The recent study by Tufts University about Preachers Who Are Not Believers, as it was addressed in the Washington Post this week, has raised a number of questions for me. The one that intrigues me the most is the role that seminary has played in the formation of these unbelieving clergy.
The study very pointedly claims a connection between these pastors’ loss of faith and their seminary education. And for all those of us who’ve been to seminary it is hard to argue against their anecdotal evidence. More often than not seminary tends to undermine the faith in our modern day rather than form it and strengthen it.
Two quotes from my seminary days still hang with me. First: “Our job isn’t to make pastors. Our job is to issue degrees.” And second: “Sometimes we have to tear down their faith before we can build it back up.”
The first was spoken by an administrator at the seminary I attended, the second by a professor at another school. Both reflect part of the problem I see with seminary and how it contributes to the crisis of faith for many.
On the one hand, seminaries have often decided that it is no longer their job to produce pastors. As this administrator claimed in his instance, it was to “issue degrees.”
In many other instances, the goal is to compete for academic recognition in the scholarly fields. That means hiring well-published scholars who are respected by their peers and have a scholarly reputation to bring to the school in question.
Often, theological and creedal convictions are set aside in the name of academic freedom. In the end, what they teach their students is of less importance than the books they publish and the prestige they bring. (Read here: publish or perish.)
The effect of this on students is noticeable. Scholarly theories are taught as fact to young students who often don’t know how to distinguish fact from theory. They are young and impressionable, and they often believe what they are told.
In the hands of a good teacher, that results in education. In the hands of a lesser individual, it’s “deconstruction” and “demythologization.” Neither of which is particularly helpful for pastoral ministry in my opinion.
The end result for many schools is a disconnect between the faith of the church and the academic agenda of its professors. In many instances, what the church believes is scoffed at and purposely undermined by the very professors who are supposed to be teaching it.
Note, that was the intention of seminary, after all. Teach the faith. Equip pastors to do the same.
That mission has been lost. Many seminary professors not only do not believe the Christian faith, they openly mock it. And several do everything in their power to undermine it.
The smug air of intellectual superiority is intoxicating. Students feel like they’ve gained a “secret knowledge.” They are urged to infiltrate the church and pass it on.
For those who accept the challenge, they return to the local church equipped to undermine the very faith they’ve sworn to uphold. The rest simply go back unsure of what to do. They may not have bought into what their professors were selling, but they also don’t have anything in its place to rely on.
Mind you, this is the worst case scenario. There are good schools and good professors out there. But, this worst case is playing out pretty regularly these days. So many of our pastors have endured this. Why?
Seminary was supposed to be a help. It was supposed to equip pastors. It was supposed to teach the faith. It was supposed to assist the church.
Now it seldom does any of that. The growing rift between pastors and laity that Tufts University points out is a direct result of the chasm between the seminary and the church.
So why are we sending our best and brightest to seminary? Why risk it? If it’s not helping us, why not equip our clergy by another means?
What’s more, why fork over millions of dollars a year to schools who refuse to do their job? Put that money to good use somewhere else.
If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. If it is broken, though, I say dump it and find another way. I think that time has long since come for the church. Seminary is in many instances an unnecessary liability. Why not replace it?