The Purpose of a Seminary
I thoroughly enjoy teaching, especially interacting with the fantastic students God has given me. One of my goals as a prof is to instill a love for global missions in my students. In fact, that’s my main goal.
My ideal seminary would be one in which the teacher models involvement in both the academy and the church. Confessing Christ as Lord in all of life would be the goal of every classroom (Col. 2:6). Students would be taught to weep over the plight of the lost. As in the superb evangelical academies of Germany (Wiedenest, Brake, Bad Liebenzell), the focus would be on becoming intentionally missional in a world of change. Yes, I know these German schools have no academic “credibility” because they are not accredited by the state, but worldly credibility is unnecessary and may in fact be a grave liability. The only accreditation that counts is divine approbation.
A Great Commission focus in our seminaries may well provide the skeleton of a renewed church. I believe that a rehabilitated emphasis upon missions would gain enough in dedication from the enlivened “laity” to offset any losses from nominal members. The seminary would be focused to make room for the missionary, whose presence would be a protection against the abstraction that often diverts theology from serving the Gospel. Church buildings would be used to house global mission centers in which professors would serve as resource persons in the task of involving believers in direct service ministries. This would lessen the sense of division between church members and those in the seminary community. Members would become loyal not to institutions but to the imperatives of the Great Commission, and membership in a local church would be redefined in terms of commitment to community and missions. Believers would no longer shun the secular but instead penetrate it with Christ’s love. The church would remove the cotton from its ears and begin ministering effectively to the world. It would cease being a fastidious little club, obsessed with cheap grace, and instead fulfill its divine mandate to proclaim the Gospel, to preach, to teach, to heal, and to witness to Jesus Christ in the world.
There will always be those who will argue that the seminary has no business being involved in missions. It is an academic institution, they would say, not a center for Great Commission studies. In my opinion, it is a mistake to think this way. It is precisely this kind of toning down of the Gospel that is the source of Christianity’s weakness and introvertedness. When we refuse to acknowledge the centrality of Jesus’ love commands, we are left with one alternative – increasing our inward focus and irrelevance. Seminary professors ought then to renounce all pretensions to be servants of Christ’s church. If we do not believe that the Lord in whom we trust has left us an unequivocal mandate to disciple the nations as our first priority, we have simply abandoned biblical Christianity.
Now I have nothing against secular scholars who spend all their time addressing the needs of the academic community. Only let them not pretend that they are witnessing to Christian truth. Christianity is not an academic pursuit but a radical way of living. I am saying neither that publishing is unnecessary nor that evangelical scholars should sit idly by and wait for the minds of our youth to be corrupted by secularism. I am simply saying that converting men and women to the Lord Jesus Christ is the primary work that all Christians – including Christian scholars – are called upon to do. To obviate misunderstanding, I must state that I am using the term “academic” to refer to one who is concerned primarily with serving the scholarly guild. I do not use the term to describe the seminary professor who, though a highly published scholar, seeks through scholarship to accomplish the supreme task of God in the world. Membership in the prestigious SNTS may qualify one as a “scholar” in the academy, but affiliation with a manmade organization is not at all what I would consider to be the distinguishing mark of a true biblical scholar. Scholarship per se is an abstraction that inhibits people from being involved with life because life is not lived in the abstraction. Christian scholarship is radical obedience to the words of Jesus or it is nothing.
Let me add in conclusion – and I know this from experience – that involvement in the Great Commission means getting dirty hands. If you are a missions-minded academic you may well find yourself living in a hut without electricity and running water and using a hole in the ground as a bathroom!
August 23, 2007
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.