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Is Something Wrong With Seminary?

“Academized Christianity, which is not constantly connected to the heart and puts its hope in knowledge and skill, can actually make students dangerous.”

No seminary is free from the downfall of a dry Christianity – whether you are a student, professor or administrator.

Paul Tripp engages the issue head on in his book Dangerous Calling. The chapter title sums up much of what the author tries to argue, “Big Theological Brains and Heart Disease.” He claims there is a disconnect in how many ministers measure maturity. For most people it is much easier to intellectually grasp a theological concept than it is to actually step out in faith and live by it. Somewhere along the way the second option, the one of maturity, became optional. This can lead to pastors who preach and guide without mercy, holding their congregation to a level that simply does not exist.

What is a Symptom and What is a Cause?

The most obvious symptom of having a Christianity that is only lived out in your head is that it confines the study of God’s Word to “distant, impersonal, information-based handling” exercises. The reality of the Gospel’s truth “brings us again and again to our desk, but it seldom brings us to our knees.”

This is a very real struggle, especially when your schedule begins to be dominated by language and survey courses. The sheer amount of work that has to be done forces us to spend hours upon hours in the Bible. From there it is easy to say we have had our fill. But just being in the Word does not mean you are feeding off of it. A chef can work 8 hours in a kitchen and leave starving. Just because she is surrounded by food; that she prepared, handled, and served it, does not mean she tried it herself. Likewise, physical proximity to the Word does not equate spiritual intimacy. We can open the Bible, but unless we allow ourselves to be opened as well nothing of eternal benefit will occur.

How did seminaries allow for this to happen?

Tripp argues that it was over a long period of specialization and departmentalization. Basically, as theological schools drifted from their connection with the local church they lost the benefit of having human needs and love shape their education. Seminary education became more about ideas and skills than people.

How it throws us off track and What we can do to get back on.

Tripp lists seven dangers of the over-academized minister:

  • Spiritual Blindness
  • Theological Self-Righteousness
  • Dysfunctional Personal Relationship to the Word
  • Lack of Personal Gospel Neediness
  • Impatience with Others
  • Wrong Perspective on Ministry
  • No Living Communion with Christ

All of these can be boiled down to the issue of pride. The less we think we need of Christ, the worse off our ministry will become.

So what can we do?

Suffer. Be broken. Come to terms with our own sin or pray for God to reveal it to us. Until we come to the place where we NEED God, theology will merely be “an end in itself rather than a means to an end.” It is not enough to know about God, we are called to know and be known by him. God does not just want to be studied, he wants to be experienced. Pure academics keep the hard things about life and God at a comfortable distance. Don’t let yourself be okay with that as a minster. We are not called to exegete the mess, we’re called to enter it.

Overall I believe Paul Tripp did an incredible job with this chapter and examining the state of the American seminary. His arguments, although pointed, never reached a demeaning tone. I recommend this chapter for anyone currently in seminary or planning on going. At the very least it will help you be aware of the possible dangers.

Written by David Ramos. David is a friend of God and a lover of the Old Testament. When he is not working on his M.Div at Ashland Seminary you can find him teaching Sunday-school or cooking pasta. You can read more from David at OffsetInnocence or connect with him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives and works in Cleveland, Ohio. 

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