The Need for Reform in Theological Education
Dr. John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary, in his book Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief, addresses one of the major problems regarding the way that theology is taught in the academic world. He argues that the dilemma that the church faces today is that seminarians who are evangelical in their beliefs and preparing to minister to men and women in the pews are taught theology in way that undermines the authority of scripture in the church. Hence, they enter the ministry ill-equipped to handle the Bible and to minister to the needs of their respective congregations. Instead of learning theology from the pages of scripture, they are taught to compare one theologian with another, or research the history of some doctrine, or even, come up with some novel interpretation of some obscure passage for their PhD dissertation. Excuse me… since when is “novelty” the standard for good theology? That is how we get strange cults and heretical off-shoots.
Granted, their are many schools that reject this method of teaching theology. I currently attend a seminary that outright repudiates this form of theological education. But, by and large, if a student is seeking to enter the academy professionally, in most cases, they will be requried to attend an accredited liberal school, stay up-to-date with the latest theological squabble, and make, as Frame puts it, “‘orignal contributions’ to that discussion, out of his autonomous reasoning.”¹ Theologians are not called to think autonomously; they are called to think God’s thoughts after Him; their call is to to seek “knowledge and good judgment.” (Psalm 119:66) And that only comes by discerning truth as revealed by the Truth Giver.
This form of theological education does a great disservice to the church of Jesus Christ. The emphasis is on innovation and the latest fad instead of mining the depths of scripture for the purpose of building up the Body of Christ, for the glory of God. This is why Christ gave us pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11-13). Any systematic theologian worth his weight in salt, “since he aspires to synthesize the teaching of the whole Bible, must spend more time with the Scripture than anybody else.”² That should be the goal of every theologian: to know the whole counsel of God. Historical theology and comparative theology have their place, but they are, at best, secondary to the study of the Bible and the development of a theological framework that comes directly from the pages of scripture.
To summarize: The study of God and all His perfections is not conducted by looking at mere speculations, the latest fads, or the concoction of novel ideas. The theological battleground in the academic world does nothing worthwhile for the church of Jesus Christ. There will, of course, be times when the church needs to step in to recognize, denouce, and correct false doctrine. The church is, after all, “a pillar and buttress of the truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15) However, what the church is in desperate need of is biblically-minded pastors and teachers that seek to do their theology from the inspired pages of God’s own Word.
¹ Frame, John M., Systematic theology: an introduction to Christian belief, Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2013, 10.
² Frame, Systematic Theology, 11.