Bonhoeffer’s Seminary Vision: A Case for Costly Discipleship and Life Together

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TylerR's picture

Editor

Here is one thing Naselli quoted approvingly from this article:

Online classes, hybrid classes, and online degrees are the current hoped-for cash crops. … There is one simple theological reason to doubt these courses will save the seminary budget, or that it will matter much if they do: they bear no resemblance to the commitment Christ asks of persons he calls to ministry. 

Naselli is critical of online classes because they "bear no resemblance to the commitment Christ asks of persons He calls to ministry." He seems to assume that this commitment to ministry is expressed by the delivery-method of your seminary classes. There is a disturbing trend to exalt the seminary at the expense of the local church.

  • The local church is where theory meets reality.
  • The local church is the community of faith for this day and age, and thus where one's "commitment" is lived and played out. 
  • The local church is the community that calls, recognizes and ordains a man for ministry. Basically, the local church is the community which evaluates a man's commitment to ministry - not the seminary. 

In fact, I believe that virtual and online education can return us to a much more Biblical model of Pastoral education. A man can remain in his home church, under the care and mentorship of his home pastor, and put his theory into practical effect among the people who have recognized and are nurturing his call and commitment to ministry. Far from being a new "cash cow," online and virtual education are great blessings for a new generation of Christian ministers. 

  • My AA was from a brick and mortar community college
  • My BA was completed online, while I was in the service. 
  • My MA was completed online
  • My MDiv is being completed virtually

I'd be interested in feedback on what I believe is a clear confusion of roles between the local church and seminary. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Dave Doran's picture

I found this somewhat of an interesting juxtaposition:

"A man can remain in his home church, under the care and mentorship of his home pastor, and put his theory into practical effect among the people who have recognized and nurtured his call and commitment to ministry"

"My MDiv is being completed virtually"

"TylerR is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church"

So, how does your experience of a virtual education format fit with what you say is the benefit of it? Is it possible that, along with its potential advantages, such delivery systems might proliferate self-education as well? Do you think Andy was really suggesting the local church be excluded from the training process?

 

DMD

TylerR's picture

Editor

Dr. Doran:

I went into the Pastorate after I got my MA, and I spent several years in Youth Ministry before and during that period at the same church which ordained me. The online and virtual format at Maranatha made this possible. The traditional alternative would have been to move my whole family to Watertown and join a completely new church, where the people don't even know me, and no doubt other students attend. 

I think the benefits of (1) actual connection to your own local church which recognizes and nurtures your gifts for ministry, (2) where you can implement what you learn among people who know you and under the mentorship of your own Pastor, (3) coupled with the benefits of Seminary-level training are a great blessing. 

No, I don't believe Naselli was suggesting the local church ought to be excluded from that process. However, I do believe it is silly to measure a man's commitment to ministry by the delivery-format of his Seminary classes. By that rubric, I was more dedicated when I was a 16 yr old kid at Tacoma Community College than am as a virtual Greek student under Andy Hudson at Maranatha. I don't believe that's the case. I translated 1 John 3:4-10 last night while preparing a sermon on the text for Wednesday. I learned all the skills to do that via virtual delivery format.

I don't believe DBTS does online or virtual, and I appreciate your convictions on that score, even though I don't quite understand or agree.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Dave Doran's picture

Thanks for replying. I don't have a problem with the path you chose (which I know is ultimately irrelevant). My concern, if it even rates that high, is that you may be transposing your circumstances and experience more generally than is warranted. We can all probably cite examples that worked, but that does not make them effective templates for others.

I am not arguing for one or the other, really. I just think pitting the seminary against the church, or the church against the seminary is not very helpful. Andy was not pitting the seminary against the church. He was pitting one approach to education against another. The counter to his argument would be, it seems, to say that nothing of communal life is necessarily lost by online education if the student is properly engaged in his local church.

My guess is that he'd argue that the community of theological/ministerial students is lost and that diminishes part of the experience. Also, a seminary context which is embedded in the local church provides both benefits. I highly doubt that he would say that this applies equally to all people in all situations of life at all times. Nor would I. There are plenty of options out there for folks to choose which path best fits their situation.

DMD

TylerR's picture

Editor

Dr. Doran, 

You're right that the (1) virtual seminary + (2) local church model will only work if the student is actually engaged and plugged in. I mentioned to somebody at a Pastor's fellowship last year that the downfall of local church autonomy is that there is often a distinct lack of quality control among men ordained for the ministry. Does anybody know of a situation where a local Baptist church actually denied ordination to a candidate? Contrast that with how difficult and arduous the ordination process is with, say, an OPC or PCA church. They won't necessarily produce a better product, but their vetting and quality control is certainly more rigid.

On the other hand, the traditional (1) on-site seminary + (2) new local church near Seminary model also has it's downfalls. There is a young man who has slept through perhaps half the classes in Greek this past semester. He's not committed to being there. I say this as somebody who is a full-time Pastor and has a part-time secular job. When I come to class, I've worked all night and occasionally don't remember my own name. It's very funny to see a young man falling asleep from the rigors of dorm life. 

I say all that to say suggest that people might want to re-think their approach to this "newfangled" way of virtual and online education. It has it's challenges and potential pitfalls, but so does the "traditional" model. Ultimately, it comes down to (1) why the student is there, and (2) what his commitment is. My overriding presupposition is that the local church is the proper venue for evaluating this commitment, and that the new format may be closer to the Biblical model. Att the very least it shouldn't be castigated the way the Master's Seminary folks did this week in this article:

The question is frequently asked, “Does TMS offer an online degree?” The short answer is no. And that’s by design. We believe that the imprint of the church upon a man preparing for church ministry is a biblical model (2 Tim. 2:2). Life on life ministry within the Body of Christ is the only way to effectively learn how to shepherd His flock. That connection can’t be found via wifi.

How sad that their rubric of "the imprint of the church" is on-site, Seminary training. Of course, they're not Baptists, though. The attitude inherent in that statement is interesting, however. They seem to assume they're in danger of training some slacker 25 yr old who is uncommitted to Christ, who will take classes in his mother's basement whilst dressed in pajamas, munching on Cheetos Puffs and rocking out to Nirvana. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Greg Linscott's picture

The counter to his argument would be, it seems, to say that nothing of communal life is necessarily lost by online education if the student is properly engaged in his local church.

I'm just going to observe that I have taken both online classes and in-person seminary modules. I got to know most of the students and professors much more personally online over the course of several weeks than I did in a compressed "in-person" two week format. I've also had the opportunity to meet some of my online classmates and professors in person after the fact, and it has been at least as warm a response as renewing acquaintances with modular classmates/professors. That's only one person's experience, I know, but I do think that online has the capability of being perhaps even more personal than some "in-person" educational environments. It really depends on the professor. I had some very impersonal online professors and classmates, too.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Dave Doran's picture

As my comment record shows, I don't engage here very often, so the fact that I did this time means I think this is a discussion worth having. Tyler, I think you and I are coming at this from the same basic concerns (local church invested in 2 Tim 2:2 ministry), so I don't think we're on opposites of this debate. And I don't think Andy is opposed to our concern as well. It really is a difference of viewpoint about how online education will pan out for most students (i.e., not the highly motivated ones like you).

And I think our discussion is being hindered, at least somewhat, by a lack of definition. There are college students in our congregation doing online work that seem to be close to self-education with a monitor with whom they periodically check in, and then there are synchronous systems like what you--and possibly Greg--described (i.e., you "attend" virtually). Those are different approaches and shouldn't be lumped together. My guess is that Andy was opposed to the former, not the latter.

I appreciate what you're saying and am grateful for your commitment to church-centered (aka biblical!) ministry propagation. I resonate, as well, with your comment about Baptist ordinations. 

DMD