THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES ON CHRISTIAN EDUCATION: A READER ON THEOLOGY AND CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, edited by Jeff Astley, Leslie J. Francis, and Colin Crowder (Eerdmans, 464 pp.; $34, paper)

CHANGING THE WAY SEMINARIES TEACH: GLOBALIZATION AND THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION, by David A. Roozen, Alice Frazer Evans, and Robert A. Evans (Hartford Seminary Center for Social and Religious Research/ Plowshares Institute, 206 pp.; $13, paper)

THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION IN THE EVANGELICAL TRADITION, edited by D. G. Hart and R. Albert Mohler, Jr. (Baker Book House, 320 pp.; $24.99, paper). Reviewed by Robert W. Patterson, a frequent contributor to CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

In his autobiography, Kenneth Taylor, the man who gave life to the Living Bible, recalls his first semester as a student at Dallas Theological Seminary in the fall of 1940. To his astonishment, his Greek professor could not remember all the letters of the Greek alphabet the first day of class, another professor simply read from the class textbook, and a third teacher hounded his students with outlines to memorize. This half-hearted approach to theological education, Taylor says, led several of his classmates to transfer to Princeton Theological Seminary at the end of the semester.

That was then. Today, Ken Taylor's classmates would have no educational reason to transfer to a mainline seminary. Dallas Seminary is the sixth-largest institution accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). Its standard curriculum for students preparing for the ordained ministry is in many respects the most rigorous of any seminary in the country, demanding four years of graduate study (not three years as most other seminaries require), including three years of Greek, two years of Hebrew, and a senior thesis. Its well-kept, engaging four-block campus not far from downtown Dallas represents a model of educational facilities and resources.

Perhaps more than any other school, Dallas represents the metamorphosis of evangelical theological education since the early 1940s. No longer does anyone need to lament, as did Carl Henry in his autobiography, the "modernist takeover" of Protestant seminaries on the eve of World War II. According to the ATS, evangelicals in the 1990s lay claim to 63 divinity schools and theological seminaries in North America, enrolling more than 30,000 students. In fact, the six largest accredited schools, which account for 20 percent of seminary enrollment nationwide, are Southern Baptist institutions or seminaries with northern evangelical roots (Fuller, Trinity, and Dallas).

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Ironically, at the very moment evangelical theological education appears to have come of age, some influential parachurch and megachurch leaders are questioning the whole idea of formal theological education. The observation is made that if men who never spent a day in seminary can build successful ministries like Prison Fellowship, Focus on the Family, and Willow Creek Community Church, why have seminaries at all? In fact, a seminary degree will actually disqualify a candidate from a staff position at some megachurches.

From one angle, this bold questioning of theological education resembles the same concerns William Tennent and George Whitefield expressed about overly educated ministers during the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century. But seen in the context of modern evangelicalism, the growing antagonism toward divinity schools, even conservative ones, represents a sharp departure. Indeed, in the evangelical resurgence that began in the 1940s, the Presbyterian model of a "learned ministry" was advanced with great effectiveness by Harold John Ockenga and Carl Henry, an emphasis that helped balance the more democratic, lay-oriented character of evangelicalism with its dislike of formal structures and penchant for heart knowledge over head knowledge.

Three new books represent widely differing approaches to the role of theological education in the life of the church. From across the Atlantic comes Theological Perspectives on Christian Education, a collection of 29 previously published journal articles, many from a decidedly liberal viewpoint, woven together into one volume by two British ecclesiastical foundations. Issues facing theological education in the wider church are addressed in seven essays, but the focus of the book is Christian education, broadly defined. The volume caters to the mainline crowd, complete with sections exploring trendy approaches to Christian education, including postliberal, liberationist, and feminist. While a few essays are commendable, and while some insights are tucked away in the book here and there, the volume as a whole is disappointing. It will most likely serve as a reference tool, perhaps gathering dust in some library, providing a perfect illustration as to why Alister McGrath found spiritual emptiness in the religious Left of the Church of England.

Nor is the discussion advanced by Changing the Way Seminaries Teach, a volume that deals more with the Christian education of ministers. Produced jointly by two New England think tanks, the Hartford Seminary Center for Social and Religious Research and Plowshares Institute in nearby Simsbury, this extended report assesses a five-year program funded by the Lilly Endowment and the J. Howard Pew Freedom Trust to improve the educational program at 12 North American seminaries, including two evangelical schools, Gordon-Conwell in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, and Conservative Baptist in Denver. The program, however, was not aimed at reducing class size, raising faculty salaries and competence, or exploring the relationship between Christian character and ministerial skills. No, this project was none other than a "global" consciousness-raising effort at these schools, challenging what it claims is their provincialism and isolation from the resources of the Third World church.

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While the book accurately gauges what happened—and what more needs to be done—in terms of the ethos, curriculum, and faculty at these seminaries as a result of the project, what globalization really means is anyone's guess. Its trendy, anti-Western, anti-white-male rhetoric and its utopian vision, in the words of the Plowshares Institute, for "a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world community" divert attention away from what might be called the indigenous challenges of theological education in the United States today. Those needs can be no more served with "immersions" of Third Worldisms than seminaries in Korea or Kenya can be improved with "immersions" of Americanisms. An exotic fascination with the Third World is every bit as problematic as alleged Western ethnocentrism; in fact, as William Willimon and Thomas Naylor of Duke University suggest in their new book, Downsizing the U.S.A. (Eerdmans), "localization" more than "globalization" may be the crying need of the times.

Whatever Changing the Way Seminaries Teach and Theological Perspectives on Christian Education lack, however, is more than compensated for by the strong showing of Theological Education in the Evangelical Tradition. This collection of papers presented at a Lilly Endowment-funded conference at the Institute for Study of American Evangelicals at Wheaton College provides penetrating insights into theological education from some of the nation's finest theological educators, including Timothy George, Richard Mouw, and David Wells. Also contributing essays are the volume's editors, two promising educators under the age of 40: D. G. Hart, the prolific writer-librarian at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia—one of the first "evangelical" institutions north of the Mason-Dixon Line—and R. Albert Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, the first divinity school chartered by Baptists in Dixie.

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The book's strength is articulating the conceptual unity that holds evangelical theological education together. Whether exploring the spiritual formation of ministers, the tensions between church and academy, or the place of women in formal educational settings, the book explains how the evangelical approach to training ministers differs from both old-line Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions. That difference, the book illustrates, relates not so much to institutional or formal arrangements but rather to a distinctive set of expectations. "Evangelicals," the introductory essay summarizes, "have been especially wary of religion that appears to be automatic or routine, and they have desired ministers and leaders who have experienced firsthand a vital and deep encounter with God's grace and who could instill and reproduce such characteristics within other believers." This holds true of every stripe of evangelical institution, from the fundamentalist Prairie Bible College in Three Hills, Alberta, Canada, to the academically demanding West-minster Seminary in Philadelphia.

The volume highlights the historical dimension of that conceptual unity, contending "that the problems seminaries face today are not dramatically different from those that confronted evangelical theological educators in the past." So as evangelicals struggle to understand the tensions between clergy and laity, or seek a more parish-based approach to ministerial training—moot issues among Roman Catholics and old-line Protestants—the volume explores how those same issues have defined evangelicals since Jonathan Edwards. As evangelicals seek to understand how the life of the mind should inform vital piety and gospel zeal (and vice versa), the book reveals how Enlightenment empiricism has been a common element in evangelical education, including William Tennent's "Log College," the old Princeton Seminary, and Charles Spurgeon's "Pastor's College" at Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. The volume even suggests that many of the difficulties facing evangelicals today are rooted in the past; James Bradley of Fuller Seminary, for example, illustrates how the English-Puritan tradition of "practical divinity," with its goal of subduing scholarship to the professional training of pastors, did little to prepare evangelicals for the onslaught of critical and scientific thought in the nineteenth century.

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While strong on historical analysis, Theological Education in the Evangelical Tradition is weak on prescription. The concluding four essays, "The Future of Evangelical Theological Education," are brief, reflecting more afterthoughts than serious discussion. Granted, no one knows how evangelical seminaries will change a generation from now, but the insights offered in this book would seem to lead quite naturally to some "definitive guidance," perhaps some kind of standardization of ministerial preparation to guide evangelicals in the twenty-first century.

The time for raising or rethinking standards could not be better. As David Wells outlines in No Place for Truth, the pastoral vocation today is in crisis. Ministers, who in Puritan New England and colonial America were critically important leaders in their communities, have become, in Wells's words, "dislodged from the network of what is meaningful and valuable in society." The structures of modern life, he says, "offer no plausibility for the work they do." The Gordon-Conwell professor could have added that ministers have even lost standing in the Christian community, especially its evangelical expression. The bonds that tie pastors with congregations are weaker than ever, as the average tenure in a pulpit is rarely more than three years; traumatic "forced exits" of pastors (AOL Link), according to a study in LEADERSHIP journal (AOL Link), have reached epidemic proportions. Like Rodney Dangerfield, ministers get no respect. Most public-school teachers have far greater stability and workplace protection, higher salaries, and more generous benefits than ministers enjoy, including a decent pension at retirement.

The pastoral crisis will not be solved overnight, but perhaps the seminaries and the denominations they serve could begin with attention to quality rather than quantity. This shift will not be easy; it would cut the fuel line that has fostered the proliferation of evangelical seminaries in the past 25 years. But the hard questions need to be asked. Do evangelicals in North America really need 63 divinity schools educating 30,000 potential ministers? Has the mass of these institutions really enhanced pastoral quality and effectiveness? Because they compete with one another for market share, evangelical seminaries are not very selective in their admissions policies, admitting virtually anyone with a bachelor's degree. The result is a pool of graduates who do not measure up academically or personally with corresponding professions as well as an oversupply of candidates who struggle to receive a call from a particular congregation or ministry.

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This situation will not change unless the churches and the seminaries become genuine stake-holders with students, working together to sponsor and accept only promising candidates, subsidizing their education and funding residency programs, and helping them secure calls. Because the churches today could not realistically commit themselves to 30,000 students, this approach would significantly lower seminary enrollments, but it might reap revolutionary results.

While the popular nature of evangelicalism will resist recommendations like these, the time has come for bold yet respected voices in church and academy to wean evangelicals from the thoroughgoing pragmatism that has contributed to the crisis in the pastoral vocation. For without single-minded devotion to preparing, strengthening, and upholding qualified pastors in their ministry of Word and sacrament in the context of local, healthy congregations, the evangelical faith can only face an uncertain future.

Short Notices
By Eugene H. Peterson
263 pp.; $18, paper

Subversive Spirituality is a wide-ranging collection of Eugene Peterson's occasional writings spanning a period of some 25 years. The volume is divided into five sections: "Spirituality," "Biblical Studies," "Poetry" (consisting of one longish poem, "Holy Luck"), "Pastoral Readings" (ranging from Revelation to mystery writer Rex Stout), and "Conversations" (a collection of interviews), valuable for Peterson's reflections on the pastoral vocation.

"Spirituality," Peterson writes, "is not the latest fad but the oldest truth," and indeed there is nothing trendy about his account of the spiritual life.

From this assortment two themes or qualities or traits stand out. First is a certain manner—earthy, plainspoken—that most readers would associate with "working men" rather than with pastors. Granting the enormous range of legitimate preaching styles, we need to ask why this down-to-earth manner is so rare in the pulpit today. Second is a literary sensibility that informs everything Peterson writes—and this, too, is increasingly rare among pastors. What a strange and wonderful combination of gifts—and no wonder that this is the man who has given us The Message.

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Complete this sentence: "The first book on pastoral care that meant anything to me personally or vocationally was _____." If you are Eugene Peterson, the answer is James Joyce's novel Ulysses. For many more such surprises and useful provocations, read Subversive Spirituality.

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