Why Seminary Is Still Relevant
Why do seminaries exist? There are undoubtedly a number of different answers to this question, but in the light of recent discussions on the web (here and here) regarding revisiting the nature of seminary education, hopefully VFT readers will find some helpful answers to this question as it relates to WSC.
1. To bring gifted preachers and teachers together to provide an excellent education for future pastors
We should begin with the Scriptures. In Ephesians 4.11-12, Paul writes that Christ gave gifts to the church in the wake of his ascension to his royal session at the right hand of the Father; Christ gave apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers, and these gifts have been given for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of ministry, and the edification of the church. I suspect that this is something that few immediately consider in the question of a seminary education. Some assume that seminaries exist simply because humans have a penchant for wanting to speculate and pontificate about "academic" things. But at WSC we hold the firm conviction that Christ has specifically given teachers to his church in addition to pastors. Teachers are those men specifically gifted to instruct the church, including prospective ministers, in the Word of God. It seems like a prudent thing to do to gather in one place those who are gifted by Christ to teach and facilitate access to these teachers, so many people in the church can benefit, not just a few.
One of the necessary things for a proper understanding of the Scriptures is a solid knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. While all ministers should be able to read the Bible in its original languages, not everyone has the skill and gifts to teach these languages. The same can be said for the other disciplines: systematic theology, New Testament, Old Testament, and Practical Theology. It is wise to gather the very best teachers in these respective areas, men who have been called and gifted by God to serve the church, and enable them to teach teach future leaders in the church.
2. To create a community of accountability for those future pastors as they study
With the constant wave of new technological developments, people are always seeking to make education better, more efficient, more cost-effective, and more easily accessible. Why pay money for a seminary education when you can buy a some books, do some reading, listen to some podcasts, download free lectures, and educate yourself? True, a person can learn a lot through self-study, but God calls us to community--he calls us to a churchly existence. As such, who is to say that we are instructing ourselves properly? It's quite possible that as we study a key subject, such as the christological heresies of the early church, that we might miss an important distinction--one that separates the truth from the lie. Who will catch our mistake? In other words, a seminary student has accountability as he learns--he is held accountable by his professors and his peers. There is also the accountability of the most underrepresented constituency in the church--the dead, that is, church tradition. Critically employed, church tradition helps us know where the lines of truth and deceit lie. Our bright idea may have been condemened as heresy in the early days of the church!
One of the reasons people hire personal trainers is because they want someone to push them beyond their own comfort zones--cause them to extend far beyond what they thought they could achieve. I think the same principle applies to the seminary context, which is another dimension of accountability. Professors have a way of bringing the best out of a student--causing the student to study intensely, learn and memorize more than thought possible, and then hold the student accountable through examination. Beyond this accountability, the professor, ideally, also encourages the student to take what he has learned and share it with the church--preach it in sermons, teach it in Sunday School, give counsel to people who are in desperate need of good biblical advice. But in addition to this, learning in a community where you study, labor, struggle, share, and even disagree, are all vital elements to spiritually healthy service to the church. It's in the classroom where students learn to express themselves, hear different opinions, and interact with one another in a loving and charitable manner.
Communal learning is something that goes back thousands of years to God's instruction to Israel (Deut. 6.4ff), to Christ's ambulatory classroom with his disciples, to monks gathering together to study God's word, to the Log Cabin school in colonial America that later became Princeton University.
These are just two key reasons why WSC exists--to bring ministers who have been gifted to the church as teachers to instruct a community of people who then take what they have learned and preach, teach, and spread the Word of God--to serve Christ, his gospel, and his church.