This is the first in a series of articles entitled “Pendulum Swing“
In almost every sphere of life, we have a natural tendency to notice a problem and swing the pendulum all the way to the other side, thus creating an equally problematic… problem. I see it everywhere in evangelical circles (simple church vs established church, racial inequality, etc…) I’m going to make a series of posts pointing out some of the common “overcorrections” I’m seeing.
The Gospel Coalition recently published an important piece to counterbalance their own series of posts entitled “What Seminary Didn’t Teach Me”. Lots and lots of people are rightly pointing out that nowhere does Scripture require a degree to qualify someone for ministry. However, I’m afraid we are minimizing the tremendous responsibility of shepherding a flock. There’s a reason Paul told Timothy not to be “too hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Tim. 5:22). Eldership is serious business (James 3:1). In response to the legalistic demands of our fathers to earn a Master’s degree before you can pastor a decent sized congregation, many are swinging the pendulum in the opposite way, trashing the idea of formal theological education. This is a grave mistake.
God has given us minds to think and to study. Of course there is a wrong way to do seminary, and there are many seminaries I would never recommend. But there are also seminaries doing it right. My seminary, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is one of them. They aren’t just interested in book knowledge, but in spiritual formation. Good seminaries want to undergird a passion for missions, evangelism, and the local church with a solid, biblically based theology. This is needed. Without it, we run the risk of having a generation of Christians who are passionate, but they don’t really know why they are passionate or where to ground their passion.
Seminaries and formal education themselves are not the “enemy” to Gospel movement. I’ve heard several people over the years say something to the effect of, “If you go to seminary it will ruin you and turn you into an uptight, armchair minister who hides behind books all day instead of reaching lost people”. In many cases, that has been the case. But it doesn’t have to be.
Quite the contrary, formal theological education can serve a movement quite well by supplying leaders who will keep the movement grounded & biblical. Seminary is where we learn church history – if all our leaders in our churches forget the lessons of church history, God help us! Seminary is where we develop the ability to articulate and defend a systematic theology. It’s where the minds of young pastors are challenged to rise to a new level of diligence in study, which will only help them exposit and teach the Word of God more faithfully to the people they shepherd.
My plea is “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”. Don’t swing the pendulum to the opposite, equally dangerous side. The Holy Spirit does not operate separate from the mind God has given you. You exercise your mind and your faculties BY THE SPIRIT, not in place of the Spirit. It’s not an either/or. Formal education is not inherently “less spiritual”. The issue is when we take formal theological education and make it a requirement to be an ambassador for Jesus rather than a tool that can serve to build up & bless the Church. Let’s stay grounded. Don’t react with your heart. Let’s be quick to listen, and slow to speak. Encourage young believers toward education while exhorting them to remember that God chooses and uses the “foolish things of the world to shame the wisdom of the wise” (1 Cor. 1:27).
Have you listened to our In The Trenches Church Planting Podcast yet?