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.” In 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?