Recently, our seminary, Southwestern, informed us that they would be reducing the language requirement for the Masters of Divinity program by nine hours, removing the advanced courses. If I understand correctly, this change applies to all other SBC seminaries as well (though I believe we were the only one who required a third semester in Hebrew). The reason for this is enrollment: Apparently, many students were choosing other seminaries over ours because the language requirements were less. Obviously, generally speaking, the language courses are among the most difficult in seminary, so it is no surprise that some people want to avoid them.
When I first heard this, I was pretty exasperated. Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I loved writing exegetical papers and parsing Greek and Hebrew words. It often stunk doing so, and I still do not believe I am anywhere close to having a good grasp of the languages, even though my background in philosophy and writing has allowed me to do well when it comes to semantic categories. However, I am nonetheless thankful I took those courses, even taking some of the harder teachers, because I learned a lot. I believe they are the among the most important courses one can take in seminary because they obviously deal with God’s Word in the original languages. I would also argue that most of your “real” learning does not come in the introductory courses, when you learn to read, parse, and do simple translations. It comes in your exegetical courses when you learn to make decisions on what kind of perfect this verb is, what kind of classification this article should have, what clause is linked to another, whether that hoti is causal or epexegetical, etc. THAT is where the meat of exegesis is. Southwestern does not even have the most stringent language requirements unless your concentration is NT or OT; Dallas Theological Seminary requires one more semester of Greek and Hebrew than we do. I know for a fact that most of our professors (language ones, anyway) don’t like this at all, but it’s not their call. Thus, I was honestly contemptuous at first at the change, feeling we are trying to cater to redneck bums who are just trying to get a degree as a rite of passage in ministry rather than honestly coming to learn. If they want the easy way out, fine; get lost and go to another seminary and don’t drag our standards down. Not every Christian who serves needs to learn Greek or Hebrew or even go to seminary, so either find another or just don’t go at all.
With some time to think and with some repentance, I am trying to be more understanding, although I am still in disagreement over the decision. It’s part of a broader issue that seminaries have to try to balance: On the one hand, we want to have high academic standards, and our current president has done a lot of work in raising the bar in our theology department. However, on the other hand, seminary is not just a place for academic types. It is a place where people who are called by God to enter into the ministry can get training, whether they are good at academics or not. Southwestern, as should other seminaries, rightly feels like they cannot justify turning people away simply because they are not “intellectuals,” at least for the MDiv program (Th.M and Ph.D are a different story). Unlike most other graduate schools, seminaries should care more about the heart of the students and how they are called rather than their academic aptitude. Continue reading