The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt begins his blog post with this sentence: “Our seminaries are dying and the Master of Divinity degree has been discredited.” He goes on to recite all of the problems with contemporary theological education, especially from his perspective as an Episcopalian, but also suggests some ways to revise the system.
I am sure that Dr. Schmidt has specific situations and examples in mind. I know enough about the ministerial preparation processes in various denominations to know that they often operate much like the Marine Corps, seeking out only “the few, the proud, etc.” These processes are often more concerned about winnowing out the weak and uncertain than equipping the called. Of course, I come from a Free Church tradition that is all over the map on theological education. Many Baptist churches will call a pastor if he (yes, I do mean to use the male pronoun) looks good, sounds good, has an attractive family, and enjoys potlucks. Whether he has a theological degree is not really important, but if he has some kind of diploma that helps a bit.
Certainly there is need for a balance. Churches and theological institutions must partner to encourage and equip those who are called to ministry, a point that Schmidt makes very well. This is in the best interests of both entities.
Some of Schmidt’s ideas are workable, but he proposes that “a residential model of focused, face-to-face education and formation in the faith is the best means of preparing a generation of thoughtful, faithful servants of the Gospel.” He understands that for this to happen, “the church should . . . make resources available for all those who do pursue the church's ministry to avail themselves of that face-to-face formation.”
In reality, churches and denominations are not going to provide those resources. They are already starving their institutions or cutting them free. Central Baptist Theological Seminary, among other institutions, recognizes this reality and has adopted a strategy that provides theological education where students are already involved in ministry. These students do enter into face-to-face relationships with faculty and other students as part of their preparation but without uprooting themselves to another part of the country for three or four years of preparation and then trying to reconnect with the type of ministry in which they are already involved. They have the opportunity for contextual education supported by gifted and committed professors who understand the local church.
In the best of all worlds, Rev. Schmidt’s ideas might work, but we are not part of that world.