Follow the Money
In the discussion over the question, "Why seminary?" a frequent objection is that seminary is too expensive. The assumption here seems to be that professional training for our ministers could be done less expensively by frugal pastors who know what they are doing. Well, the administrative overhead at WSC is quite low. Some of our staff have given up lucrative careers in order to advance God’s kingdom serving at the seminary. The cost of seminary at WSC is ranked almost exactly in the middle of seminaries in the USA. Given the quality of the education at WSC, we think that the tuition is quite reasonable. Costs do rise, but some of them are uncontrollable, such as the cost of books which have risen considerably over the years. What should the seminarian-pastor do? Go without books? Would you visit a mechanic who had no tools?
One should not assume that the proposed electronic alternative is cheaper. Electronic, distance education does not promise to be any less expensive, in the long-run. Darryl Hart, in the October 1997 issue of New Horizons, noted that there are hidden costs to distance education.
Then we must consider the seminary facilities. Each distance-learning student must have a suitable computer and the associated software, which will need regular up-grading. More than that, the long-distance seminarian will need his own seminary library, since the equivalent does not yet exist online. A decent library for such an enterprise could easily cost thousands of dollars even with use of free, online, resources such as Google books or archive.org which usually offer only older books on which the copyright has lapsed.
Thus, even in the distance-education scheme, one has made a substantial investment, but there are less tangible costs as well. When, in this scenario, will the stay-at-home seminarian study his Greek and Hebrew? Who will evaluate his sermons? With whom will he compare notes? Will he really memorize his Greek and Hebrew vocabulary or will that also be too much bother? Will he really spend the late hours necessary to do the reading and writing for class? A computer terminal or video screen is wonderful, but it is not the kind of human fellowship or genuine community that is so vital to the adequate preparation of pastors.
All this is to point out that there is no easy route to the ministry and we delude ourselves if we say that there is. It is the Church’s obligation to make certain that the seminaries to which she sends her young (and older!) men are worthy. What constitutes a worthy place? One which continues to confess the historic Reformed faith, one that not only keeps up with the questions and criticisms offered by the culture, but also offers biblical and intelligent answers to those criticisms. That is, a worthy seminary is one which understands the times in which we minister and who equips her students to face those times and to stand in the pulpit week after week and tell the truth, all of it, regardless of the consequences. WSC, was, is, and shall, by God’s grace, remain such a worthy place.
More next Thursday!
First published in Evangelium, Vol. 5, Issue 3.