Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Jesus Christ, the Bible, and Seminary

In my reading of Bonhoeffer over the past few months I have appreciated his emphasis on the Bible, both in the life of the congregation and in the seminary education of pastors. My sense is that the Bible, in Jesus Christ, was the gyroscope and center of gravity in Bonhoeffer’s education of seminarians. It was not a spoke in a wheel, it was the hub. All was measured by the Word of God, the Word of God was the standard by which all was measured.

There is an inherent danger when seminaries use the world’s academic standards and culture and seek the world’s academic acceptance, allowing the world to displace the Bible as the center of gravity and to become just a spoke in the wheel – the danger is that the seminary becomes neither hot nor cold, neither Biblical nor worldly – it flies without instrumentation, and exists without purpose, without form, without certainty – and sadly it ceases to be Christocentric.

It is one thing to engage in rigorous scholarship that is unashamedly Biblical and Christocentric, it is another to become just another academic institution. Within the Roman Catholic Church there is a minority voice that laments the loss of distinctive Catholicism within its university system – in some Catholic settings it is as if the schools are ashamed of their once Catholic identity. Within Protestant traditions there are seminaries which have long disassociated themselves from the authority of the Bible and the deity of Christ; and then there are those which, while considering themselves Evangelical, appear to increasingly embrace the sociological and academic trends of the world – thus eroding Biblical and Christocentric foundations. If we can believe Paul, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” If we can believe Paul, if we seek to please men we will not be the servants of Christ.

This does not mean that we are not intellectually vigorous, it does not mean that we do not rigorously engage in scholarship; but it does mean that our vigorous scholarship and intellectual rigor are not only Biblically informed, it means they are under the lordship of Jesus Christ and in harmony with His Word. If our scholastic and exegetical work is grounded in Biblical integrity then we need not be ashamed.

Could it be that when we engage in academic pursuits in conformity with the world that we seek to shield ourselves from the reproach of Christ? Could it be that we allow monetary interests, instead of Christ and the Bible, to arbitrate our institutional decisions? Are there seminaries, and other professing-Christian institutions, willing to suffer loss for the sake of a Biblical and Christocentric witness?

If there is a Biblical warrant for seminaries, and I take that to be open to debate, then surely the Biblical warrant for a particular seminary expires when that seminary jettisons the Bible as its intellectual arbiter and Jesus Christ as its reason for existence.

In a time when all things are being shaken the church desperately needs the Bible – and yet much of the church treats the Bible as a wall decoration. A trendy seminary is an irrelevant seminary and has lost its prophetic voice; a seminary that remains faithful to Jesus Christ and His Word is one that will produce fruit, some thirty, some sixty, and some one hundredfold.

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