Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Insufficiency of a Mainline Seminary

Rod Stewart sung a song that he placed on an album ca.1998 by the name of "Ooh La La", (This rendition is with The Corrs, who are awesome by the way) which contains the eminently applicable phrase "I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger...". Well I think I can say with confidence this is utterly true of my choice of Seminary. Now friends of PTS do not take what I am about to say the wrong way for this is not directly a critique of your own journey but certainly a self-critique and the issues I bring up you may want to take a look at yourself from your own perspective (wow that sounds Pomo). However with that all said I want to give a little background to this conversation. First I came to this Seminary for all the wrong reasons. I came thinking that the purpose of Seminary was primarily to prepare me for the work of the Pastorate and to develop an academic mind that could withstand the rigors of unbelief and fulfill the challenge of Peter to the aliens scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia in the face of persecution and questioning to be able to:
...always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence... -- 1 Peter 3:15
However what this mainline Seminary has done is provide plenty of questions without supplying any semblance of an answer to its students, it has made the mortal mistake of believing that its students come here already "converted" to the Gospel and that it is the duty of the local church and the student's own studies (which I agree should be true) to have an a priori knowledge of this hope that Peter speaks. In other words it is not the mission of the seminary to prepare the students to preach the Gospel (and to teach what that Gospel is) but to preach of the "Gospel" to an already converted congregation. There is no focus in our primary coursework on reaching the lost, directing the equipping of the Saints, or expositing the Word of God to the People of God. Only on how to deconstruct the Word of God, skim over the ignorance of those who came before, wisely plucking the wheat from the chaff nary an eye shall see the "Pastoral Heart" of Westminster, the Puritans, or even the late John Gerstner who taught at this institution less than a generation ago.

Catch my drift?

Today as part of our "Church and Society: Local" course (which I think has been very beneficial) we went and visited the Allegheny County Jail to meet and listen to inmates who work through a chaplain's program while incarcerated. Through the words of these unlearned prisoners I heard the doctrines of Providence, Total Depravity, Assurance, 3 Works of the Law, Justification, and Perseverance (and gasp!!! Innerency!!!) elucidated in a way I have never heard from a Ph.D. at Pittsburgh Seminary. I heard men beaten by life speak the Gospel as if it were REAL!!! As if it was truly transformational and life-changing. I was asked recently by a friend if I thought there were unconverted people in the room with me as I sit through classes at PTS and I sadly answered with a yes, thinking only the words of Christ in Matthew 7:21-23 and what the Confession speaks in Chapter 10, Section 4 which says:

IV. Others not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the word,p and may have some common operations of the Spirit,q yet they never truly come unto Christ, and therefore cannot be saved:r much less can men not professing the Christian religion be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they ever so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the law of that religion they do profess;s and to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested.t

p Matt. 22:14.
q Matt. 7:22; Matt. 13:20-21; Heb. 6:4-5.
r John 6:64-66; John 8:24.
s Acts 4:12; John 14:6; Eph. 2:12; John 4:22; John 17:3.
t II John 9-11; I Cor. 16:22; Gal. 1:6-8.


Anonymous said...

Now, in this post, you're speaking directly to my soul!

I wonder if I was unregenerate while in seminary. I was being drawn to Christ, certainly, but I did not love His ways or His Word as a person seeking the ministry should.

Christ found me while I was in the pastorate--and that's not because of the seminaries I attended! It's despite the seminaries...

My wonderful wife, her family, Westminster and the study of Scripture were what the Father used to change my heart into what it is today.

You've seen it. You can't ever go back to what you were before. It hurts, yes.

But it makes all the difference.

Trust me, I know.

Presbyman said...

As a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, I can relate to what you are saying here, Ben. I am still grateful for the education I received and the friends I made, but overall, defending the faith and reaching the lost were not priorities there.


John Erthein

Tim said...

Benjamin, an ARP minister friend of mine attended seminary at Columbia in Atlanta. At that time, there was a group of conservative men who wanted to send capable young men to PCUSA seminaries in the hopes of being able to change the denomination from the inside out. It was a difficult experience for him, but the Lord did bring much fruit from it. He informed me that he saw about a half dozen folks (seminary students and their wives) were led to the Lord while he was there! He also said that, without exception, every one left seminary after conversion.

Reformed Catholic said...


someone I know was looking at Columbia, but after looking at the courses and coursework, decided that Columbia was just not a seminary that anyone with a moderate-conservative or conservative background could attend.

Tim said...

RC, that's one of the reasons I didn't really even consider Louisville Seminary (I live in Louisville, KY) when I was looking into getting a Master of Theology degree.

The friend I mentioned did make it through, but he admits it was a tough time.

Steven Carr said...

Education is important; especially the kind of education that prepares you for ministry. What gets put into you in seminary is going to be what you put out in ministry. Thankfully, there are exceptions to this rule, and there are fine examples of this, of which you, Ben, seem to be one, yet everyone should take the utmost care when they choose which seminary to attend.