Sunday, January 24, 2016
Twenty-five Years in the Seminary Business, Part 2
Some men, thankfully not many, do not come to seminary to learn. They already know everything. Of these, there are two types: loud and quiet. The loud ones make their presence known in every class (and outside of class). They regularly question/correct their professors. They frequently are busy “teaching” and correcting other students. They make it clear that they resent having their pet theological theories questioned. Usually these men are bright (though not as bright as they think), but not nearly as well-read as they seem to think they are. They present themselves as authorities on everything, but generally have one special area that they have “mastered.” This area has become the center of their theology, and they are unhappy with anyone thinking that it might not be, or might not need to be, the center of everyone else’s theology. For the most part, they do well academically, but no one is really sorry when they graduate. Professors tend to refuse writing recommendations for these men because the perception is that they will be a disaster in pastoral work. They lack two chief characteristics that are necessary not only for being a good student but also a good pastor. They are neither teachable nor humble. Most of these men, if they remain in pastoral work, generally do so by taking small churches that eventually become populated by a group of folks who simply agree with the pastor on everything.
The quiet ones are harder to identify. They share the lack of humility and lack of teachability that is characteristic of the loud ones, but they hide it by simply keeping their heads down. They work diligently, and do well academically, but they never really learn anything. They leave seminary with the same ideas they had when they began. I suspect that often these quiet ones have chosen a seminary that is really not in tune with their basic theological convictions and they decide simply to wait it out. When they graduate and take a call to a church, they pastor the way they would have had they never been to seminary.
Sometimes, these non-learners (both the loud and the quiet) get educated in the school of hard knocks, when ruling elders and church members refuse to put up with their arrogance. Eventually, they begin to grow and occasionally even prosper as pastors. But the road would have been less difficult had they come to seminary to learn.
Why do these folks go to seminary? Probably because their denomination requires them to have an M.Div. They come for credentials, not for learning.
Why do churches and presbyteries (and other church bodies) send these men to seminary? I suspect that sometimes it is just a way for a church to get rid of someone who has become obnoxious to the church. Sometimes, the church hopes that seminary will indeed teach them something and make them useful in gospel work. Often, presbyteries do not really know the men well. It has become something of a habit in the PCA that men do not come under care of their presbytery until they are already most of the way through seminary. But that is a discussion for another day.