Then again, they may grieve the passage of time, especially upon the inevitable retirements of those towering professors. They wonder out loud if that center of greatness has shrunk in size.
All the more, pastors look askance at graduates of those other seminaries. They enjoy taking jabs at one another out of school pride rivalries. Or, the locals’ loyalty to “our” region’s seminary may lead to taking potshots at those “other” seminaries. Or they may simply caricature each other based upon humorous stereotypes.
Moreover, whenever a pastor-congregation relationship sours, a few folks utter, “How could that seminary have stuck us with such a lousy pastor?”
The seminaries take the brunt of our criticisms and complaints. They deserve our appreciation.
Two things to appreciate: The seminaries have prepared students both for effective ordained service, and prerequisite to that, for passing ordination exams. Many academics think of those as two distinct things: we can either prepare the students for effective ministry or we can prime them to pass the exams. But our seminaries have prepped the students to do both.
One troubling development at this past General Assembly flew under the radar of our reporting. A change was reported on Mark Roberts’ blog post of August 25 (http://markdroberts.com/?p=553). Roberts, who used to teach New Testament exegesis at San Francisco Theological Seminary, recounts how, in its report to the GA, the Presbyteries’ Cooperative Committee on Examinations for Candidates (PCCEC) said that it had changed two requirements for the successful completion of the Biblical Exegesis exam. As the PCCEC Web site states,
The demonstration of a working knowledge of Greek and/or Hebrew will no longer be a requirement in order to complete the examination successfully. When exams are graded, the readers will comment on the language facility which is demonstrated in the paper. Such comments will be offered as guidance for Committees on Preparation for Ministry in determining readiness for ministry.
The wording of the instructions for the Biblical Exegesis examination ha[s] been amended. Inquirers/candidates will be asked to offer “a faithful interpretation” of the assigned text, rather than “the principal meaning” of the text.
The rationale for these changes makes some sense, but at least two concerns arise. First, this erodes the precarious confidence that calling churches and ordaining presbyteries already feel toward ministerial candidates’ fidelity to the word of God. Objective evaluation is jettisoned in favor of a more subjective evaluation to be performed by each candidate’s own committee, which by the time of seminary graduation should be biased in that person’s direction.
Second, this signals a paradigm shift in Biblical exegesis training. Why not seek to exegete the plain meaning of a Biblical text? To be fair, no one person can finally define “the principal meaning” of a Bible passage without the original author sitting in the room to explain it. No doubt, the PCCEC was trying to reflect both the humility with which we all ought to approach the Scriptures as well as the ever-changing world of Biblical scholarship. But the substitute term, “a faithful interpretation,” is awfully open-ended. It moves perilously close to violating the words of the Second Helvetic Confession: “The apostle Peter has said that the Holy Scriptures are not of private interpretation (II Peter 1:20), and thus we do not allow all possible interpretations … ”
The clearer expectations and less subjectively evaluated exam process of old provided the seminaries an understandable set of expectations, which fortified their relationship with the presbyteries and parishes. We urge the PCCEC, the seminaries, and the presbyteries to monitor this change. If it shows signs of backfiring, please return to the earlier process.
Let’s make it easier to love loving our seminaries.