Every decision to enroll in one seminary is a decision not to enroll in all of the others. Necessarily, then, the process of choosing a seminary is one that involves choosing certain advantages that one school offers over other advantages that another school offers. As one who attended a Baptist seminary, I want to make a case for one major advantage of choosing that option.
Obviously, an inter-denominational school brings with it a certain range of diversity that you won’t find at a Baptist school (or any denominational school, for that matter). That diversity can offer a wider range of ideas to which a student might be exposed, and in general, we should consider that an educational advantage. No argument there.
But what you gain in breadth at an inter-denominational school, I would argue you likely lose in depth. I am not speaking of depth in every respect, but particularly with respect to one particular area of study: the doctrine of the church, or ecclesiology. I am convinced that there is no such thing as a generic ecclesiology. Any study of ecclesiology that plunges to any worthwhile depth will be a study that addresses a whole host of particular issues that divide one denomination of Christians from another: baptism, the nature of church membership, church governance, the practice of the Lord’s Supper, church discipline, etc. I find it hard to envision how an inter-denominational school could speak with any depth on these questions. Any given professor might, of course, but the school as a whole will be unable to provide a unified voice on these questions. By contrast, enrolling in a Baptist seminary (or any seminary that is affiliated with a particular denomination) provides a context within which these questions can be explored in depth and, without apology, argued from the standpoint of a particular tradition. I believe the experience of learning one tradition particularly well, especially if it is your own tradition, is a great starting point for a lifelong education. I am deeply grateful for the heritage of my own Baptist tradition, a heritage in which I have been thoroughly trained thanks to the denominational commitments of my seminary.
What I have come to learn in my years of pastoring is that the doctrine of the church is the place where the rubber meets the road most often in ministry. I remember a fellow seminarian who was also a pastor at the time saying to me one day, “Dr. Wills’s History of the Baptists class has been the most practical course I have taken of all of my classes.” And when he said that, I immediately understood why. What you believe about what the church is and how it should function (big questions in the study of Baptist history) affects almost every decision you make as a pastor or church planter. The upshot of this observation is that ecclesiology is an area of study that is not to be taken lightly. Seminaries need to do many things well, but it is hard to argue that many are more important than instilling within their students a robustly biblical understanding of what the church is and how it is to function.
Many factors must go into making a decision about where to enroll in seminary. I think that a seminary’s commitment to exploring the doctrine of the church in great depth should be one of the major factors that future students must consider.