“Now think about it. If you’re going to write a PHD dissertation in the vast majority of seminary colleges today, you have to come with something no one has ever done before. Think about that for just a moment when that comes to Christian orthodoxy…Especially in theology, coming up with something new is coming up with something heretical.”
James White makes a very important observation that I think you would have to be college educated in order to grasp. I studied history back in college and I was a Sophomore my first year because I already had AP credits for all of my early course work. So, right off the bat, in the 200 level courses my professors would ask me to come up with an original thesis that no one in history has ever proved out before.
Being 18, I actually remember thinking, “I’m just a stupid kid, what truly original and good idea can I really come up with?”
The majority of my college education was an exercise is sophistry, regurgitating what the professors wanted to hear and coming up with politically correct thesis statements that were “original contributions.” I remember speaking to an old man in Dansville, NY who went to college back in the 1950s and majored in history. He told me he never made an original thesis, he would just restate what he knew happened in history. I knew then and there the practice we have now is different and potentially flawed.
Now, when it comes to theology, I think it is kind of scary if you come up with some sort of new insight that for 2,000 years has gone unnoticed in the Christian Church. First, it is mind boggling that the Spirit took 2,000 years to lead the Church into all truth until you came around (John 16:13). Second, we have already had plenty of great Christian thinkers from Clement, to Luther, to Sproul that have already systematized and made sense of a great deal of Christian doctrine and how teachings in the Scripture apply to the Church.
Seminaries are dangerous when they follow the modern academic model. They do not by necessity have to be bad and yes this is a blanket statement, but all of higher education is terribly flawed in western society. As we already discussed, it invites heresy to compell everyone to come up with new ideas when to be honest every good idea was already figured out in full 2,000 years ago. Since then, all we have done is forgotten important elements of Christian doctrine and rediscovered them.
Second, modern education has nothing to do with learning and everything to do with a worldly desire for class status. Let’s admit it. Education’s purpose implicitly is so the graduate can prove to others that they come from middle or upper class stock. It is amazing how much more seriously some people will take me when they learn that I have a Masters degree from Columbia University. However, my degree does not add any merit to me. My character and actions are much more important.
Don’t we scoff when we hear of a preacher without any formal training? We think he’s a loon or has a ton of stuff wrong, simply by virtue of his background. It is worth noting that Ray Comfort does not have an academic background and God has used him to convert thousands to Christianity.
Now there are plenty of uneducated loons out there. However, there are plenty of over-educated loons as well.
Interestingly enough, the Scripture does actually speak to this matter. In 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of factionalism within that Church over teachers such as Peter and Apollos. Apparently, as we know from 2 Corinthians, some Judaizers claimed to be “super apostles” boasting of their Jewish origin and their service to Jesus. It is possible that these men were “from James” as in Galatians, and Paul is speaking of some intra-chruch disputes from his time.
How does Paul address these false teachers, even though they come with qualifications from respectable sources?
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:1-6).
For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding. But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us as a measure, to reach even as far as you (2 Cor 10:12-13).
Apparently, these men came with letters showing their qualifications. In fact, because Paul lacked these and didn’t get paid by the Corinthians, they accused him of being a false teacher (2 Cor 11).
Paul’s response is simple. He doesn’t need a letter and he has no such qualifications to boast about without sounding like a fool. The only thing that qualifies Him is what God has given him by His Spirit, NOT anything he has earned or merited on his own. Hence, “we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure…which God apportioned to us.”
Further, “God has allotted to each a measure of faith” (Rom 12:3, see also Eph 4:13). Do we really even need seminaries if God is our teacher and God promises to lead by His Spirit? It seems to me that man distrusts God to get the teaching part right, so we got to do it all on our own.
Interestingly enough, with all the qualifications for Church elders in the Pastoral Epistles, never once is education or learning a factor. Instead, their moral nature and spiritual giftedness are. Neither of these can be trained into people, but rather both are given by God as we cannot do good apart from His grace nor walk in the Spirit and exhibit spiritual gifts likewise. These qualities, given by God, are what elders are to look at when appointing elders to succeed them.
Yet, we use seminaries to train people to be what the Spirit is supposed to raise up among men. This is faithlessness. Much of the Church Fathers had no formal academic training (which in those days would have been in philosophy and rhetoric), though some definitely did. However, even more of the local leaders of the church were just normal people like the twelve apostles were. Yet, we want to make sure our pastoral leaders are educated and have doctorates.
And sadly, to get that doctorate these days you need original ideas. So, you either have to be really brilliant to figure out something no one has thought of yet, really blessed to be revealed by God an insight in the Scripture that He has never revealed to anyone else, or really good at making stuff up and gaming the system so you can graduate.
Hate to break it to you, but to graduate college with good grades, you learn to game the system. It is what it is. The only good thesis I ever wrote was published and here was my secret behind it: I found out my thesis by mistake! Simply, I happened to read a book from a renaissance writer which happened to repeat an idea that was voiced by a medieval Muslim writer who isn’t studied much in the west. So, just by a lucky circumstance, I had a thesis no one came up with before. But let’s be honest: The Bible has been read and reread by millions upon millions for two thousand years. What are the chances of that happening now?
What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun (Ecc 1:9).