In a recent blog post titled "The Future of Seminary Governance," In Trust blogger Jon Hooten took a look at an ongoing online symposium hosted by Patheos. It's called "The Future of Seminary Education," and there's so much rich material that it's worth another look.
The very venue of this discussion hints at just one of the significant changes we've experienced in recent decades. More than two dozen contributors from all over the country offer their insights online, without attending a conference -- neither asking for travel money nor (I presume) receiving any compensation for their insights.
What is the future of seminary education? Thankfully, the contributors are wise enough to avoid giving the question a definitive answer. As Daniel O. Aleshire says an interview, "There is no one common story for all theological education." It's worth remembering.
Does the changing landscape require seminaries to remake themselves in looser, more theologically inclusive ways? Maybe not. In one essay, "Less Doctrinaire?" D. Jeffrey Bingham of Dallas Theological Seminary warns about the temptation toward theological pragmatism. He encourages seminaries to preserve their doctrinal commitments while giving renewed "attention to curricular initiatives, methodologies of delivery, and strategic plans."
Theological schools are not the only institutions sensing big changes afoot. In my industry, which is publishing, there's a frantic sense that someone is playing musical chairs with our livelihood. E-books and the online retail revolution are making traditional business models obsolete. While some publishers race around the room, desperately hoping to have a chair when the music stops, others have plopped down, trusting that as long as they're in a seat, it won't get yanked.
Earlier this year, Margaret Atwood delivered a talk on "The Publishing Pie: An Author's View." In half an hour, she summarized the history of publishing and its various evolutions, reminding her listeners that the original impetus for publishing (the transmittal of creative work to a desiring public) has changed very little throughout all the convoluted history of the publishing business.
As I have read through these articles on the Patheos website, I've thought again about Atwood's insight. What is the original impetus for theological education? Theologically informed leaders. Spiritually mature Christians. Faithful priests, ministers, missionaries, and lay people. Knowledgeable and creative scholars.
There's still a demand for all of these people. As the seminary business model continues to change, we should remember that there's no single future for all theological education.