- 1 part Theology, taught as the systematic exposition of God's self-revelation,
- 1 part Biblical Studies, taught as God's divinely inspired Word,
- 1 part Church History, because it is important to know how God has acted in history and in the life and ministry of the Church,
- 1 part Pastoral Ministry, to equip the saints (all God's people) for the work of ministry,
- 1 part Missions and Evangelism, to make disciples of every people group on earth, at home and abroad,
- 1 part Godly Discernment, because there is no substitute for it in doing God's will,
- 1 part Already Prepared Dough, this serves as the base for the rest of the ingredients,
- 1 part Yeast of the Gospel, because the message and Spirit of Christ's atoning work must permeate all that we do.
Mix all ingredients thoroughly and allow to rise in a warm environment. Bake until golden. (Caution: Must not be underdone or half-baked.)
Theology — I have always begun any course I have taught by explaining that there are two ways one can teach theology: Either it is a speculative discipline grounded in philosophy, or it is a dogmatic discipline grounded in Scripture. The first approach almost inevitably results in heterodoxy. The second approach actually helps us to get to know the God who has revealed himself in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments—the God Who Is, who exists in reality, and not merely our imagination.
The first approach, that Theology is a speculative discipline grounded in philosophy gives us the Pantheism of a Paul Tillich or the Panentheism of the Process Theologians or a Sallie McFague (often quoted by Katharine Jeffers Schori), who said that "theology is mostly fiction" — a construction, a human creation, a tool to delineate as best we can the nature and limits of our understanding of God. This is what happens when you have a theology that begins with philosophy, that is, with us instead of a GOD WHO IS THERE, who exists objectively and has a concrete identity, and a God WHO HAS SPOKEN, who has revealed himself to humankind through creation, through the Covenant with Abraham, through the Law given through Moses, through the Prophets who called God's people to repentance and faithfulness, and ultimately through the sending of his eternal Son in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth.
In writing that last sentence, I cannot help but think of two books by Francis Schaeffer that I read ages ago: The God Who Is There and He is There and He is Not Silent. Schaeffer was correct in identifying these two statements as the great watershed in all human reality. Either God exists with a distinct identity that is objectively real and knowable, or else McFague is right, we are just making things up as we go along. And either God has spoken by revealing himself in Holy Scripture and in the Person of Jesus, or else we can never truly know whether he exists and has a will and purpose for us or not.
The second approach, that Theology is a dogmatic discipline grounded in Scripture, gives us a framework that is built on the Solid Rock. The first approach, that Theology is a speculative discipline grounded in philosophy, ultimately leads us to futility; it is a house built on nothing more than shifting sand.
Biblical Studies — I have always believed that to teach Biblical Studies in seminary, you must do more than teach about the Bible, you must teach the Bible--that is, you must enable students to master the contents of the Old and New Testaments and to have such a love for Scripture and such confidence in its divine inspiration and authority that they can communicate that love, knowledge, and confidence to the people they pastor in a way that is positively contagious.
Church History — It has often be said that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. We need to be aware of how the Church has read and interpreted Scripture. We need to be inspired by great heroes of the Faith. We need to know about Councils and decisions of the Church in ages past so that we can recognize and deal with the heresies that crop up in this and every age. We need to learn how God has acted in history and what the Church has done, both its failures and its successes, so that we do not repeat its failures (mistakes and heresies) but rather build on its successes.
Pastoral Ministry — We are called to be a caring presence to those whom we pastor. But we are to be more than that. We are called to make disciples, to lead others effectively to follow Jesus. All that we do with parishioners must build them up "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:13). It takes thoughtful training by skilled teachers to learn how to do this well.
Missions and Evangelism — The ultimate aim of the Church must be to fulfill Christ's Great Commission, to make disciples (learners, followers of Jesus) of every language, tribe and tongue, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe everything that Christ commanded. And, for that task, Jesus has given us his authority and the assurance of his continued presence with us. Does every seminary turn out graduates who see that as the aim of their ministries? Do they turn out graduates who know how to lead others to commit their lives to Jesus as Savior and Lord? No, sadly, they do not. Yet Jesus said this is the one thing the Church must do. We need for this to be of utmost importance in seminary training and the thing toward which our knowledge of theology, the Bible, and history point us.
Godly discernment — Looking back on more than thirty years in theological education, one thing I have been blessed with is an ability to discern what people need to know to be formed as followers of Jesus, how it needs to be taught, and just as importantly, by whom it needs to be taught. This was the key to building a great faculty at Nashotah House. The founding Dean of Trinity School for Ministry, Bishop Alfred Stanway, used to say, "Under God, having the right people is the key." I have always found that to be true. The key to keeping a school orthodox is, first of all, having faculty and trustees who are committed followers of Jesus Christ and who understand that, as James 4:4 says, "friendship with the world is enmity with God." That is to say, we recognize that there are worldly values that are in conflict with the Gospel and the teaching of Scripture; and when those values collide, our unswerving allegiance must be to Jesus Christ our Lord, who saved us and "bought us with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:20, 7:23).
I could wish that this kind of godly discernment were as widespread as the waters that cover the sea; but it is not. It is tempting to think that if someone can run a parish, a cathedral, or a diocese, then he can run a seminary. But these are different vocations and require different skill sets. One might think that anyone who is articulate and well-versed in a particular subject with an education from a prestigious school can teach; but the formation that goes on in seminary is much more than merely teaching. You have to discern spiritually whom God is calling to be a shepherd and disciple-maker in a given context. The type of person called for even varies according to the discipline being taught.
I look at the decisions being made in some seminaries and am aghast: "Why can't you see that this is the wrong person to put in that position?" Were I to ask the question, I would get the answer, "but he/she had a great resume." Or "He/she seems like a nice person." Or worse yet, "He/she will give balance to the faculty." We all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Either you seek God's will in this matter (and pray until you sweat blood, if necessary) and get this right, or else you sink your own ship. It is both that hard and that simple.
Already Prepared Dough — The cost of a three year seminary education has risen astronomically in the past 30 years. In contrast with Methodists, Presbyterians, and Baptists, Anglicans and Episcopalians have historically provided relatively little financial assistance (other than bequests) to seminaries or students attending seminary. Anglican parishes, dioceses and jurisdictions still want the best-trained clergy, but they have never gotten into the habit of paying for them. So we are looking at a financial crisis affecting all theological seminaries today, but it is perhaps affecting Anglican/Episcopal seminaries more than most.
Those who can give generously, and that includes people of even modest means who will give sacrificially, need to realize that giving financially in order to train the future leadership of the Church is the most important investment they can make with their giving. It is an investment in the future of the Church itself. And it is an investment in making sure we have leaders and equippers who will insure that we fulfill Christ's great commission.
The Yeast of the Gospel — If "having the right people is the key" what makes those people the "right people?" A seminary must have exceptional teachers who reflect their love for God and for students in what they do. They must be continually aware of all that the Person and atoning work of Christ mean for their personal lives and ministries, and who communicate this humble awareness to their students. They must be uncompromising in their faithfulness and very committed to seeing that what they teach enables their graduates to go out as priests and leaders who can transform lives and congregations.
So there it is. It may seem like a simple recipe, but it isn't. I would venture to say that 9 out of 10 seminaries get it wrong. It is these seminaries that cause those who are concerned for the renewal of the Church to think that a seminary education is unnecessary or even harmful. But truly biblically faithful, Spirit-filled, seminary education is not only a beautiful thing, it is indispensable if we are to have wise, knowledgeable, godly leadership for the future of the Church.
What prompted me to share this recipe was the tragic death this week of Fr. Daniel Westberg, Nashotah House's Professor of Ethics and Moral Theology, who embodied all the exceptional qualities I have mentioned. In writing it down, I was reminded of an interview about Nashotah House that I had given to David Virtue in 2009, and I was reminded just how tasty the recipe is and how much I enjoyed making it.