Seminary V.III : Limits in Round Table Theology

Tony Sig

Before a brief excersion in response to a friend, I was commenting on how seminaries should be purposeful about formation.  How we do and do not educate will – I cannot emphasize enough the will – shape the future of our fellowship.  There is no getting around it.  “Knowledge is Power,” Foucault said, and I couldn’t agree with him more.  Of course this has always been known and responsible teachers through the ages would have had no moral qualms about telling people how and even what to think, especially in early stages of learning.

Of late there has been a minor revival of so-called “classical education” largely in response to an essay written by the famous Dorothy Sayers entitled, “The Lost Tools of Learning.” I take this essay to be essentially correct and this (other) hyperbolic statement by Hauerwas properly frames where I am going with these next couple essays:

“As a way to challenge such a [liberal] view of freedom, I start my classes by telling my students that I do not teach in a manner that is meant to help them make up their own minds. Instead, I tell them that I do not believe they have minds worth making up until they have been trained by me. I realize such a statement is deeply offensive to students since it exhibits a complete lack of pedagogic sensitivities. Yet I cannot imagine any teacher who is serious who would allow students to make up their own minds.” —Stanley Hauerwas, “Christian Schooling or Making Students Dysfunctional,” in Sanctify Them in the Truth: Holiness Exemplified (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), p. 220. HT: Faith and Theology

I’m preparing a very incomplete and theoretical curriculum for an entire seminary education that I hope to post in the next week or so.  For now let us consider a significant if not the most significant aspect of formation (I’m here speaking as an Anglican but most any “Rule of Prayer” in continuity within the liturgical and spiritual tradition of the Church could work); the Daily Office.  Any seminary worth its salt will pray, at the very least, the Morning and Evening Office.  I’ve always found the “noon” prayer in the ’79 BCP to be lackluster and unfocused but of course the Compline as well as the Service of Light are both spectacular.  It may not be of utter necessity that every student attend every single service, though I can’t imagine anything less than three weekday offices being at all adequate.  Whatever the case it ought to be performed daily.

Going a step beyond this I think it would be a stroke of brilliance to incorporate the material of the Office directly into the taught classes.  So hermeneutics, exegesis (same thing really) and Bible classes should teach from the Scripture readings each day.  Instead of a class on “Pauline Theology,” or “Pauline Letters” or “The Synoptics,” a seminary could have a “Bible” track that spans the whole of the education which covers the same material that such a class would have, but is done in a wholistic manner.

Many of the classes could be taught this way.  After learning the grammar, such a class could serve “double duty” as a “Greek Reading” class.  A teacher could take the NT passage and teach how to grammatically structure that passage.  Etc…to infinity.  It seems to me that the connection between the Office and the classes could be made in any number of creative ways.

One weakness is obviously the current Lectionary.  Anglican liturgical expert and spectacular blogger Derek Olsen says that the point of the Daily Office Lectionary, as compared to the Lectionary for use at the Mass, is to read and learn the Bible, not to be mystagogical.  There is of course a place for that but not here.  I still dig a two-year structure but it could stand to be more consistent in how it proceeds through books.  The entire OT and Deutero-canon every two years, NT about once a year, and the Psalms once a month or month and a half seems both substantial and doable.  The books should be read from beginning to end with no cutting out the non-liberal-protestant parts as it does now.

I am assuming that doing the dishes, cleaning the bathrooms and feeding the poor also fit into the general life of the Seminary but those are less “educational” in the same sense that I am talking about here.


  1. How could I not comment? As an Episcopal seminarian and a former Montessori teacher, you get it right and so very much wrong.

    First the curriculum. Yes, the daily office should be a part of the life of the seminary, as it is at Sewanee, my school, and I assume most other schools, right? Please say it is. We must all be actively engaged in the Christian year as well as full immersion (pun intended)with the scriptures. Where I think the problem with your scheme lies is time and also what seminary might actually be. We’ve only got three years. Yes, those three years are intense and quite comprehensive in scope. But the point of a seminary education is not to teach you everything, it is to show you how much you DON”T know and to give you some tools and habits to keep at it after graduation.

    Now, Montessori. In my 9 years of teaching 9-12 year old children in Montessori schools (which I trained for three years to be certified through the American Montesorri Society) I never once let my students, “be their own teacher.” I did, however, let them fail. There is a big, big difference there. This said, I can only speak for Sewanee, they let us fail, which is the biggest teacher of all. Yes, we get some really sound training in homeletics, then we go out and preach, at our daily Morning Prayer services, at Eucharists, and most importantly at our Field Education sites, i.e. the real world. The real world, which Maria Montessori wanted to expose children to as much as possible, unlike traditional education which sets up a reality, a power structure that does not look anything at all like real life, except the prison system (I don’t think I exeggerate, just look at the architecture; also where in your adult life have you ever worked with people all the same age and all of the same abilities?) It’s the real world, our engagement with people that the real formation happens. End of rant. Thanks for your insights, and I look forward to more on this, but Montessori is really not the problem. I think the real problem with education, especially seminary (adult) education, is the students’ crippling need for professor approval (well that is a can of worms!)



    1. Josh,

      I’m so glad you commented! I always enjoy pushback, especially in my weak areas.

      In response to your first points regarding the curriculum. Although I’ve not yet made it clear I’ll do so now: As I’m thinking about these things I don’t imagine that they can or should be applicable to all or even most seminaries that are now operating. I’m imaging more along the lines of newly planted seminaries and communities that will supplement the current losses in our own seminary system. And the problem is huge and it may be that large structural changes are needed; I’m not sure about that as I’m not privy to the inner workings of seminaries. But obviously, considering Seabury-Western and General (and others from what little I understand), as well as many denominational seminaries in other fellowships, the seminary model of the last 75 to 100 years is simply and unquestionably unsustainable. When I post my larger radical reworking of curriculum you’ll find that I think a four year education would be perfect, but I’ll save that for later. So “what seminary might actually be” is what is up for questioning in these posts.

      As to Montessori, obviously you are heads and tails more qualified than me to speak on the topic but I’ll give a couple more specific aspects that I had in mind in bringing it up. In the end it bares not at all on my larger scheme as I mostly used the Montessori in my mind as a rhetorical foil and I see that, but tell me if I might have a couple legitimate points. As I understand it, Dr. Montessori theorized that each child has a sort of “inner directive” or “nature” and at least one method of enabling a child to attain that state of nature was by allowing them freedom to self-direct their education aided by an environment created by the teacher(s). It is thought that by preparing an environment and through “indirect teaching” and “observation” the teacher better serves the child. Again, there is this sort of, I believe it was called, “normalizing,” of the child by which was meant the “normal” perfectly natural state of the child.

      Now if these are even partly right then it seems to me to be a manner of teaching with which I disagree for several reasons. I don’t think that we have an “identity,” “nature,” or normal state intrinsically. Who we are is always in transit and is being formed continually by our environments. So it fails in my opinion to account phenomologically with “identity” as we perceive it. Graham Ward would say that we “have a sense of ourselves rather than an ‘identity.'” Now I don’t disagree with a “power structure” per se because I think any classroom, home, parish, etc… exhibits a power structure. It are those structures that do not admit or do not understand this that are institutions willing-to-power. Indeed, that is what this whole fifth section of reflections on my theoretical seminary has been about. Tearing down the hidden veils that hide the reality of power structures. It’s when things are hidden that they become ‘violent.’ So I would want to train priests in such a way that they will initiate the structures in parish life that will aid in spiritual formation and discernment.

      Am I still off on certain Montessorian methods? I was under the impression that some of what I said was true 🙂 If I’m still barking up a wrong tree I’ll bark elsewhere.

      Cheers indeed,


  2. I think that training in the Christian year and how to clean toilets and wash dishes is fantastic training for the priesthood…along with all the stuff that helps you continue learning well into your ministry (Greek, etc).

    Love the ideas.


  3. I agree with Joey, for the record. Seminary ought to have a community (or at least simulate a community) that requires priests in training to serve each other with menial tasks. There is a lot of character and humility built by digging in the dirt, washes dishes, doing laundry, et al – the kinds of things that family members do to make life possible in a household.


  4. Part of the problem with the two-year lectionary is solved when you have two readings at both Offices. If you use the OT portion from the off-year in the open fourth slot, you do get more consistent coverage–but that only helps with the material that is already in the lectionary.

    As you’ve pointed out, the missing bits are problematic but this is a problem endemic to Anglican Daily Office lectionaries. Even Cranmer’s dropped sections of the Pentateuch, Ezekiel, and the entire book of Revelation.

    Of the schemes I’ve encountered, the English 1922 revision remains my favorite.

    (I’m not sure if I’m either a “Anglican liturgical expert” or a “spectacular blogger” but I’ll take your word for it. 🙂 )


  5. Tony,

    Sorry I haven’t gotten back to you, I’ve been neck deep in work, in fact I ought to be finishing my sermon for tonight but hey… here goes.

    You have a good theoretical grasp of Montessori principles. There is an inner drive, or nature, that all people have. I think Lonergan would call it exigency, the drive to find stuff out. Montessori understood this inner drive as a drive to order. The semanticist Korsybski called humans, pattern making beings. Yes, we all live in the middle of things, we are all born in flux and die in flux, but all the while we try to make sense of it.

    You are absolutely right about power structures being inherent in any collection of people. The only difference is that a Montessori teacher KNOWS it, and we try, and fail, and try again to get out of the way. Why? To let the person’s inner exigency develop so they don’t depend on the authority figure for their sense of worth.

    Normalizing a child, is a slow process of helping students understand that their work is their work. Not work to please me, the teacher, or anyone else. Normalizing is the process of showing a person that they might actually enjoy work for its own sake. Take my sermon for tonight. Please! No seriously, I am not being graded on this sermon, it is in front of the entire seminary and their families. I want to do well and preach well so that I can present the Gospel to them, not get the approval of my homletics professor.

    Enough for now, I look forward to seeing what other ideas you have about seminary.



  6. Basically sounds awesome and is similar to the kinds of things I’ve been thinking about lately.
    Three questions:
    1.Do you think that something like this has the capacity to address (for lack of better word) the dualistic views (and realities) of theory and practice within the academy (and without), and more broadly those of the academy and the church?
    2.If so, can you say something about how you envision that?
    3.Do the students participating in said Seminary live together? (Or is it important that they do? and if yes, why?)

    Bonus Question: if you’ve read Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together,” how do you see the Anglican Rule of Prayer in relation to what Bonhoeffer is explicating?


  7. Derek,

    You’re both of those things to me. I was wondering where I could get hold of a 1922 Lectionary? Is there a specific BCP I should keep an eye out for? Is there a PDF or whatever of it somewhere?


    I’ve notice that you care about the practice of the Church. I definitely have that in common with you.

    With respect to your first and second questions, I absolutely think that these types of ordered communities can witness to an integrated Christian life lacking in many of the ‘traditionally’ structured seminaries. One thing that could aid in this process would be making these seminaries visible in the life of the Church. They could write articles, organize symposiums and journals; their professors could take lead roles in ecumenical endeavors etc…

    It’s not that they need to enter the academic “rat race” so much as set the agenda for parish and church life by connecting the academic to the “practical” by writing hymns, tracts, books about evangelism and the lectionary and liturgy.

    Additionally, the priests and ministers that would come out of these schools would be enabled to make these same connections in their parishes.

    As to whether they would live together? My first impulse is absolutely yes. But I’ve seen examples of “new monastic” communities where people all live within a close proximity to each other though not necessarily together in a strict sense. One of the obvious problems with not living together is that in order for each person or family to afford to live “separately” they would need to be able to provide for themselves which usually means a traditional job. More closely knit communities could possibly run something like a bakery, brewery, cafe’, or farm in order to meet those needs. This seems preferable if the integrated life I am imagining is to be practiced.

    In my heart though I’m still a charismatic and I imagine that different gifts and different orders-of-life will enhance the Body more broadly. For my part and my theoretical seminary I’d want to see a fully communal life which includes living together.

    Unfortunately I’ve not yet read “Life Together” but I intend to do so. From what you know do you see any connections?

    Also, if I recall you are currently in Egypt. How would these kinds of communities work in an environment like that? Or were you just visiting?


  8. I’ve thought about that too; that the work of the academy (of the church) ought to including the writing of hymns, liturgies, etc. and organizing symposiums, conferences, workshops, etc. I’m also wondering what kind of contributions or gifts the church outside the academy can offer the latter. Or, to put it another way, you mentioned that the academy can set an agenda for parish life; what kind of “agendas” does/can “parish life” set for the academy? Or how do the church and the academy shape and inform each other? Ideas? (I tend to find myself on the academy side of this, if there are sides, but don’t want to push an agenda that places the academy superior to the “life of the church”).

    My initial response to my own question of proximity is the same as yours. I suppose it might have to vary from community to community.

    Another question that has come up recently for me regarding this kind of new monastic communities that intentionally seek to bring together the academy and the church has been that of age. That is, most people seriously interested and those who commit to new monasticism seem to be students. Even those who are not students tend to be young adults. I’m interested in pushing for a community in which many age groups are represented (as in most churches). Also, new monastic communities (largely because of this age attraction) tend to function on short-term commitment. (Sure, people stay several years perhaps, but they are constantly in rotation; a new group of committed youth take on the project). I’m interested in there being a core group of people within a new monastic community so that families can actually be raised in the community. Certainly people can path through, stay for a few years, a few days, whatever, but I think it’s important for new monastic communities to become rooted. Or?

    “Life Together” is “short and sweet” (but of course much more than that also). I see a lot of ways the book could be used to begin discussion and discernment within any academic or church group about a possible new monastic vision for the community.

    I am living in Egypt, yes. I was working at a place called St.Andrew’s Refugee Services. The NGO emerged out of the St.Andrew’s Church (which is located directly beside it) in the chaotic centre of downtown Cairo. And I found it unceasingly fascinating how obviously the church bears witness simply by it’s location in the urban centre (of a Muslim majority). Over 1000 refugees from a variety of religious and ethnic backgrounds pass through the gates every day and I just couldn’t help imagining how if there was more space it would make absolute sense for a group of people to constantly be living there as well. And the living quarters of permanent staff could also host home economics classes for refugees (and in my vision, although the centre is for refugees, for lower class Egyptians as well). St.Andrew’s Refugee Services provides space for Iraqi cooking classes that Egyptians and expats and really anyone can sign up for which serve as fundraisers (but also a whole lot of bridge building). So yes, I’ve given a lot of thought to the possibilities for intentional community in Cairo. And while it seems like a most absurd idea (when I consider all the security realities any NGO already face) I have also seen a side of Cairo that shows me this is exactly the kind of place that might receive something like new monasticism. People here are hungry, and not just for bread.
    I’ll be visiting a few ancient but still functioning monasteries throughout the Middle East in May so I hope to pay some attention to how they are functioning (in the desert…) and how something like that might be re-visioned in Cairo.
    (I may or may not post my thoughts on that on my blog, but feel free to peruse at


    1. Kampen,

      I do hope you will forgive the delay of my response.

      Your first point is a solid one: “How can parish life set an agenda for academic life as well?” This would I think necessitate a closer and more extended relationship of ‘graduated’ priests/pastors and their institutions. If priests could remain in contact with these schools, then the needs they are experiencing could give direction to projects for the schools. Also, I think that academically aware priests could themselves contribute to the whole. I think of people like Eugene Peterson or Greg Boyd, though certainly not Anglicans!, are active pastors who are skilled enough to straddle the two worlds.

      Re: Mixed ages in Communities – That is an excellent question. In the States we are used to portioning off strict age groups for their own taylored ‘ministry’ so that a single church might have besides the primary Sunday service, an earlier one for the “old people,” a Wed. night for “the youth,” and a “young adult” group for 20’s and 30’s. Luckily I’ve found my own parish life to be far more integrated and I deeply appreciate that. But you raise what seems to me to be a significant problem. Very few can find the audacity to commit to a specific area, community and rule of life for an extended period of time. Perhaps individuality and a sense of personal ‘freedom’ is such that it mitigates against such long term commitment? I don’t see why a community couldn’t ask for a 10 year commitment at a time.

      I’d also like to seek the possibility of creating new Orders among the churches.

      I think that your experience in Egypt is just great. How do old Christian churches such as the Coptic Orthodox feel about your community? How do they feel about other Christians?


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