Eight miles north of where I sit, in Bucks County, Pa., William Tennent built the colonies' first seminary in 1726. Some ministers referred to it derisively as "the log college" because Tennent and his sons built the thing out of logs, and because he thought farm boys as promising for soul-saving as the fancy Harvard grads. The building, roughly 20 feet square, was at the eye of a Great Awakening that swept from Maine to Georgia, all of it "marked by fervent praying and powerful preaching" (J. Edwin Orr, The Re-Study of Revival and Revivals).
So it can be done. You can learn Greek and Hebrew and keep your first love. But there is always "a tendency to lose Jesus," as Dr. D. Clair Davis once summarized 2,000 years of church history for me. The log college became the College of New Jersey, which became Princeton. Harvard, then Yale, then Princeton drifted from Christ, without a shot being fired: "the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts" (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters).
As the graduate of a seminary, and as an older woman not unacquainted with drift, my contribution to this Looking Forward edition is a modest proposal for a new seminary based on the ministry style of Jesus-a few good men and women; Scripture; regular scheduled (and unscheduled) times of praying and fasting; taking risks that stretch faith; associating with the lowly.
Biographies are very important. Prime real estate in the curriculum should go to Charles Finney's Holy Spirit Revivals, Trevor Yaxley's William & Catherine, the lives of Adoniram Judson, George Mueller, etc. (Philippians 3:17). These strengthen the soul because they are not mere history but testimonies, and "the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."
Build into the program safe opportunities to try things that fail, in pursuit of the glory of God. Follow the reading of edifying biographies with trips to the mall or city commons to preach, as Cornelius Van Til and Jack Miller did in Philadelphia's business district. Read sparingly books on the history of doctrine, and very sparingly books on the history of denominations. We don't have that kind of time.
Works on church history are profitable if written by Spirit-filled men; there is no such thing as "brute facts." Study the Bible rather than theological systems, which are once-removed. God's power is in His Word, not in man-made constructions superimposed on it. Verse-by-verse is most helpful. All the rest will fall into place nicely.
The advance of God's kingdom reign does not come from scholarship but from days of continuous praise. ("You are . . . enthroned on the praises of Israel"-Psalm 22:3.) Allot enough time for a reading assignment to encourage the student to praise and pray his way through the book. The act of storing knowledge without immediate responsive worship is toxic to the soul. There is no subtler snare than intellectual pride.
Invite speakers who excite to greater faith (regardless of denomination); Jesus never criticized anyone for expecting too much of Him. This is not a betrayal of pure doctrine; there is no doctrine higher than love and faith in God. Invite speakers from outside your camp. You'll be surprised how much of the Bible you missed. Close the seminary down for a week and have everyone listen to Beth Moore's "Believing God."
If you find yourself reading more theology books than Bible, quit seminary immediately. Handle any internal seminary controversies by canceling classes for intense prevailing on the Lord with prayer and fasting, lest anyone think you don't mean what you teach. Be open to the possibility that there are new depths of Scripture to be found and you have not got it nailed. Some of these insights will come from outside the pale of your orthodoxy.
Treat staff like brothers and sisters, not employees. Resist the infernal tug of business as usual that reduces ministry to organization. Use methods above.
The beauty of these few practical measures is that they would not involve the dismantling of buildings, whether yours is as ornate as the old Faith Theological Seminary mansion that sits desolate three miles south of me, or is made out of logs like the original seminary north of me that, according to Orr, "helped change the destiny of the United States."
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