Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Importance of Theological Education (Part 4)

Continued from my last post...

The second advantage of theological education is the maintenance of orthodoxy. Critics and sceptics will immediately point an accusing finger at seminaries as places where people lose their faith or where Christian orthodoxy is questioned. Sadly this has sometimes been the case, but it need not be nor is it an inevitable by-product of theological education. Where a theological institution is biblically sound and its professors are held to a definite statement of faith, it can be a powerful force for good in the lives of its students and the constituency of churches that it serves. Pastors are busy people and they do not always have the time or the resources to contend with the latest distortions of the faith that sooner or later threaten to find their way into the lives of their people. It is also easy for preachers to get off on a tangent or to ride their favourite theological hobbyhorse to the detriment of their regular hearers. Those who are young and inexperienced, as well as those who have many years of experience, can be influenced by books they read, or famous preachers they listen to, or they may even become so enamoured with their own interpretative abilities that they begin to inadvertently hold and teach idiosyncratic views of the Christian life and doctrine that threaten the life and health of the church.

In many congregations there is a level of trust and respect that is rightly afforded “the pastor” that makes it difficult to challenge or refine his views even if some suspect a problem or find that his teaching does not ring true. One way to avoid these problems is what is known in the academic world as “peer review.” This is what happens when students must articulate and defend their positions in an academic context. Then it is not enough to say “this is what I think” or to hide behind the privileged authority of the ministerial office – in this context assertions must be proved in light of the scriptures and the history of Christian interpretation which has been entrusted to the whole church and not just a one pastor or elders board. The maintenance of orthodoxy requires vigilance and an overall grasp of the truth that must be re-examined constantly in the presence of many witnesses. A properly functioning seminary can provide such a context in a world in which so much information, both good and bad, is readily available to the people who frequent church at the click of a computer mouse or television remote.

To be continued next time...

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