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    Quotables: The Paideia of God

    September 2, 2009 by Brandy Vencel

    The Paideia of God:
    And Other Essays

    [S]eminary education in the United States has become the realm of parachurch organizations…, governed more by the rules of the academy and various secular accrediting agencies than by the rules of the Church, which someone once said was the pillar and ground of the truth. No one disputes that parachurch organizations have done good and, in some instances, have done much good. But Christ is the head of the Church, and He did not leave the evangelization and discipleship of the world to freewheeling parachurch ministries. The fact that good has been done is a testimony to the goodness and mercy of God. But it is not a basis for us to continue with a system of ministerial education for the Church that is not conducted within the Church or effectively overseen by the Church.

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  • Reply Brandy September 12, 2009 at 5:56 am


    So true! I grew up in a church that took the biblical qualifications very seriously, and so I never realized (before I was in seminary myself) how few churches did this. You are right when you say seminary is an academic pursuit. It wasn’t this way for every student at the seminary I attended, but certainly success was measured by academic prowess.

  • Reply Rachel R. September 12, 2009 at 1:55 am

    I find the content of seminary training sad, as well. We have many men filling our pulpits who fall completely short of the biblical requirements for leadership. (Not that any man is expected to be perfect!) But those things required by Scripture are barely touched on, if at all, while all of the emphasis is on more academic pursuits. I have no problem with the academic, but I find it grievous that they are the sole focus, and how to lead a household is not even considered worthy of study. “If a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?”

  • Reply Brandy September 3, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    Mystie, Thanks for the clarification! I could see how this would be a helpful framework for thinking about pastoral training in general.

  • Reply Mystie September 3, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    Brandy: yes, Church, capital “C” either means the invisible church or the catholic (little c) Church (big C) — i.e. all Bible-believing, Jesus-preaching churches, regardless of denomination (all visible faithful churches). A church, little “c”, would mean a particular church. So, Wilson isn’t desiring that all pastors come from his church or any such thing, but that churches (churches and the Church, then, are interchangeable, with ‘the Church’ emphasizing the unity of all believers) begin taking over the training and the oversight be done by the Church (elders, etc.) broadly and particularly. An opinion, by the way, for which Wilson is very unpopular in general Reformed circles; we are a tradition tied to our seminaries and educated pastors. Not a few people think Wilson shouldn’t be (or isn’t really) a Reformed pastor because he didn’t go through the approved system.

    Now, on the seminary side, many of our Reformed seminaries are closely allied with particular local churches (or a particular local church), some professors also being pastors, students required to be members in good standing, and students encouraged to intern at other churches over summers.

  • Reply Brandy September 3, 2009 at 3:59 am

    Good question! Hopefully, I can give a respectable answer, even though I haven’t finished with the essay. It might help to know that the essay is called A Brief for Greyfriars Hall (or something like that), which is a real pastoral training program that is overseen by a real local church (little c).

    I think that Reformed theologians in general use Church (the invisible membership of all believers from all times) and church (individual local churches) interchangeably at times.

    I googled it and found the website for Greyfriar’s here. The idea is that the training of young men for the pastorate is overseen by elders of a local church, rather than professors who answer to a university. Other distinctions are that the course of study appears to be free of charge to the students, and that students are sought out from among the parishoners rather than themselves “feeling the call.” I don’t think that last one is absolute, but it was mentioned on the site.

    As a former seminary student, I found this fascinating, hence posting the quote. I completely enjoyed seminary, but I did see its weaknesses, and in fact the seminary I attended was trying to fight against them. I don’t remember the percentage, but the “failure rate” (i.e., falling into sin) of the pastoral graduates was much higher than I had expected. I was always concerned for the ability of these young men to provide for their families because they were usually going into debt for the $665 per unit cost of school (I was the only student I ever met who saved up and paid cash), and then graduating only to receive low pay at a church. The problem wasn’t so much the low pay as the high debt, so I can see how this model solves some potential problems from the outset.

    Another similar model is Sovereign Grace Pastor’s College, by the way. The students are selected from among Sovereign Grace churches as men who have proven character and calling. They also serve within a Sovereign Grace church during the duration of their study. So in this instance, the model looks like it is worked out within a denomination rather than a single local church.

    Even though I think we all long for one completely unified Body of Christ, I think the purpose of doing this is to bring the education of the pastors under the authority of the Church in a general sense. The seminary I attended was not large, but trust me when I say that it is possible to be trained to be a pastor and yet live in complete debauchery. In general, seminaries have a univeristy feel and there can be little accountability if the student wishes it to be so. The essay goes on to mention that in such a setting, hiring a “qualified pastor” can end up more along the lines of hiring someone who is good at achieving in the sense of higher education rather than someone who is actually called out for shepherding God’s people. The flaw is in the model, according to the essay.

  • Reply Kansas Mom September 3, 2009 at 2:14 am

    I find this quote very interesting. Just out of curiosity (and please forgive my ignorance), what do you think he means by “Church?” As a Catholic, for me, it would be education under the direction of the Pope and the tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. (I don’t know much about the education of seminarians, but Kansas Dad is a theology professor and teaches in a masters program for lay Catholic religious education directors.)

    It seems to me it’s a hard thing to create a system “conducted within the Church or effectively overseen by the Church” within a Protestant denomination.

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