on following the way of Jesus.”
  • Tony Jones: “If seminaries are to survive, they need to find a place for non-traditional scholars like me.”
  • Mark Markuly: “To meet the challenges facing seminaries, more faculty need to fall back in love with preparing women and men for the real work of ministry. We need to rekindle in ourselves a passion for ministry, not theological education per se, but the gritty real work of ministry in congregations, social service agencies, schools, and the many other places ministers remind others of the presence of God in our troubled times.”
  • Gary Peluso-Verdend: “The primary emphasis for all seminary educational programs should be to understand the way of Jesus—understand him in his ancient context, in particular contemporary local contexts, and in the horizon of global contexts and voices.”
  • Mark D. Roberts: “I’m not saying that the internet is going to save the seminary. But I am saying that if the seminary takes seriously its ultimate goal of preparing God’s people to participate in God’s mission, and if the seminary takes seriously the world to which we are called, and if the seminary examines its available resources and opportunities, new forms will emerge.”
  • Ben Witherington: “. . . those seminaries will survive that are both well grounded in their Biblical roots, but are missionally minded, and future focused, looking for increasing ways to train people to be global Christians who are focusing on partnering with Christians around the world to do theological education.”

So What?

It seems almost everyone agrees that seminary education needs to change.  While the specific proposals vary widely, those within the Patheos grouping (at least so far) and others that I have encountered lately support some or all of the following general shifts:

  • from primarily or exclusively residential to offering classes and programs in a variety of formats including online
  • from being thoroughly denominational to being intentionally ecumenical (as a result of students who are less denominationally oriented, seminaries merging due to financial constraints, and several other matters)
  • from emphasizing the M.Div. degree to providing a comprehensive offering of basic graduate degrees and non-degree programs to meet the needs of prospective students and their career objectives

How much reform do you think is needed, and how likely are your denomination’s seminaries to achieve that amount of strategic change?  What will seminary look like 10 years from now, and what purposes will it serve?

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