• RSS Subscribe to Blog

  • PAGES

  • RECENT PONDERINGS

  • RECENT COMMENTS

    Steve on SAINTLY?
    Paul Nicholson on SAINTLY?
    RGE on Calling the Shots
    Walter J. Tanner on MARRIAGE EXTENSION
    franiel32 on IN THIS COMPANY
  • ARCHIVES

  • BLOG STATS

    • 107,346 hits

THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION

Up until about 1914 one of the required texts for seminarians on both sides of the Atlantic was Bishop Pearson’s “Exposition on the Creeds.” It was first published in 1658 -I think -and at great peril to its author. Note the date. The Church of England had been abolished by Parliament a decade or so before the publication date. The ancient parish churches were under the pastoral care of Presbyterians and Independents, for the most part presbytery ordained. The use of the Book of Common Prayer was prohibited. Doctrine culled from the Articles of Religion and the Catechism was similarly illegal. Pearson demonstrated great bravery in writing a book which interpreted the Creeds in accordance with mainstream Anglican teaching.

Perhaps the fact that ordinands were still studying Pearson two hundred years later merely demonstrates how old-fashioned and out of touch pre First World War Anglicanism had become. The same ordinands were familiar with Jewel and Hooker, Donne and Herbert, with Taylor and Law. In the United States DuBose was in that same tradition of scholarship. Twenty years after World War 1 the young Michael Ramsey absorbed and disseminated the same tradition in his seminal “The Gospel and the Catholic Church.” Until recently the tradition continued in the writings of Archbishop Henry McAdoo. His heir may well be the present Bishop of Portsmouth, Kenneth Stephenson. Certainly Archbishop Rowan Williams swims in that current.

For some years now our ordinands have survived on much less robust fare. Bishop Stephen Sykes first drew attention to this nearly thirty years ago in his book “The Integrity of Anglicanism.” Part of the problem seems to have been the manner in which students are taught and part of it has been in the texts employed. Information is given in distinct course material, with little attempt to integrate subjects in an holistic manner. Little acquaintance is given to the original texts. Granted so many with undergraduate degrees still find the language of our classical authors difficult to read and digest. “The Church Teaching Series” provides at best a Readers Digest approach to scholarship.

Again it is not only Scripture which is subjected to cynical criticism it is also applied to Church History and to Dogmatics. Teachers go to great trouble to suggest that either one largely discounts the veracity and reliability of anything written before 1960 or one cleaves to the form of fundamentalism one finds taught in Bible Colleges. There is little Via Media about seminary teaching nowadays.

Most of our clerical leadership therefore finds it difficult to approach and utilize classical Anglicanism in evaluating Scripture and the Tradition. Reason is no longer regarded as a symbiotic part of Scripture and Tradition, but rather a separate facility which brings to bear critical methods which evaluate and criticises Scripture and Tradition. Skepticism is in vogue. It is in vogue because to many Scripture and Tradition are hostile to what is claimed to be enlightened and inclusive lifestyles. Such hostility must be combated and erased from our corporate memory. In other words our ordinands are taught a method which begins with a sacrosanct conclusion and then works backwards to texts once thought to be in themselves indefectable. Ironically it is the same method which produced the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. It must be so therefore it is.

I am not here arguing that such a conclusion is “true”. It may or may not be so. What I am arguing is that our clergy, for some years, have been deprived of the scholarship which determines how one approaches Anglicanism as an established reality. Instead Classical Anglicanism has been replaced by something which almost daily re-invents itself.

Note for instance the current debate about the unique nature of Episcopalianism in which a secular history of 18th. Century “Americanism” replaces or overrides a study of 18th Century Anglican ecclesiology. More credence is given to the political theory which created General Convention than to the contents to be found in the last paragraph of the preface to the 1789 Book of Common Prayer and the decisions made by the then contemporary General Conventions in response to the demands made of PECUSA by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. One may only conclude that our bishops feel much more comfortable with the texts illustrative of Revolutionary rhetoric than with those which illuminate a corpus of knowledge which then, before then, and after then until fairly recently typified Anglican scholarship.

In short not only are our seminaries not equipping ordinands for pastoral ministry and evangelism, they are not providing them with a comprehensive study of “Classical Anglicanism.” I am not suggesting that such a study inevitably leads to one preferred conclusion, or the elevation of one form of “Churchmanship” over another, or indeed to a rejection of our historical “parties” in favor of things new. It is simply the fact that our ordinands are not being given sufficient knowledge to reach responsible conclusions. In place of such knowledge what is offered is what I term social sentimentalism or selective training in ecclesiastical versions of right wing or left wing political theory.

At a time in which seminary education is under review it would seem appropriate for our church to take a hard look at curricula and to the integration of curricula into an holistic model. There was a time in which the learning of our clergy made them “stupor mundi”. Today our ordinands share the same disabilities possessed by post graduate students in many disciplines. The reality of this requires urgent and objective solutions.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: