Why Seminaries Weaken Faith
A FREQUENT visitor at the Brooklyn Heights Kingdom Hall on Thursday evenings during the winter of 1952-3 was a psychologist who signed himself as “Rev.——————, Ph.D.” Why was he attending these meetings of Jehovah’s witnesses? Because he was looking for the truth? Apparently not, for he was a Protestant who was convinced that his church was the true one because of its “apostolic succession of bishops, elders and deacons”. Then why did he come? Because he recognized a powerful force at work among Jehovah’s witnesses; he saw an earnestness, a sincerity, a confidence, a conviction, an enthusiasm on the part of all. They had something that neither his nor other religious organizations had and he wanted to get his finger on it, to get at the cause, so as to be able to make use of it in his religious organization.
In discussions with him it was apparent that he was far from satisfied with the spiritual state of Christendom. Particularly was he critical of the clergy who performed their duties in a routine, mechanical, lukewarm way. And regarding a postgraduate course he took at a prominent theological seminary, he said that it seemed as if the purpose of it was to destroy the faith of those attending it so that they could go out and destroy the faith of others.
While that may seem to be a very strong statement, yet this Kingdom Hall visitor is not alone in recognizing that seminaries have a bad effect on those who attend them. For example, note the article, “Where Goes the ‘Glow’?” that appeared in The Christian Century, April 29, 1953. Under the heading “Going in Hot, Coming out Cold”, the writer, a Mr. Samuel M. Shoemaker, who describes himself as “one who is constantly putting the claims of the Christian ministry before young men in college”, had the following to say:
“Why does it happen so often that a man who goes into a theological seminary warm or even hot in his conviction comes out cool or even cold? In some of the larger and more intellectual seminaries, a rather shocking proportion of men (more than a fourth, I am told) never go into the ministry at all. Is this all weeding out the unfit, shaking off the men who can’t meet the intellectual demands? Or does a great deal represent a spiritual failure on the part of the seminary? Among those who find their way eventually into the ministry there will be a considerable group that seems more puzzled than radiant, more conscious of the problems that religion raises, than of the solutions it offers when genuinely practiced. . . . I am troubled about what the seminaries do to so many of them.”
Illustrating his point, this writer told of an enthusiastic and outstanding undergraduate of one of the foremost universities who went to a highly reputable theological school, where he was “turned into about as regular-issue, lackluster, conventional a parson as you could find in a day’s search. . . . There used to be a shine to him. But there is no shine today, or little. Where did it go?”
What a commentary on the results of theological seminary training! If there is one place where a man should have his faith, his zeal, his enthusiasm, his “spiritual glow”, his intensity and ardor for God’s service increased, it certainly should be at an institution dedicated to the training of ministers. Yet here is proof that just the opposite takes place. Why?
Mr. Shoemaker, our critic of theological seminaries, would have us believe that the fault lies in a lack of personal dealing with the students on the part of the teachers, as well as a lack of ease and effectiveness on their part when they do deal personally with their students. He also would see a weakness in emphasizing head knowledge to the neglect of experimental religion. He points to the personal instruction that Jesus must have given to his little band of immediate followers during the some three years that he was with them.
True, the accounts of Christ’s earthly ministry are filled with references to his giving personal instruction, and we may be sure that he gave his twelve apostles during the time they were with him far more instruction than is recorded; not to say anything of his personally instructing Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and others. But was that the reason why his teaching was so effective? Or was it because of his faith in the Hebrew Scriptures as God’s inspired Word, his understanding and appreciation of them, and because of his ability to make them clear to others?
He was effective because of his strong faith and confidence. That is why “the crowds were astounded at his way of teaching; for he was teaching them as a person having authority, and not as their scribes”. He was effective because he understood God’s Word and made it clear to his hearers, as can be seen from the statement made by the two with whom he spoke on his resurrection morning on the way to Emmaus: “Were not our hearts burning as he was speaking to us on the road, as he was fully opening up the Scriptures to us?” (Matt. 7:28, 29; Luke 24:32, NW) And what was true of Christ was true of his apostles and other early disciples, such as Stephen and Apollos.
When the modern theological student enters his seminary “hot” and comes out “cold”, clearly something has happened to his faith. What? Can it be that it has weakened because his teachers were unable to satisfactorily answer his questions, such as: Why the mystery of the trinity? Since there is only one name under heaven assuring salvation, what is the destiny of the multitudes who never heard of it? Why a future judgment day if one goes to his eternal reward at death? Why are petty differences allowed to separate so-called Christian organizations?
And will a study of higher criticism—which views with strong suspicion all Bible claims regarding its origin, preservation and authenticity—strengthen or weaken faith? And what about evolution? The Bible account of creation satisfies reason and inspires gratitude; but can the changing and conflicting theories and speculations of evolution do either? And how strengthening to faith are the courses in psychology with their maze of uncertainty and confusion?
In view of all the foregoing, is it any wonder that the theological students upon graduating have lost whatever ‘glow of the spirit’ they may have had when entering their seminary? What gives the ministers of Jehovah their spiritual glow is their appreciation that “the word of God is alive and exerts power”.—Heb. 4:12, NW.