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Why Pastors Need a Seminary Education - Part 1

November 3, 2011

R. Scott Clark

Is seminary worth it? R. Scott Clark answers this question with a resounding "yes." His reasoning will be posted in a series appearing on Thursdays.


Over the years many things have changed at Westminster Seminary California (WSC). In the most important ways, however, the seminary has not changed. We still believe the Bible to be the inspired, infallible, inerrant Word of God. We still believe the historic Christian faith as summarized in the ecumenical creeds and the Reformed confessions and catechisms. We are still dedicated to training men for the Reformed, pastoral ministry.

Though WSC has not changed fundamentally, the seminary business has changed dramatically in recent years. Today seminaries are offering their service (education and preparation for ministry) at a distance through satellites, video, and the Internet. Like many folk, WSC is generally enthusiastic about these emerging technologies and is exploring efficient ways of using them to advance Christ's kingdom.

Other folk, however, see the Internet as a way not only to supplement a pastor’s seminary education and to strengthen his ministry (it surely can accomplish these things), but also as a way to replace seminaries altogether. This is a worrisome trend. The strongest argument that proponents of "home grown" pastors make is that the local congregation should have a more intimate role in the training of her ministers than it sometimes does now. Thus, they see the Internet as a way to harvest the best of scholarship while keeping candidates for the ministry in their local churches. This philosophy of pastoral training, though initially attractive, rests on some false assumptions.

There are many benefits to be had through the Internet, but it can never replace the sort of community which exists between professors and students in the classroom, lunchroom, and the professor's office.

The word community is the right one, at least in WSC's context. Most students attend local Reformed churches in which WSC faculty preach and teach (many of which exist because God used the seminary faculty and students to plant new churches in this area). Some students live with faculty members. In addition, regular gatherings in faculty and student homes make school and church life a sort of seamless garment. These opportunities for interaction contribute to the formation of pastors. Because we regard the spiritual and theological development of students to be part of WSC's ministry, it is not true, as is sometimes implied in the discussion about the relative necessity of seminary: that men who go to seminary are somehow in the wilderness of academia.


More next Thursday!

First published in Evangelium, Vol. 5, Issue 3.