Why are seminaries still important today?
Seminaries are still important in the same sense that law schools and medical schools are still important, only more so. It’s safe to say that any one of us needing surgery wants to place our confidence only in a surgeon who represents the highest level of study and training. Beyond the education itself, this points to the seriousness with which that physician assumes that stewardship. One who would teach and preach the Word of God bears an even higher responsibility. Throughout Christian history, where we find lasting faithfulness, we find a learned clergy. For this reason, seminaries still have a vitally important task in behalf of the church. In one sense, seminaries are a recent development. The institutional model of seminaries has only been around for about two hundred years. Before seminaries, the education of ministers was entrusted to colleges and universities, which are based on an even more ancient model. The point is that the training of ministers of the gospel, servants of the Word, has always been seen as demanding the highest standards of learning, scholarship, and education. In the same way that medical schools, law schools, and other professional schools train people in the modern world, seminaries serve the similar but far more important function of training ministers in behalf of the church.
How has your view of ministry changed over the past twenty-five years?
In the deepest sense, my understanding of ministry hasn’t changed much over the past twenty-five years. In fact, it hasn’t changed much since my own ordination in 1982. At the same time, however, my view of ministry has become richer. I think the biggest transformation in ministry over the past half-century has been the shift away from the view of many Christians that their pastor is something like a religious professional. That view has changed to a far more biblical understanding of the pastor as the primary teacher and preacher of God’s Word, the expositor of Scripture, the shepherd of souls, and the one who bears the primary responsibility, as the Apostle Paul makes clear in Colossians 1, to conduct a biblical ministry in order to present the congregation as mature in Christ. I am glad that I had the great blessing of good pastoral models and good teaching in order to see this biblical model so early in life. Over the past several decades, my love for the Christian ministry has grown immensely, even as the challenges appear to be far more pressing. To put the matter bluntly, today’s minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ must be ready to stand as a countercultural ambassador of Christ and a godly shepherd of the flock. If we understand the ministry rightly, it will be because we understand the ministry as revealed in the New Testament.
What are a couple of things that you do to train leaders for the next generation?
The most obvious answer to that question would be the classroom teaching and the leadership of SBTS and Boyce College. But beyond the classroom and formal educational program, I invest a good deal of my life in speaking to pastors, speaking at conferences, and carrying out responsibilities such as serving as a teaching fellow with Ligonier Ministries. I host a podcast and have hundreds of other media engagements in any given year. I write constantly, both in books and in other forms of the written word, in order to do everything I can to equip ministers and to encourage them. One of the most important aspects of education is an emphasis on what are often called the classical disciplines. While so many institutions are turning to more pragmatic and managerial models, the glory of faithful theological education is the unembarrassed and unapologetic concentration of studies in the Bible; the original languages; systematic, historical and biblical theology; the interpretation of Scripture; and other classical disciplines. The minister of the gospel needs to know everything he can possibly know in order to minister, teach, and preach from the whole counsel of God.