North American Christianity, like so much of U.S. culture, is caught up in a competitive marketplace. Seminaries supply many of the leaders and entrepreneurs in the religious marketplace, along with the competing theologies that are their stock in trade. Such seminary competition leads to the congregational, denominational, and theological "market share" of tomorrow.
In the past generation, evangelicalism has grown at the expense of the old mainline. But how did this theological competition play out on the ground—and specifically on seminary campuses?
A close look at two competing seminaries in Kentucky—the mainline Lexington Theological Seminary and the evangelical Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore—shows how evangelicalism took the mainstream from the mainline.
A panoramic view of seminary trends will help set the battle scene.
Among the 20 largest seminaries, evangelicals have moved from a minority to a majority since the 1960s. This increased supply of conservative religious leaders likely will continue to expand the evangelical share of the American religious market for decades to come.
Compare the 20 largest seminaries' full-time-equivalent student bodies, as reported in the Factbook of Theological Education, for 1964 and 1997 (see "Breaking Into the Top 20," p. 48). In a little more than three decades, 11 seminaries—over half the list—were displaced by other institutions. Of those 11 that dropped off the list, 10 were mainline institutions.
Of the 11 new names on the 1997 list, only three were mainline institutions. The transformation is even more dramatic in the top 10, changing from a 50/50 split in 1964 to the mainline barely holding on to the last spot in 1997.
Only one of the institutions that dropped from the 1964 ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more