Business & theological education
Acton Institute Powerblog

Business & theological education

Christian Post columnist R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, compares business schools and theological seminaries, which are both “tempted to redefine their mission in strictly academic terms.”

In explicating a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review, Mohler passes on the conclusions about the trend among business schools, “Today, it is possible to find tenured professors of management who have never set foot inside a real business, except as customers.”

Mohler writes of a similar threat to theological schools,

It should be unthinkable that the faculty in a theological seminary would include professors of such limited experience in church life. And yet, I have interviewed applicants for faculty positions who, when asked about their church involvement and ministry experience, have virtually nothing to offer. The task of seminary leaders is to make certain that persons of such minimal church experience and commitment are not offered faculty positions in our schools.

With all due respect to Dr. Mohler, my experience with seminary theological traning is that it is becoming less academically rigorous, not more. True systematic theology, for example, is often viewed by ministerial candidates as too difficult and not practical enough, so instead of reading Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology or Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, students might read Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing about Grace?

To be fair, Dr. Mohler is not attempting to juxtapose learning and ministerial practice. He writes,

The pastor’s calling requires a level of learning and scholarship that goes far beyond what should be expected in any other professional school. After all, the high calling of preaching and teaching the Word of God is a stewardship that goes beyond any other earthly profession. Churches should expect and demand that their pastors will receive the very highest levels of training in biblical studies, theology, church history, and various fields of classical theological disciplines.

Is it fair to characterize seminaries as “professional schools.” Perhaps, I suppose. And my experience with varieties of seminary education is sure to be much more limited than Dr. Mohler’s. But, as I said, my experience is that the trend is toward “relevance” opposed against “scholarship.”

And certianly even academic theologians should be involved in their local church. They ought to participate in some kind of lay ministry. But it also seems that there should be a place for the career theologian in the seminary. For if not there, where? As I’ve stated earlier, John Calvin viewed the non-ordained role of “doctors” of the church, theologians and educators, to be one of the four biblical offices.

In the end it appears that seminaries generally have two constituencies: the larger pool of prospective pastoral ministers and the smaller pool of academic theologians. The seminary can err on either side, when it despises scholarly learning in favor of the purely practical/relevant, or when it disdains its role in training ministers of the Word and seeks only scholarly (and secular) acceptance.

As is so often the case, the right path lies somewhere between the two extremes, where the seminary is faithful both to its calling to train both ministers and theologians.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.