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Monday, June 25, 2018

Cadillacs cranked out in a “seminary line”

Linked below are a series of articles by Kevin Bauder, who is Research Professor of Systematic Theology at the Central Baptist Theological Seminary. (He also has a great moustache!) I enjoy Bauder’s writings (generally speaking). Even though I do not agree with him on this subject, I thought readers would find his series interesting. Setting the background for his writing, he reports that “The Association of Theological Schools, the primary agency that accredits seminaries, recently produced a study showing that the number of M.Div. students is falling, while the number of future pastors taking the shorter M.A. program is rising.” Further he notes a writing at the Religion News Service, which called the M.Div. “the “gold standard” while asserting that “fewer students think that they need—or can afford—the ‘Cadillac’ degree.”[i] He laments that seminaries are reducing their M.Div. programs “from the traditional 90 hours to 72 hours.” In this series Bauder argues that the M.Div. (and at 90 hours, not 72) is not the “Cadillac” but an economy model – the minimum for a pastor to get by.
  • It’s Not a Cadillac! Part One: A Bit of History – “In short, by the 1950s Baptist fundamentalism was producing pastors who were strong opponents of modernist theology, but who tended to be poor thinkers with a fairly weak ability to study the text of Scripture for themselves and a relatively sketchy knowledge of the system of faith...By the mid-1950s, certain fundamentalist leaders began to see the need to offer seminary-level instruction for the coming generations of fundamentalist leadership.” [ii]
  • It’s Not a Cadillac! Part Two: What Are We Doing? – “What vision of pastoral ministry dominates Baptist fundamentalism? The answer is problematic, mainly because there isn’t one (though the social justice model is completely absent). Instead, Baptist fundamentalists have promoted several competing visions of ministry, each of which is deeply held by some constituency.” [bold emphasis mine]
  • It’s Not a Cadillac! Part Three: What Do We Need? – “Therefore, a pastor has to know the Word of God for himself...It requires him to know the biblical languages well enough that he can read (or at least translate) his texts from the original languages. That level of competence requires years of instruction and practice, first at the level of grammar, then at the level of syntax, then at the level of exegesis.”
  • It’s Not a Cadillac! Part Four: Where Should We Learn? – “If a man wishes to become a pastor, the place where he must seek training is first and most importantly his local church...the traditional M.Div. is a barely adequate standard to provide minimal competence for New Testament ministry...think of it as Basic Training—just enough to keep you alive and to keep you from wrecking the ministry while you continue to practice your skills.”
  • It’s Not a Cadillac! Part Five: A Personal Testimony – “As I formed acquaintances with the other conservative pastors, I discovered that they didn’t think explaining scripture should be a significant pulpit activity. Most of them couldn’t do it anyway. One was a self-help guru. One was a feel-good motivational speaker. One was a screamer. But so far as I can remember, none helped their people to understand the Word of God.”
A few comments may be in order. I’ll not say much about the MDiv degree being shortened. I don’t believe copying the secular model of education is the biblical ideal. But for those who are strong supporters of the seminary model for Christian education, the shortening of the program from 90 hours to 72 hours seems in effect to deny what they advocate.

Bauder claims, “a man with seminary behind him will be more effective in ministry than the same man without it.” This is a bare assumption, and an unprovable on at that! In some instances I have witnessed the reverse – a man, the same man, with an “effective ministry” became less effective after a stint in the seminary. (Of course, whether or not it was the seminary’s “fault” is also unprovable.)

Despite disagreement concerning the solution, I agree with Bauder on the existence of some of the problems he cites, such as:
  • “poorly-taught churches led by pastoral impresarios whose ministries more closely resembled circuses and theaters than New Testament congregations”
  • Baptist fundamentalists without a clear “vision of pastoral ministry”
  • Pastors “who didn’t think explaining scripture should be a significant pulpit activity”
  • Capitulation to “full-on pragmatism”
I have observed ministries that “more closely resembled circuses and theaters than New Testament congregations.” Most definitely, many of these poor thinkers with a weak ability to study the text of Scripture for themselves and have a relatively sketchy knowledge of the true system of faith. They have led congregations to “pack a pew” and such like – hinged on such far-fetched promises of swallowing goldfish for the amusement of the congregation, or preaching from church roofs in their underwear. (May God deliver us!) And such religious quackery is not the sole realm of non-seminarians![iii] In my lifetime, I have known lots of pastors. Among the best I’ve known where those who had either only a basic working knowledge of Greek, or no training in the biblical languages at all. Nevertheless, they knew the Bible backwards and forwards. They knew how to teach others also, equipping and edifying them to do the work of God. In addition, they lived the Bible they knew! I have nothing against a pastor being fluent in the original languages, but many pastors have reached high levels of pastoral competence in exception to Bauder’s rule. (In addition, others with in-depth education in Greek and Hebrew have flunked as pastors.)

In part 4 Bauder writes, “If a man wishes to become a pastor, the place where he must seek training is first and most importantly his local church.” Yet later he opines that “the traditional M.Div. is a barely adequate standard to provide minimal competence for New Testament ministry...think of it as Basic Training—just enough to keep you alive and to keep you from wrecking the ministry while you continue to practice your skills.” If the church is the first place to seek training, and the M.Div. is barely adequate, Bauder must really think the previous local church training is totally inadequate to suit any purpose!

Kevin Bauder is a scholar and a seminarian. We could not expect him to support anything less. Support for the system on which one is sold is not the same as biblical support. Whether Henry Ford or Ransom E. Olds invented the assembly line, we know that God is not cranking out “identical” pastors in a seminary line.

There are moral and spiritual qualifications for pastors (bishops, elders) found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 The superlative “requirement” seems to be “that a man be found faithful.” Compare Titus 1:7, 1 Peter 4:10, and 1 Corinthians 4:2. When we add to these, we are walking on shifty unbiblical sand.


[i] M.Div. is the abbreviation for the Masters of Divinity or Magister Divinitatis (in Latin) degree. It is a theological or religious degree that is supposed to be designed for students seeking a career in the church, most specifically a professional degree for pastors. The M.Div. degree in the U.S. requires between 72 and 106 credit hours of study. Academic accrediting agencies require a minimum of 72 hours for this degree, and some institutions require more. (The DoD, for example, also requires the minimum of 72 hours for a military chaplain.)
[ii] Bauder’s history (in part 1) is accurate as far as it goes. It limits the strain of just who are “Fundamentalists.” My background follows a different trajectory from what he discusses, including Baptists who left the convention both earlier and later than J. Frank Norris (the best-known IFB name in our region) did. Our roots are in denominational trouble in the Baptist General Convention of Texas in the late 1800s. By 1900, a large minority had withdrawn and created the Baptist Missionary Association of Texas. Some people would not think of the BMAT as IFB, and in some ways rightly so, but they were and are clearly ensconced in the fundamentals of the faith. There was co-mingling of the BMAT with other fundamentalist come-outers, such as J. Frank Norris and the “Bogard Baptists” in Arkansas. (The combination of Texas and Arkansas churches in the ABA would meet at Norris’s FBC Fort Worth in 1935, even though he was not a member of their body.) Many, if not most, also took stands that were separatist and sometimes even “militant.” Unlike the fundamentalists to whom Bauder refers, these Baptists prepared for an educational institution – albeit a college rather than a seminary – even before they organized separately from the BGCT. In 1899, a charter established the Jacksonville Baptist College as a four-year senior college (it is now a junior college) and it opened in the fall of 1899. The BMAT was not formed until 1900 (the college was given to the association several years later). I realize this was a college and not a seminary, but it indicates we may have had a little different relationship toward education. (These Baptists wanted all their children to have access to a good education, not just preachers.) For the most part (as far as I know) these churches possessed a high view of education and did not fall into the same theatrics that some other fundamentalists did.
[iii] Further, among certain cliques of IFBs it seems that every Tom, Dick, and Houdini claims to be a “Doctor.”

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