I have had a couple of questions from someone which I’m struggling to answer. He grew up and still lives in Texas, has a “hyper-conservative, mainstream” evangelical background, but has recently been exploring new ideas about theology and doctrine, in particular the sort narrative approaches to the interpretation of the New Testament and the construction of beliefs that I’ve advocated here. He is now looking for somewhere to study but is having a hard time finding a school that will “challenge the systematic/neo-Calvinist theology” to which he has been exposed for most of his journey with Jesus. So the first question is: Can anyone recommend a graduate school or seminary that embraces narrative theology?
I’m not American so I’m not really in a position to offer much in the way of sensible advice. Daniel Kirk is big on narrative and is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Fuller, so that might be a place to start. My friend Barney has been at Regent College, Vancouver for the last couple of years and he seems to think that it’s a pretty cool open-minded establishment. I tutor for the London School of Theology’s distance learning MA in Aspects and Implications of Biblical Interpretation, which has a good core hermeneutics module but may not meet our friend’s broader needs. So can anyone help out? Is there a school or seminary in the US that gets the New Perspective and narrative-historical approaches to scripture and such like?
The second question is more general:
Do you have a recommendation regarding whether or not seminary is even necessary for a theologian/minister in our post-Christendom culture?
If all a theological education does is perpetuate outmoded and misleading paradigms, then the answer is probably no, in my view. It seems to me that there is a lot of informal self-educating going on at the moment, and although the potential pitfalls are numerous and obvious, I would certainly not want to discourage people from opening their minds to the range of new perspectives that are out there. It seems to me that a lot of people, young and old, have a great passion to renew the evangelical mind, to ground their faith in a much more cogent, realistic, intelligent, and challenging worldview. How well the institutions are responding to this I don’t know. But it has to be a healthy development that there is such a vigorous grassroots conversation going on.
In the longer term, however, this conversation needs to be properly informed. It needs to feed off good disciplined, educated theological reflection. So we need people to get the PhDs and write the books and blogs, do the teaching and preaching, establish some benchmarks, raise the bar, prick the bubbles of vanity theologizing, and so on. As long as scholarship remains self-critical and willing to engage with and serve the broader community, I think we still need the “experts”. Others, however, may disagree.