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  • Writer's pictureJohn Stackhouse

And Having Said That about Seminaries…

Updated: Sep 25, 2022

I promised to represent people who responded to a previous post about seminary education, and I’m glad to do so.

As one might have expected, comments ranged across a spectrum. But the spectrum wasn’t as wide as it might have been. I didn’t get any defensive e-mails from seminary professors or administrators flatly denying everything I said, nor did I hear from seminary graduates who have asked for their money back.

Instead, I heard a fair bit of “not our seminary” and “not my experience” as well as “thanks for articulating my own frustration” and “seminaries have indeed been over-promising.” Interestingly, I had people from the same seminary say different things, both faculty members and students or alumni/ae.

Let me thus offer a few conclusions and recommendations in the light of these remarks. But before I do, I want to confess that I wrote the previous post with more heat and edge than I probably should have, and I apologize to anyone who was deeply hurt by it. My intention was only to provoke to love and good deeds (as someone, somewhere, has said), even as I did it aggressively to articulate a little of the rage many students and professors do feel.

So, my friends and colleagues in seminaries, I apologize if I ticked you off so much that you can’t hear what I’m saying. But please know that I’ve been in multiple conversations over a long time in which prospective students, actual students, alumni/ae, and professorial colleagues have spoken about these matters far more violently than I did. And however right or wrong they may have been on the particulars, that’s how they felt…and surely you’ll want to know and reckon with that.

To conclusions, then:

  1. Each seminary is different. They vary a lot, as one might guess when one is speaking about a class that includes Princeton Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, Fuller Theological Seminary, Emmanuel College, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Tyndale Theological Seminary, and ACTS (at Trinity Western University). So receive my generalizations, and anyone else’s, with a good pinch or two of salt.

  2. Some seminaries are as rigorous as some universities. Some maybe more so. Some maybe too much. (A friend who teaches at a famous divinity school once told me that he assigns to his first-year theology students mostly readings in…Karl Barth and Jürgen Moltmann. People who can’t yet tell Augustine from Wesley and “imminent” from “immanent” are immediately plunged into those guys? Hmm.)

  3. Some seminaries have working relationships with undergraduate schools, particularly in their own denominations or traditions, to respectfully acknowledge relevant undergraduate training. (As I mentioned in my Update, my own school has such an arrangement with Acadia Divinity College, of which I have become much better informed in the last 48 hours….) Others have worked out policies for any such undergraduate school, and each is different.

  4. And most, if not all, of what I complained about seems to be true in enough seminaries that I’m going to leave that post as is, with this new post as complement. That is, a lot of pushback I received was in terms of “You’re attacking seminaries when you should be supporting us” and that is neither true nor on point. I am trying to help seminaries by setting out a set of interlinked problems while also putting the matter in a way that is actually relatively restrained compared to the way students and colleagues have expressed themselves to me over the years.

Advice? Students should carefully read each website and then follow up with particular questions with admissions officers. In particular, find out whether a theological school will give a student advanced standing (which means full credit for work done, and thus less time & cost to earn the M.Div.); or allow him or her to test out of introductory and language courses (which might not reduce the total number of courses & tuition); or give elective credit for previous work (which might mean repeating introductory material, alas); or in some other way acknowledge work done before matriculation.

And as for whether seminary education is a good idea for at least many people, if not for all, who want to pastor, I think it is. But I already said so, on this weblog.

Grace and peace to you all in our Lord Jesus Christ, and may the Church enjoy better and better seminaries to the glory of God and the blessing of the world God loves.


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