The State of teaching the Bible in seminaries

In case you missed Michael Bird’s review of Dale Martin’s Pedagogy of the Bible: An Analysis and Proposal (Amazon link)(Albans Books in the UK).

Martin interviews 14 schools – across the spectrum – and arrives at these six conclusions:

martin-pedagogy-of-the-bible1. Historical criticism of one type or another is the dominant foundational method taught to theological students (esp. in conservative schools!).

2. Most students are not being taught to think critically about textuality and interpretation in general.

3. Students are not being taught theological hermeneutics sufficiently, meaning that they are less likely to function as well-equipped guides for teaching responsible and creative theological interpretation of the Bible in their own religious communities.

4. Students entering seminary/colleges lack Bible knowledge and the ability to think theologically.

5. Students are not being helped enough to integrate the different disciplines learned in a typical ministerial education, i.e. too much compartmentalization.

6. The modern theological school is not doing enough to help train church leaders to interpret the Bible in creative, imaginative, and theologically sophisticated ways.

This certainly resonates with my experience of seminary (I’ve attended three, and am familiar with others.)

Here’s Bird’s endorsement:

Every academic dean, principal, provost, president, head of department, lecturer in biblical, or anyone interested in the role of the Bible in theological education should read this book by Dale B. Martin (Yale University).

A few objections against historical-criticism:

(1) historiography can neither confirm nor deny the reality of the incarnation; Christians do not need the confirmation of historiography in order to believe in or makes sense of the incarnation; . . .

(3) Historical-Criticism, esp. it’s post-19th century influence, is a relatively recent innovation and we should try read scripture in closer methological promixity to how it was read before the nineteenth century.

Bird likes the “remark of Margaret Mitchell (Chicago Div School) who said that she feared the ideal of the learned clergy is gradually being replaced by the idea of the therapeutic clergy . . . (p. 94).”

Martin’s proposals;

(a) teach historical criticism, but as one way among other ways of reading;

(b) Retain the expertise of different disciplinary scholarship and scholars, but integrate the disciplines together;

(c) Teach theology of Scripture before teaching different methods of interpreting Scripture [but see Bird’s reservations];

(d) Teach theology first by teaching theological thinking and interpretation;

(e) Early in the educational process, introduce theories of interpretation, literary theory, and philosophies of interpretation and textuality;

(f) Include and integrate aristic, literary, and musical interpretations of Scripture; and

(g) Introduce practical disciplines along the way, perhaps concentrating on them towards the end.

Thanks, Rev. Dr. Bird.

Bird includes a few specific ideas of his own, and some strong reservations about some of Martin’s proposals, including this insightful point:

. . . in the more conservative circles in which I move, certain theologians are given to constructing a doctrine of Scripture that contains many a priori assumptions about how they think God should have given us Scripture, and then you end up with a doctrine of Scripture that will not survive contact with the phenomenon of the text (i.e its origin, transmission, reception, and interpretation).

Good stuff; read it here.

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2 thoughts on “The State of teaching the Bible in seminaries

  1. Simon says:

    As Chester Wood says, “The purpose of theological study is to get you confused on a higher level.”

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