Answer To An Interesting Question

Yesterday, I posted about my son Riley’s “divinity school” question.

After I figured out why he was asking what he was asking, I drew him a chart on a sheet of notebook paper. I figured if he was going to ask, I was going to answer.

On the chart, I put seminaries and divinity schools in several different categories. My method was neither exhaustive nor scientific . . . but I think pretty accurate.

Here goes:

Divinity Schools At Elite Universities

Harvard, Yale, and others were originally founded with the expressed purpose of training pastors. Over the centuries, however, as these institutions and others separated undergraduate studies from graduate theological education, the nature of the pastoral training changed.

In the main, academic reputation replaced pastoral preparation, and the theological perspectives at such schools took a decidedly leftward turn.

All the hallmarks of what we now call “Twentieth Century Protestant Liberalism” —

a low if not absent view of the inspiration of the bible;

a blurring of lines between the faith claims of Jesus and those of other great religious leaders;

a dismissal of the orthodox understandings of heaven, hell, and the second coming

— found a warm welcome at the historic schools. While orthodox students are welcome in these schools, they are much in the minority. Harvard, Yale, and the University of Chicago all have representation from Unitarian students and faculty as well. You can read some of Harvard’s story here.

If you are wondering why Princeton Seminary isn’t in this category, it’s not because I’m taking one for the home team. The seminary in Princeton was founded as a separate institution from the University, and is more mainstream in its theological perspective and more parish-focused in its teaching than the schools mentioned above.

Schools Of Theology At Methodist Universities

Since I’m a Methodist pastor and Methodism is the church world that my kids have known, I told Riley about some of the specifically UMC schools that are part of larger universities. Three of the most influential are Duke Divinity School, Candler School of Theology at Emory University, and the Perkins School of Theology at SMU. These are three out of thirteen; you can read the entire list here.

In general, these schools don’t steer quite as far leftward as do Harvard and Chicago. They have more of a heart for training local church pastors than do the Ivies. I believe I would have been relatively happy at any of those three.

Yet I also know that several of the areas that get my adrenaline flowing — like a burden for the salvation of souls and an excitement for the preaching of the Word — would have been more subtle and more muted than I was looking for.

So even if it would have looked great to have a “Duke Alumni” sticker on my car while driving around Charlotte, that environment didn’t exactly match my needs as a preacher-in-training.

Which explains why new kinds of schools emerged in the 20th Century . . .

The Multi-Denominational, Stand-Alone, Evangelical Seminary

As church leaders noted with alarm what was happening to theological education in the early part of the 20th Century, several groups took action and founded schools that were to be both orthodox in their theology and rigorous in their academics.

That’s why a group of evangelical Methodists founded Asbury Seminary in Kentucky in 1923.

It’s why some Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists launched Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA in 1947.

And it’s why a collection of Baptists and Calvinists formed Gordon-Conwell Seminary in 1969.

Along with several of the Southern Baptist Seminaries (another type of school altogether that I don’t have room for), these three are among the largest in the world in terms of student enrollment and in terms of producing pastors of prevailing churches.

They are not fundamentalist. They don’t teach that the world will end on May 21, 2011.

However, they stand by the authority of Scripture, the Lordship of Christ, and the belief that he will in fact come “to judge the quick and the dead.”

So if you’ve heard me speak of my seminary experience, you know how I loved that time at Asbury. It’s where I learned to read the bible literarily and not literally; it’s where I learned that less is more when you preach; it’s where I learned the local church really is the hope of humanity; and it’s where I learned that real intellectual rigor is in standing for ancient, revealed truth.

So Riley, that’s why I didn’t go to divinity school.