Again returning to Pastor Carol Merrit’s post, and the many thoughtful responses, in reflecting on the possibilites and necessities of pastoral education in the future we are at once confronted with the Protestant conundrum.
Who is this seminary for? Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists, Episcopalians . . . ?
Each have their own theologies of ministry. Perhaps pastors/priests are seen as sacramental; perhaps there is not much if any a line between clergy and laity except on has different responsibilities. Traditionally, how educated have the clergy been expected to be? There are many other presenting issues.
This ‘age’ has been called ‘post-denominational,’ and, if we are aiming to include a loosely defined “emerging” movement in these posts then in which there is a general ethos of distrust (perhaps disdain) for authority. For instance Tony Jones in his book “The New Christians” argues there is no line whatesoever between clergy and laity, and he loves it. Or, it is often the case that one need not explicitly confess a denomination’s distinctives to be a minister.
How can we do theological education in this kind of atmosphere? Well, it has been noted persistently through ecumenical dialogues that for two groups to start to come together and have meaningful relationships, what is not the best foot forward is to merely agree to the lowest common denominator. Quickly the rich heritage of each fellowship becomes blurred and is made to seem an addendum; a not-necessary part of our Christian identity, and so it must be downplayed and not made to be ‘divisive’ since it is not the ‘core.’ This seems to me to be unfortunate.
I want to be on record as saying that until we are able to learn how to unify despite diversity, and discern what diversity is acceptable and what is too far, I think that denominations should put a large stress on denominational distinctives. I have a friend, an Episcopalian, studying to become a priest. He is attending a Lutheran seminary, an excellent Lutheran seminary, but he has often found himself frustrated with the persistant Lutheranism that pervades the school. Since he is going to be an Anglican priest, he does not feel that he is always learning what he should be learning to help him be faithful in the future.
Now Episcopalians have a practice, and it seems to me to be brilliant, that if one attends a non-episcopalian seminary that is fine, but they will have to take what is called an “Anglican Year” where they spend two semesters specifically studying Anglican history, theology, distinctives and all that. Add to that that one does not even need an MDiv but merely has to pass the “General Ordination Examinations” (which include proficiency in biblical languages, church history, theology and liturgy) and I think, perhaps with a bit of a bias, that The Episcopal Church is on to something. The point is not a degree, the point is profiency to perform what has been the ‘job’ of the Anglican priest.
So, amongst many other things – I still have like 10 posts in my head – I think that until denominations are dead (if they ever will be) then it is imperitive that we maintain identity in our traditions, and do it well. This is not to say that one tradition is “better” than another; but that ‘lowest-common-denominator’ Christianity makes for thin pastors and theology.