Daily we are a barraged with advertisements from institutions of higher education encouraging one to get an MBA, become a nurse practitioner, or work on an online doctorate. In this contemporary milieu of convenient and low-priced practical biblical education, we must consider whether there is a need for formal graduate school theological education in a seminary.
Consider these factors for Nazarene higher education, Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS), and other Nazarene institutions that train pastors. This training, found in institutions around the world, includes the actual education received, the development of identity, and the formation of pastors and leaders.
Now it is easy to have access to information, but that does not necessarily make one knowledgeable, nor wise. Simply being able to mine data without a context makes learning difficult. Seminary provides a place where one is able to wrestle with information. Thinking leads to an articulation of the faith that comes from deep within the heart and mind.
Throughout church history, we discover that those who have had the greatest influence on the formation of Christianity were diligent students and were able to articulate the faith in ways that weathered the turbulent storms of time.
- The apostle Paul was a man with a brilliant education.
- Athanasius and Basil the Great heavily influenced our Nicene faith.
- Augustine forever shaped the future of Christianity.
- Luther led us to the great Reformation.
- Wesley challenged the nominal thinking of the day.
Those who were able to defend and articulate the faith while at the same time practice a life of spiritual discipline led great movements in Christianity,
Different denominations have varying ways of looking at theological education and the need for a seminary. Some have numerous seminaries in one country while others have just one. Those in a particular part of the world are dubbed “identity” seminaries. They help a denomination retain its identity by stewarding the church’s theology. It is the place where future pastors, leaders, and educators are steeped in Wesleyan-Holiness theology.
One danger in looking for the cheapest route to theological education is that many people are studying in institutions that do not know how to articulate a Wesleyan-Holiness theology. This cannot be fixed by taking a couple of “Nazarene” courses. The identity of the Church of the Nazarene hangs in the balance if the seminary no longer has a place of influence in the development of leadership.
Dating back to 1932 the Church of the Nazarene wrestled with the idea of a seminary. It was at the 1944 General Assembly that the idea was adopted. General Superintendent J. B. Chapman speaking at the inauguration of the very first president of NTS said:
There are those who doubt the usefulness of a seminary. And we all admit that the course we have chosen is fraught with many possible pitfalls and dangers. Whatever is capable of much good is pregnant with potential danger. Fire is a wonderful servant, but a destructive master. But we would not abolish fire, rather we would control it; likewise, education is potential power—destructive if undirected, constructive if driven by proper motive.1
The prayer for all seminaries is that they would continue to be driven by proper motive with the result of pastors and leaders formed for future work in the kingdom.
In a recent doctoral class in Kansas City students were present from around the globe as, Africa Nazarene University was beginning her doctor of ministry program. Students in Nairobi and in Kansas City spent time together via video-conference. An amazing synergy developed as we watched the way these leaders were not only being formed by the knowledge gained but also by relationships developed.
In this way, iron is sharpening iron and the Church of the Nazarene will be stronger because of the network of relationships which will help to shape and form more pastors, better pastors, and leaders for the future.
Carla Sunberg is president of Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri.*
*Note: At the 2017 General Assembly, Carla Sunberg was elected to the office of general superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene.
1. J. B. Chapman, “What We Expect of Our Seminary,” First Convocation and Inauguration of Hugh C. Benner. Cited August 24, 2014.