Why is it important?
on December 15, 2011
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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most institutions, for better and for worse, operate implicitly on models of reality that are years or decades out of date.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.