Seminaries across the country are shutting down

Ian Lovett at The Wall Street Journal tells the story of what is happening to theological education in the mainlines. The schools are going the way of the dodo.

Mainline Protestant seminaries are facing an existential crisis after a decade of mounting red ink.

Enrollment has fallen by nearly 25% over the past decade, according to the Association of Theological Schools, an accrediting agency.

Mainline churches, where membership has been falling for decades, can support fewer full-time pastors than in the past. Denominations are pulling back their financial support for seminaries, while the cost of educating students is still going up.

As a result, some of the oldest and most celebrated seminaries in the country—institutions that helped shape both Christianity and higher education in the U.S.—are on the brink of financial collapse.

The crisis in the mainline seminaries is real. And the institutional crisis cannot be understood rightly apart from the slide into theological liberalism, which is the death knell of vitality and life in Christian institutions. As a result, these schools do not train their students for pastoral ministry. Then what are they training for? As WSJ reports,

Until recent years, seminaries largely focused on training young college graduates to become full-time church pastors… But as the nation has grown more secular, the role of clergy, and seminaries, has shifted…

“We take seriously our role in training religious leaders. But we also take seriously our role in training leaders for nonprofit organizations and other institutions,” said the Rev. Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan, president of Claremont School of Theology.

Lisa Devine, who graduated from EDS in May, is typical of many mainline seminary students these days. At 36, she lived in California most of the time she attended EDS.

She said she doesn’t “feel called to parish ministry.” Instead, her family plans to start a “therapeutic farm.”

I don’t even know what a “therapeutic farm” is, but it is not pastoral ministry in a church. What do you need a seminary for if it is not training pastors of churches?

Theological education is indeed in crisis, but make no mistake. The crisis was theological before it was institutional. Now it is both.

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