A velvet revolution is sweeping through the nation's seminaries. Like the velvet revolutions that have been transforming Eastern Europe from top-down, autocratically ruled, bureaucracy-driven countries, theological seminaries in the United States are being forced into change for survival's sake.
On the surface, seminary education at many institutions appears to be in robust health. In 1992, the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) reported a 9.8 percent enrollment increase over 1991, the largest single increase ever recorded. There was a full-time-equivalent enrollment of 46,400 students in more than 210 institutions. This fall, at least one school reports a 20 percent increase in 1994-95 total enrollment over the previous academic year. Other institutions around the country say they have similarly healthy programs.
Yet many experts who have looked beyond the numbers are sounding the alarm that seminaries face a "crisis of credibility." They say seminaries are in danger of "downsizing" faculties, programs, and institutions, and are faced with unexpected competition for theological training-the local church itself. They see churches being buffeted by cultural trends, while seminaries persist in graduating students conversant in Greek, Hebrew, and classical theology, but not acculturated to ministry in post-Christian America. The familiar tension between ivory-tower theory and leading-edge practicality in theological education has been further strained by the sometimes radically new answers given to age-old questions: What should pastors really be accomplishing through their churches? What makes a "good theological school"? How can the church be effective in a post-Christian age?