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 director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.