When I Was a Seminary Student … Additional Reflections

Andy Bartelt, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Concordia Seminary, sent me a long e-mail commenting on my post on seminary pedagogy. Rather than inserting it there as a very long comment, I’m posting it as a separate entry so that you can comment on Andy’s thoughts.

Well said, Jeff, even about Paul Raabe.  Andy Bacon put it well when he once quipped that education is not simply teaching but “facilitating learning.”  That can be put to excess, of course, lest learning be bereft of content, knowledge, truth.  But if seminary education is about learning to “think theologically,” we should actually be thinking theologically in our classes, and working at it together.

Three other observations come to mind.

(1) Seminary education is more about method than information. (But oh yes, it is also about information. Those in the office of the pastoral and public ministry had better actually know something, especially as the stewards of the publica doctrina.) But its not just knowing Biblical and doctrinal content; it’s about how to read a text competently, using the exegetical toolbox; how to understand doctrine in a way that can apply God’s truth to contemporary issues, some of which weren’t on the radar screen a generation ago. Note how our historical courses have dealt with historical methodology and critical thinking skills as applied not just to history and data but to the enterprise of historical THEOLOGY.  And then whatever is all engaged in the practice of theology into ministry:  communication theory that underlies preaching, worship that is driven, planned, evaluated, and executed by theological principles of Lutheran worship, not just following the rubrics; counseling under Law and Gospel, which is a constant “reading” of human texts and context, interacting in ways informed by hermeneutics and translation skills.  And on and on.

(2) “Education” (including pedagogy) is not a dirty word for pastoral ministry. We still have but one required education course, and its title (Pastor as Educator) suggests a strong connection to pastoral ministry.  Like one required worship course, it has to do way too much, from theory to skills to practice. But pastor as didaskolos is a major part of ministry, and learning how learning works, and doing so together, is a skill set learned across the curriculum. Pastors not only replicate (if not regurgitate) what they have learned but also how they may have learned it. As Jeff notes, we have many pastors teaching catechetical instruction and Bible classes as information dumps (even teaching from the lectern !), without getting all that good doctrine anchored in the crucible of life experience and practice, connecting the dots to life in the real world. We all bemoan the losses of our next generation after confirmation; how much of confirmation instruction has actually been connected to the values that are generated by a resurrection faith?

(3) We are in this together.  The old adage of moving from the “sage on the stage” to the “guide at the side” is already passe, but the concept of working together at theological problem solving is something that should be what we do in Winkels and pastoral conferences and conversations all the time.  I still remember when “casuistry” was part of the pastors’ collegial life (and note that the apostrophe on “pastors'” indicates that this is a plural exercise).  We have far too many pastors who think in the singular, about “me and my parish,” or maybe, at most, about those who agree with me.  But that doesn’t solve the problems that can separate us.  We have to work at these issues together, and modeling that process in our seminary education is an important basis for the way we “do theology” as that good ol’ “habitus practicus” in the common and corporate congregational life of our church.

Andy Bartelt

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1 Comment

  1. Pete Jurchen June 24, 2010

    I know this is a late addition, but I stumbled across this article and felt I should comment. As a pastor out of CSL for one year I can completely understand what Bartelt is talking about now, even better than when I was at CSL. I was not a great student, and now I wish I would have been more disciplined in my studies, and often I wondered why we spent so much time in theological discussion rather than the more practical how-to styled classes. Now I understand that the “why” of the seminary’s curriculum structure is to get us to think like a theological student. This immersion experience for years of my life will help me out in the long run much more than a whole slew of specialized courses would have. Thank you.

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