The Importance of a Well Educated Clergy
The church today sits at an interesting time in history. We can look around and see culture changing at a rapid pace. Europe has been dechristianized for decades now and though in America we still see high church attendance, the average person in the pew knows neither what the Bible or their theology says. This is not only true of evangelicalism as a whole, but also more narrowly of my particular tradition, Presbyterianism.
The interesting thing in my tradition is that we have always taken pride in being a well educated people. Presbyterians are known for thinking through everything (sometimes to our detriment). Yet in the last 20 years we have seen a slow and steady decline in the biblical and theological acumen of the average parishioner. Interestingly, at the same time seminaries have seen the steady growth in so-called "pastoral theology" classes.
Now, the title "Pastoral Theology" would lead one to believe that these classes are helping young seminarians see, as G.K. Beale puts it, that "theology is not only descriptive but also prescriptive." That is to say, our doctrine not only describes what we ought to believe, but how we ought to live. There was a time when these pastoral theology classes were primarily taken up with homiletics and church polity (see James Bannerman's excellent example of pastoral theology The Church of Christ.) However, as time has gone on seminaries have seen things such as counseling, management theory, church growth strategies, and financial planning classes enter into the ever growing bubble called "pastoral theology."
None of these new classes are bad in and of themselves. Each offer young men and women, who are interested in the ministry, helpful practical advice. Nevertheless, to shift the focus to these pragmatic classes, necessarily requires deemphasizing other aspects of the seminary education. What has happened in the last 20 years at an alarming rate is that we have taught aspiring ministers that pragmatics drive the ministry and not the preaching of the Word, right administration of the sacraments, and church discipline.
The question of what seminarians need to know before entering into ministry and subsequently what it means to have a well educated clergy, can be difficult. However, that question has as its underpinning a much more fundamental question: Do we love and value Biblical teaching? If the answer is no, then the education of the clergy really doesn't matter and seminary classes on pragmatics should win the day. However, my hope would be that we answer yes to that question. If the answer is yes, then we should not only expect but demand pastors who are well educated, theologically and biblically. There is a presumption that our medical doctors would work hard to be the most knowledgable in their respective fields and that they would, even after finishing medical school, continue to study and learn new aspects of their discipline. We should expect the very same from our clergy. Our clergy should always be increasing in their knowledge, not for knowledge's sake, but for the sake of showing "the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God" (Rom 11:33) to their congregations.
Don Whitney, professor at Southern Seminary, said, "As the seminaries go, so goes the church in the next generation." If we look at the value that we have placed on theological education in the last 40 years, the state of the church would not surprise us. Seminaries have devalued the Bible and theology placing more importance on the pragmatic (all in an effort to attract more students), it is no wonder the average person in the pew does not value the doctrines of the faith. If we, as the church, believe the Bible is more important than church growth strategies, then let us call for true pastoral theology. That is theology that is not only descriptive but also prescriptive. Let us look for men who are indeed pastor-theologians to be our shepherds. Let us demand a well educated clergy.