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Why is it important?

on December 15, 2011 , Print- 9 Comments

This is a report about one of the most important, complex, and fragile institutions in twenty-first century Christian life—the theological seminary.

We believe most of these changing features of the environment are actually quite hopeful and positive for seminaries that are prepared for them.

Why is the seminary important? Because it is complex—it holds together an impressive number of roles serving a diverse set of constituencies, now more than ever in its history. Why is it fragile? Because it is complex. Nearly every system in which the seminary plays a role is itself undergoing rapid change—from local churches to denominations, the educational system to the world of philanthropy. Prospective students come from a wider range of backgrounds, and enter a wider range of occupations after their seminary education, than ever before.

In this report we will highlight some of the most important changes seminaries must anticipate in order to thrive in the coming years. We believe most of these changing features of the environment are actually quite hopeful and positive for seminaries that are prepared for them. But we also believe that seminary leaders—faculty, staff, administrators, and trustees—need to recognize the fragility of the current moment. Some bold choices are necessary on the way to the “seminary of the future.”

We should quickly qualify the phrase “seminary of the future.” “It is difficult to make predictions,” Yogi Berra may or may not have said, “especially about the future.” We do not aim in this report to venture many predictions about the future, of seminaries or anything else. Who can successfully predict a future for education when Facebook, one of the defining features of student life in 2011, was not founded until 2004? Rather, we seek to accurately describe the present—the web of institutions, relationships, and media that define current reality for seminary administration, faculty, and students—because most institutions, for better and for worse, operate implicitly on models of reality that are years or decades out of date. Simply describing the present clearly is challenge enough. And as we describe the present, we hope to lay out a set of challenges and opportunities in the present that will define whatever the seminary of the future may become.

This report originated through the generosity of a Fuller Theological Seminary board member. Many, though by no means all, members of the focus groups we engaged had a connection to Fuller. But we hope this summary report will be useful to many other institutions and will contribute to decisive and creative choices. It is not itself a set of final recommendations for Fuller or any other institution; instead, it is a map of the terrain through which every seminary is traveling.

9 Comments on Why is it important?
T - 90May 09 2013 at 05:17 AM

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Dianne SmeedOctober 31 2012 at 11:12 AM

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Delphine FanfonDecember 28 2011 at 20:33 PM

I tend to agree more with Glen as we both disagree with Gregg although I want to stretch the argument a little further. Being a Seminarian myself, I think the residency program which is currently a requirement for most Seminary programs is important and can very well survive the imminent changes into the seminary of the future if we answer the question Glen poses accurately. Since starting Seminary a few months back, I can't count how many times I have wished I stayed home and did most of my courses via distance learning. The only reason that accounts appropriately for that is the fact that the expectations I had about how my seminary on campus experience will be are not quite being met. In a world as busy as ours (which will only get busier in the future), I think Seminaries should work more on making the on campus experience unforgettable for the seminarians that take time away to sit at the feet of Jesus to be equipped for ministry. While it is appropriate to cultivate an academic environment, it is equally vital to spice it up with elements that are not fully 'academic' in nature that can afford the seminarian a 'getaway' from academics experience every now and then. I therefore think that while it is true that distance learning makes the seminary life more convenient, on campus learning when done right will make the seminary experience unforgettable.

GlenDecember 15 2011 at 18:43 PM

I would disagree with Gregg a bit in the sense that the power of education utilizing both learning and missional communities is so healthy and needed. Although most things can be achieved virtually, and even more so in the future, [being equally important and vastly improving efficacy and enhancing the accelerated program experience,] I wouldn't limit the future of seminary to being only primarily virtual though.

Having programs that incororate residency, if even for a season should not be a requirement, but an amazing opportunity. When taking into consideration the future of seminary it is important to answer not only what are we preparing them for, but why are we currently doing it the way we do. [I am merely a seminarian at the moment, so I am speaking from the trenches, and admit my view is quite limited.]

Gregg DesElmsNovember 19 2011 at 12:33 PM

No seminary which REQUIRES residency -- actually being on a physical campus -- can call itself a "seminary of the future." Don't get me wrong: I agree that there are things which seminary accomplishes which are best done in-person. However, I don't know about anyone else, but with MY almost four decades of IT experience, I can so leveralge today's amazing technologies such that I can make small group sessions over the Internet so realistic and functional that at the end, when the leader says "let's pray" the remote users participating over the Internet will forget themselves and reach for their neighbors hands! It's not the "old days" of distance learning, anymore. It's no longer correspondence through the US Post Office. ATS's requirement that only a portion of a typical MDiv offered by the seminaries it accredits be via distance learning is simply no longer necessary. In fact, given today's circumstances, it's downright dumb... truly backward, "stubborn, old seminary guy" thinking! Between how the technology may now be leveraged so that seminarians can easily almost forget that they're not actually on-campus, and the efficacy of good practica at churches local to the seminarians, there's simply no reason any longer for even ATS-accredited MDiv programs not to be ENTIRELY via distance learning. Add to that that study, after study, after study (look for the US Dept of Education-commissioned one from June of 2009) shows that distance learning students, just generally, are more dedicated and disciplined, and tend to do better, than their in-classroom bre...

Dale ZiemerNovember 09 2011 at 11:18 AM

Thanks for what you are doing. I will stay tuned.

Jose R RosalesOctober 07 2011 at 12:39 PM

How do I obtain more info? Interested.

John W. MoreheadOctober 07 2011 at 11:07 AM

I am pleased to see this discussion. I hope we all take notice and provide good input in conversation. For my part, I'd like to see theology's constant interaction with culture as part of the discussion, as well as the significance of our post-Christendom cultural context where religious pluralism is a part. This necessitates an emphasis on religious studies and religious dialogue. Looking forward to more such thoughts in the mix. John W. Morehead Director Western Institute for Intercultural Studies www.wiics.org

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