The Ideal Seminary: Pursuing Excellence in Theological Education

By Carnegie Samuel Calian
WJKP. 2001. 137 pp. Pb. $16.95. ISBN 0664222668

— Review by C. Benton Kline, president and professor of theology emeritus, Columbia Seminary

Sam Calian, president of Pittsburgh Seminary and senior among presidents of PC(USA) seminaries, has written this book to mark his more than 20 years in that position. The book does not presume to present the ideal of a seminary, but it indicates some of the trail markers on the way to an excellent seminary. It will be of interest to any and all who are concerned about the role and influence of seminaries in the church and in the community.

In three parts — “Institutional Challenges,” “Program Challenges” and “Student Concerns” — Calian addresses the major issues in theological education, especially Presbyterian theological education, as they appear today. A brief foreword addresses the function of theological education and an afterword presents the Calian strategy for financial support and structures in a seminary.

The seminary should be directed to the cultivation of leadership for the church, but the “clerical model” should not bind it. How to define and move toward excellence, the role of tenure and academic freedom and the exploration of who are the “stakeholders” in the seminary are key topics addressed in Part 1.

Changes in the church, in society and in seminary students all present themes for consideration in Part 2. Calian stresses the need to relate to communities and to the globalization of church life as well as secular life. He is committed to the use of new technologies to communicate in teaching and learning programs of the seminaries.

The changing demographics of seminary students offer a challenge to be faced and met. In two chapters that are more personal, Calian addresses the nature of vocation and the role of prayer in the life of the Christian and the life of the seminary. The last chapter of Part 3 presents 11 characteristics that will shape an ideal seminary.

At the end of each chapter there is a section called “Discussion Starter,” which could spark both reflection and further exploration of the topics addressed. If the book were to be used in a group concerned about theological education — a church group or ministers’ group or a seminary group — those sections will be useful.

The value of the book, besides being a window into the thinking and experience of Calian, is that it gathers up themes and current information and research about theological education in a very accessible way. Any reader will have learned new things and been stimulated to think.