Revival at Seminary

By: Wolfgang Vondey
Monday, April 4th, 2011

What exactly is seminary education? If you asked me, I would say it is characterized by two key elements: ministry and academics. The question is how well these two elements are brought together. Too much ministry, and the seminary experience is not much more than an average Sunday School; too much academics, and students will find it difficult to connect the content of their classes with everyday life. There are many students who only know the ministry side of the faith, and who struggle with the academic dimension, just as there are those who come to seminary from an academic career and have little practical experience in church ministry. Renewing the seminary experience must speak to both groups! But how?

Increasing the academic side will perhaps nurture in some students interest in pursuing an academic career, perhaps in college teaching and scholarship. Increasing the ministerial dimension will likely challenge those academically trained to consider the practical implications of their knowledge. And yet, I do not believe that we should overemphasize seminary education as offering “practical theology” degrees as if there were such a thing as “impractical theology.” ┬áIn turn, we hardly want to encourage programs in “theological ministry” as if there were such a thing as ministry that is not-theological. A first step in the right direction is certainly to stop perpetuating the division of theology, academia, and praxis. Such language only leads to internal tensions and creates a mindset that artificially divides subject matter, classrooms, disciplines, and interests. Not to mention what kind of graduate would leave seminary if ministry and academics were not integrated holistically. Some may argue that this is precisely what is happening and that the seminary experience needs an overhaul. But little is offered to move forward.

The mindset of many seminary students, particularly in pentecostal and charismatic circles, may be that seminaries need revival. Okay. Let’s do it! But how exactly is it going to happen? What exactly do we mean by revival at seminary? Who would participate in such a revival? Where would it originate?

I am envisioning that some of you are now thinking of revival in the classrooms. So let’s stick with that image. What would that kind of revival look like? Do we envision worship music and praying, sermons, dancing, shouting and prophecies? What exactly is revived by that experience? I think if we drive these questions further, we discover that seminary is a place where revival must integrate ministry and academics and that it is precisely in these two aspects that the difficulties reside. Anyone who has ever been in an academic classroom and has sensed the prophetic or perhaps convicting or just simply gripping reality of a discussion knows how difficult it is to integrate the ministerial dimension in that moment without going fully to a revival experience that effectively marks the end of the class time. And yet, at such moments, we cannot simply carry on business as usual. And if we manage to move to a different level, perhaps a prayer or simply a moment of silence or a time of ministering to one another, how difficult is it to move back to the classroom? At the heart of these difficulties, is it not the tension we have created between what we call “ministry” and “academics” (as if one could exist without the other)? If I am right, then this is where revival at seminary begins. Not in chapel but in the classrooms. Who is going to initiate it? Who will recognize it when it happens? Where is it going to take us? These are not rhetorical questions. Unlike church, revival at seminary requires more careful planning. So perhaps that’s where we need to start?

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Wolfgang Vondey
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4 Responses to “Revival at Seminary”

  1. don quijote says:

    How refreshing.

    Dreaming an impossible dream are we? How far are we willing to go? What is ministry willing to give up, and what is academia willing to sacrifice? This kind of revival would demand a re-forming, a re-formation, of the classroom. Is there a place where a professor could teach, un-paid by students; unhindered by the political pressures of an academic reputation? Is ministry willing to give up titles, positions, power? Are there students willing to learn, or even students who know how to learn, without grades or diplomas? I think not, therefore, it is not.

    But where reason fails, the irrational may succeed; there one can dream an impossible dream, and for a moment, the windmill actually is a giant, and its the rest of the world that’s crazy.

    • Revival does not have to be the extreme, the impossible, the irrational, the unhindered. All that can be part of an unexpected revival, but we have plenty of examples from Scripture and the history of the church that revival can begin with very planned efforts, critical eyes that examine the situation. Seminary education without grades, diplomas, and degrees is indeed a dream and quite unrealistic in the present circumstances. But realizing revival exactly in the present circumstances is a manageable effort for us all. Neither the requirements of ministry or academia are giants of our imagination. They are real, and they should serve the purposes of God. To that end we should submit to both. That was my intention with the blog post: to call us together in a joint pursuit that does no longer artificially divide ministry and academia. That’s were revival can begin! Are you in for it?

      • Austin Bailey says:

        I enjoyed the post, and want to submit myself to addressing the needs in both contexts, which is indeed what the online experience here at Regent allows for. I am currently pressing into both schools, the academic institution and the local church. But inevitably, every believer will also need to engage in both these discussions, not necessarily in a literal sense but they inevitably will come across the issues both disciplines face.

        Seminaries are often jokingly referred to as “cemeteries”, pointing to an imbalance between these two worlds. The reason for the imbalance is not the fault of the academic institution for asking the tough questions, nor is the fault on the side of the local church that highlights experience, but the dilemma is with the individual. The tension is with those who desperately want to engage in both worlds but have yet to learn how to properly balance the mind and heart in both fields. Both faculties must be engaged on both sides, and the “cemetery” yoke holds place because some have forgotten, not just in the academic field but in the church as well, how to use both. A “cemetery” of either faculty of the mind or the heart is still a cemetery. We do need revival, and the Holy Spirit will be the congruent glue that merges us as holistically involved on both fronts.

  2. Jesse Niess says:

    I think the point of Quijote’s is not that the requirements of ministry and academics are giants of the imagination, rather, that many of the requirements of ministry and academics are actual giants; that is, impediments in the way of something like a revival. Of course you disagree, I would expect no less.
    You ask if we are in, if he is in, if I am in. I’m responding with a question: how far are you in? how much are you willing to sacrifice for it? How much are you willing to give up? Because I already know, and my answer is, your revival will be very small.
    There is too much power and too much money at play in a classroom and its context for a revival to spark more than a kindling flame.
    There is too much power and too much money involved in the artificial division of ministry and academics to allow for this.
    Am I in? I’ve already been kicked out of academia for being too ‘extreme’. How could I be in? I’ve already been excommunicated for attempts at and towards the artificial division between philosophy and theology.
    I think if we look at history, these are the reasons why ‘revivals’ happen among the poor and powerless. you have too much to lose, but please prove me wrong.