The Goals of Theological Education, Part 1

“How are we ever going to use this?” That was a regular complaint in my algebra and geometry classes in middle and high school. It was an instinctive response to challenging concepts that require mental energy but seem to yield little in terms of practical results (at least to a short-sighted, adolescent imagination). Lying behind this instinctive response (other than normal teenage laziness and suspicion of demands from authority figures) is the urge to find meaning in one’s activities. Above all, as human beings we want to know why we do the things we do. Inability to see the purpose of any task leads to loss of motivation for it.

As a theological educator, I have raised the “Why?” question numerous times. Why should anyone pursue theological education? What are the appropriate goals for such an endeavor? Over the years, I have settled on three: knowledge, character, and skills. Incidentally, these three goals correspond to the famous description of Ezra in Ezra 7:10 as one who “had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD [knowledge], and to do it [character] and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel [skills].”

The eager seminary student who is registering for his first semester of classes, like a kid in a candy store, often can’t decide how to choose among such an array of wonderful options. And yet, halfway through that semester, when he has learned the names of more theological journals than he ever cared to know before, when he has burned the midnight oil more than he ever imagined he would in a frantic attempt to meet reading deadlines, prepare for tests, and finish papers, when he has discovered that marriage seems to require much more work when he is fatigued, when he feels like he is barely keeping his head above water financially and emotionally, the question may occur to him more than once: Why am I doing all of this?

In this series, I will unpack answers to that question.

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