Seminaries Headed to the Cemetery?

Categories: Biblical Studies, Education, Religion & Theology

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Frederick Schmidt’s article, “Is it Time to Write the Eulogy? The Future of Seminary Education,” observes a number of problems with the present state of seminary education and suggested some sweeping changes to how M.Div. degrees are handled both by the church and by divinity schools.

In the quest for academic respectability, seminaries have not always remembered that preparing clergy was the mission and lifeblood of their institutional life. Some have focused on preparing scholars, which though essential, is secondary to its primary ministry of preparing new generations of spiritual leaders. Some have prepared students who lacked the practical skills to effectively lead a congregation. Others have produced students who were so poorly grounded in the Christian faith that they lacked the necessary spiritual formation to be effective.

He then points to a number of reasons for this and concludes that seminaries should become “leaner and meaner” by doing the following:

  • Create a Master of Divinity that is lean and designed to do what it should do, covering a set of definable core competencies that were offered and taught—no more, no less. (The M.Div. is not a research degree; it is a professional degree analogous to the Juris Doctorate required of lawyers and it should be treated as such.)
  • Educate and spiritually form the students sent to them.
  • Enlist a faculty that is both willing and able to teach an essential body of knowledge and skills, as well as teach the faith.
  • Communicate effectively and often with the church about the preparation of its candidates.

Schmidt has some points as pertains to the training of clergy. But on the other hand, not everyone who gets an M.Div. is envisioning a move into a pastorate, which further complicates the issue. If seminaries were indeed solely geared towards “preparing clergy,” Schmidt’s suggestions would likely be an improvement on the present situation. But a number of people go to seminary expecting to do other kinds of work when they get out: not-for-profit work, moving into a research degree, etc. Perhaps maintaining two separate tracks like an M.T.S. (Master of Theological Studies) degree and an M.Div. degree, as some div schools are now doing, can help the seminary simultaneously operate as a center of research and inquiry while also serving its purpose in training clergy. Either way, it’s a scary world out there for those of us going into academia hoping there’s a job out there for us to continue our research…

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