"Our seminaries are dying and the Master of Divinity degree has been discredited."
This is the opening line from an essay over at Patheos that has received a lot of recent attention. The essay is called "Is It Time to Write the Eulogy?: The Future of Seminary Education," and at first glance it may appear to be just another woeful dirge on the decline and ultimate demise of theological education. But in the end, it's a hopeful message that the author tries to convey.
The columnist, a professor at a mainline seminary, offers a concise interpretation of the history and current state of theological education and highlights its various foci -- social justice, pastoral care, leadership -- over the decades. He describes the declining financial support from denominations, which leads to the backbreaking weight of student debt. "So, should we throw the system out, disband our seminaries, and launch even more deeply into the brave new world of clergy preparation?" he asks. "Or should we rely on regional choices and an array of online approaches? All of those options are currently in play."
The author offers his own detailed proposal for theological education, which centers on deep academic rigor, pastoral formation, and residential models. He also lays out a specific proposal for the M.Div. and, ultimately, the need for fewer seminaries. (I presume he wouldn't put his own theological school on the chopping block.)
But does one size fit all? Will this dramatic proposal do the trick? Will any one solution, however well-articulated, take theological education to the promised land?
As a foundation of good governance, seminary leaders must engage in their own rigorous analysis and devise their own solutions to their particular problems.
Compelling essays such as these are certainly helpful in provoking thought about the realities that seminaries face. But each theological school should write the essay for itself, identifying its own strengths and possibilities for the diversity of seminary education, the church, and Christianity as a whole.