In A New Kind of Christian, Brian McLaren briefly presents a model for theological education that would support the church of the future. He refers to this model as “one part monastery, one part mission agency, and one part seminary.” The monastery would care for spiritual formation, the mission agency for involvement in God’s work in the world, and the seminary would provide the content. Of course, this is not a fully formed approach to seminary education, but it does move beyond the academic model that predominates today.
The key is the interaction between the three elements—spiritual, practical, and intellectual. Each of the elements is vital not only for the practice of ministry but for the life of the church. When any model of doing church leaves out one of these ingredients, it becomes malformed. If theological education is meant to serve the church (and that is what its most vocal advocates say that it is supposed to do), then it must equip leaders who can help to form a balanced, healthy Body of Christ.
My experience is that seminaries have always been committed to the intellectual part and that many are now taking the spiritual formation part seriously. The engagement with the world is a relatively new component. Although many seminary students have been involved in part-time and even full-time church ministries for years, these more often have been opportunities for additional income and occasionally laboratory experiences for honing their ministry skills. I believe that McLaren is asking for more than this when it comes to involvement in the world. This component must take seriously the emergence of the Kingdom of God in this time and place, providing the skills—practical, spiritual and intellectual—to be part of this movement.
Seminaries can provide this in cross-cultural experiences, internships, and focused placement programs. One size doesn’t fit all. Such opportunities must be crafted to fit the gifts and needs of the student, the appropriate places of ministry, and the resource of the theological schools.
This is the cutting-edge for theological education today.