SSHAC live blog: The Meaning of Theologial Education — Timothy George

Communications Staff — February 18, 2009


Greg Wills, professor of church history at Southern Seminary and director of the Center of the Study of the Southern Baptist Convention, opened the conference.

Wills noted that the conference will feature speakers alternately addressing an issue related to American Christianity and then Southern Seminary. The panel discussion that follows will discuss how the two are related.

The Meaning of Theological Education

Speaker: Timothy George

Title: dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University

The births of Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were recognized last week. The 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth is being recognized this summer. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Southern Seminary.

30 years ago, George arrived with his wife for his first teaching job, fresh out of Harvard University. In 1988, George left to found Beeson Divinity School at Samford University.

7 motifs in church history that have led to the development of theological-training institutions

1. School of the Prophets

Theological schools today recruit students to come and learn, and then graduate and enter a profession. Such schools have been called Schools of the Prophets.

Adam was the first prophet, charged to pass on the knowledge of God and His expectations for men. After the Fall, the relationship between God and man was broken and the harmony between faith and reason was torn. But the responsibility to pass on the knowledge of God still remained.

Schools of learning were developed to retain and pass on the remains of this knowledge. Elisha led one of these schools (1 Kings 19). Elisha serves as a type of Christ. His work has a specifically christological sanction, for Christ is a prophet, priest and king.

In his prophetic function, Christ has both predecessors and processors. The faithful theological school today stands in direct succession in the Christological succession of the School of the Prophets in three ways:

1. High view of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.

We do not pass on a message that we have created.

2. We must not be Gnostic learners

God is the God of both creation and redemption. Anabaptists have failed to appreciate the full canonical range of ecclesiology.

3. Priority of Preaching

2. The Republic of Letters

The message of Jesus went everywhere, following Pentecost. Scripture may be translated into any language. Theological education is training in literacy, in the knowledge of letters, at its most basic level, from Chinese to hip-hop.

Early in the second century, the school of Alexandria arose as the first seminary. With the development of this and other republics of letters there was a danger of corrupting the teachings of Christ with the vain philosophies of Greek poets and philosophers.

It remained for Augustine to offer a way out of this dilemma. Augustine came to see how self-defeating such paths of learning could be, apart from the grace of God turning hearts to Christ. Augustine believed it was possible to raid the treasures of the Egyptians for the glory of God.

Augustine asserted that time like space had been created by God ex nihilo, which means that God was concerned about what takes place in creation and history. Augustine also held to the incarnation of God through Jesus Christ.

3. Academy of Reform

Sought to meld the School of the Prophets and the Republic of Letters.

Luther, Zwingli and Calvin are the standards here.

Luther at Wittenberg

Luther always kept his doctoral degree and appealed to it when he spoke out against the abuses in the church. The Reformation began as a minor dispute among the junior faculty at the University of Wittenberg.

Luther emphasizes catechisms and confessions of faith.

Zwingli at Zurich

(Pictures were being coordinated here, so this is brief):

Reformed academies and seminaries in Europe developed

Calvin in Geneva

The Genevan Academy was established in 1559 by Theodore Beza. Calvin included teachers, along with pastors, elders and deacons, in the four-fold pictures of the church. The laws of the Genevan Academy were not distributed to civil magistrates, but were distributed in worship services at the Academy.

Calvin’s reformation supported the ecclesial autonomy of theological education under the prophetic office of Christ the Lord.

4. Seminary in the wilderness

Emmanuel College was developed in England to produce lively Puritan ministers. This was brought to America by certain leaders, with a desire to create ‘Seminaries in the wilderness’ in America.

The Puritan founders of Harvard College assumed that education and reformation belonged inseparably together. For them, there was no split between the School of the Prophets and the Republic of Letters. Thus, magistrates and ministers were both trained at Harvard.

The whole program of Harvard was designed to infuse learning with godliness. In the beginning, Harvard had a strong emphasis on evangelism and witness. In the 19th century, theological training began to be pushed out of the curriculum of Harvard. Today, theological training has been pushed out of Harvard all together.

5. Company of the Called

Early Baptists, for the most part, resisted formal structures of Baptist education. Baptists believed that pastoral calling included both an internal call and an external call confirmed by the local church. Baptists were wary of a converted, but uncalled, pastoral ministry.

Luther Rice and others eventually held before Baptists the ideal of learned ministry. To address the tension between having a call to ministry and theological education, James P. Boyce proposed that two-third of the student body be composed of those who had been called to preach.

Theological seminaries exist to serve the church and not vice versa.

6. Nurseries of the Heart

Some liberal scholars began to downplay the importance of having a call to ministry. Such scholars elevated the importance of sociological training and downplayed the importance of theological training. It was suggested that study of the original languages was not necessary in seminaries.

What is missing from the suggestions of liberal theologians, such as Hyde, is the theological training that serves as a nursery of the heart.

7. The Militia of Christ

Ministers of Christ are called to serve in conflict. Our weapons are not the weapons of the world, of swords and shield or of gossip. Our weapons are hope, peace, generosity and service of Christ in support of the coming kingdom of God.

We work in the hope that it is the awesome recklessness of the love of God that calls us to the seeming absurdity of this work.


In many ways, each of these seven motifs has been taken up in the history of Southern Seminary.

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