We cannot overemphasize the importance of our seminaries in shaping the theology and spirit of the churches and denominations and missionary enterprise. The tone of the classrooms and teachers exerts profound effect on the tone of our pulpits. What the teachers are passionate about will by and large be the passions of our younger pastors. What they neglect will likely be neglected in the pulpits.
When I was choosing a seminary, someone gave me good advice. “A seminary is one thing,” he told me. “Faculty. Do not choose a denomination or a library or a location. Choose a great faculty. Everything else is incidental.” By “great faculty” he, of course, did not mean mere charismatic personalities. He meant that wonderful combination of passion for God, for truth, for the church and for the perishing, along with a deep understanding of God and his Word, a high esteem for doctrinal truth and careful interpretation and exposition of the infallible Bible.
I believe his advice was right: choose a seminary for its teachers. Which means that when we pray for our seminaries, we pray especially for the minds and hearts of faculty and those who assess and hire them.
When we stop to think for a while about what to pray, we start to clarify our own concept of ministry. We can’t pray without a goal. And we can’t have a goal for a seminary faculty unless we have a vision for what kind of pastors we want to see graduate. So the more we try to pray, the more we are forced to define what we value in the pastoral office. And once we clarify this, we begin to ponder what sort of person and pedagogy cultivates these values.
Moving Towards This Goal
So the will to pray for the seminary presses us on to develop at least a rudimentary pastoral theology and philosophy of theological education. What follows is a baby step in this direction – a rough sketch of what I think we need from our seminaries. My petitions cluster in three groups. Each group echoes a biblical value at which I think we should aim, and toward which we should pray, in pastoral education.
Under the all-embracing goal of God’s glory (first petition), petitions 2-7 echo my goal that we cultivate a contrite and humble sense of human insufficiency. “I am the vine, you are the branches . . . apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7). “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16).
Petitions 8-11 echo my goal that we cultivate a great passion for Christ’s all-sufficiency; and that, for all our enthusiasm over contemporary trends in ministry, the overwhelming zeal of a pastor’s heart be for the changeless fundamentals of the faith. “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7).
Petitions 12-21 echo my goal that we cultivate strong allegiance to all of Scripture, and that what the apostles and prophets preached and taught in Scripture will be esteemed worthy of our careful and faithful exposition to God’s people. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
How I Pray for Seminaries
You will want to supplement these prayers with the burdens of your own heart for the seminaries you care about most deeply. But these are essential, I think, to breed power and purity in our churches.
- That the supreme, heartfelt and explicit goal of every faculty member might be to teach and live in such a way that his students come to admire the glory of God with white-hot intensity (1 Corinthians 10:31; Matthew 5:16).
- That, among the many ways this goal can be sought, the whole faculty will seek it by the means suggested in 1 Peter 4:11: Serve “in the strength which God supplies: in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”
- That the challenge of the ministry might be presented in such a way that the question rises authentically in students’ hearts: “Who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:16).
- That in every course the indispensable and precious enabling of the Holy Spirit will receive significant emphasis in comparison to other means of ministerial success (Galatians 3:5).
- That teachers will cultivate the pastoral attitude expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:10 and Romans 15:18: “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. . . . I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has wrought through me to win obedience from the Gentiles.”
- That the poverty of spirit commended in Matthew 5:3 and the lowliness and meekness commended in Colossians 3:12 and Ephesians 4:2 and 1 Peter 5:5-6 will be manifested through the administration, faculty, and student body.
- That the faculty might impress upon students by precept and example the immense pastoral need to pray without ceasing and to despair of all success without persevering prayer in reliance on God’s free mercy (Matthew 7:7-11; Ephesians 6:18).
- That the faculty will help the students feel what an unutterably precious thing it is to be treated mercifully by the holy God, even though we deserve to be punished in hell forever (Matthew 25:46; 18:23-35; Luke 7:42, 47).
- That, because of our seminary faculties, hundreds of pastors, 50 years from now, will repeat the words of John Newton on their death beds: “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Jesus is a great Savior.”
- That the faculty will inspire students to unqualified and exultant joy in the venerable verities of Scripture. “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalm 19:8).
- That every teacher will develop a pedagogical style based on James Denney’s maxim: “No man can give the impression that he himself is clever and that Christ is mighty to save.”1
- That in the treatment of Scripture there will be no truncated estimation of what is valuable for preaching and for life.
- That students will develop a respect for and use of the awful warnings of Scripture as well as its precious promises; and that the command to “pursue holiness” (Hebrews 12:14) will not be blunted, but empowered, by the assurance of divine enablement. “Now the God of peace . . . equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom bethe glory forever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20).
- That there might be a strong and evident conviction that the deep and constant study of Scripture is the best way to become wise in dealing with people’s problems. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- That the faculty may not represent the contemporary mood in critical studies which sees “minimal unity, wide-ranging diversity” in the Bible; but that they will pursue the unified “whole counsel of God” and help students see the way it all fits together. “For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).
- That explicit biblical insights will permeate all class sessions, even when issues are treated with language and paradigms borrowed from contemporary sciences.
- That God and his Word will not be taken for granted as the tacit “foundation” that doesn’t get talked about or admired.
- That the faculty will mingle the “severe discipline” of textual analysis with an intense reverence for the truth and beauty of God’s Word.
- That fresh discoveries will be made in the study of Scripture and shared with the church through articles and books.
- That faculty, deans, and presidents will have wisdom and courage from God to make appointments which promote the fulfillment of these petitions.
- And that boards and all those charged with leadership will be vigilant over the moral and doctrinal faithfulness of the faculty and exercise whatever discipline is necessary to preserve the biblical faithfulness of all that is taught and done.
Brothers, let us not merely criticize or commend the seminaries. God loves his church and his truth. He ordains to do his work through the intercession of his people. Generations of faithfulness are at stake. Therefore, brothers, let us pray for the seminaries.
1 Quoted in John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Art of Preaching in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), p. 325.