Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Are seminaries helpful or harmful?


A friend of mine on the Facebook group “outlaw preachers” asked this question on the wall recently.
“I just read the following: "What would be the outcome in the Kingdom if all seminaries went bankrupt?" Thought it was a great question. What do you think would happen?”
I would like to interrupt my series on “the presence of God in the present” to address this question. I think this is an interesting question. Different believers will no doubt answer it differently. I have found different groups that really have little if anything in common to agree that seminaries are basically problematic.

Let me explain further what I am saying. I have friends and acquaintances in very conservative Pentecostal churches who feel that seminaries are spiritually dead, and believe that studying doctrinal issues is essentially a waste of time. On the other extreme, I have friends who are fairly liberal that believe that studying doctrinal issues is a waste of time.

Here is my take… seminaries are not the problem. Dogma is the problem! You do not have to attend a seminary to be indoctrinated with dogma. In fact, just the opposite is the case in most instances. Let’s take a look at how dictionary.com  defines dogma: 1. an official system of principles or tenets concerning faith, morals, behavior, etc., as of a church. Synonyms: doctrine, teachings, set of beliefs, philosophy…   2. a specific tenet or doctrine authoritatively laid down, as by a church: the dogma of the Assumption; the recently defined dogma of papal infallibility. Synonyms: tenet, canon, law…  3. prescribed doctrine proclaimed as unquestionably true by a particular group: the difficulty of resisting political dogma…  4. a settled or established opinion, belief, or principle: the classic dogma of objectivity in scientific observation. Synonyms: conviction, certainty.

Dogma is passed on in sermons, Sunday school classes and seminars…  by aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers… It is interesting to me just how much dogma believers know. It is passed on in all the categories of systematic theology. People are continually schooled in the doctrine of Christ… doctrine of salvation… doctrine of the Holy Spirit… doctrine of sin… doctrine of man and on and on. It is drilled into the minds of people from the time they are youngsters in junior church to the elderly in retirement homes.

It is something that people are encouraged not to question. I can remember my relatives warning me that if I was go to a secular university that I would have my faith shaken. What surprises me, is the amount of people that are totally unaware of how much dogma affects the way they think and believe. It is pervasive in the evangelical church. It is chalked up as biblical training.

There is just one problem… people do not stop to examine how they look at the biblical data. The dogma exists in the lens that is used to read and understand the bible. People are certain that they are reading it correctly… that they are bringing the correct presuppositions to the reading. This all happens in spite of seminaries. This would continue if there were no seminaries. Seminaries are not the problem. They could in fact be part of the solution if people would examine their indoctrination to dogma.

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