Four Stages Of Theological Education

Throughout church history there have been four stages of theological education. They are: episcopal, monastic, scholastic, and seminarian (pastoral): Let's briefly examine each one:

Episcopal. Theology in the patristic age (third to fifth centuries) was called episcopal because the leading theologians of the day were bishops.' This system was marked by the training of bishops and priests on how to perform the various rituals and liturgies of the church.'

Among them are Viola, So You Want to Start a House Church?; Robert E. Coleman, The Master Plan of Evangelism (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1993); A. B. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve (New Canaan, CT: Keats, 1979); and Gene Edwards, Overlooked Christianity(Sargent, GA: Seedsowers, 1997). The following books by Watchman Nee are also worth noting. They contain messages given to his younger coworkers during Nee's worker trainings: The Character of God's Workman, The Ministry of God's Word, and The Release of the Spirit. Second Timothy 2:2 refers to the concept of training Christian workers that is exemplified in the Gospels and Acts.

For an insightful discussion on the educational aspect of the world system, see Watchman Nee's Love Not the World (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1978).

Robinson, New Reformation, 60-65. Robinson argues that patristic theology was written by bishops, medieval theology was written by university professors, Reformed theology was written by pastors, and the theology of the "new Reformation" will be written by and for the whole people of God. A "theology for the whole people of God" focuses on the concerns and experiences of all Christians, not just the concerns and experiences of a specialized group doing a specialized job (clergy). Contemporary scholars like R. Paul Stevens in Abolition of the Laityand Other SIX Days and Robert Banks in Reenvisioning Theological Education (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999) have written much on this brand of theology. Also, Harold H. Rowdon's article "Theological Education in Historical Perspective," Vox Evangelica 7 (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press, 1971), 75-87, gives an overview of theological education throughout history. Augustine was one such person. A group of clergy gathered around him in the fifth century for training (Rowdon, "Theological Education in Historical Perspective," 75).

Episcopal schools did not take on an academic character to train clergy until the sixth century. Before then, prospective priests would learn under the direction of their bishops how to perform rituals and conduct liturgies. Edward 1. Power, A Legacy of Learning: A History of Western Education (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), 98, 108.

Monastic. The monastic stage of theological education was tied to the ascetic and mystical life. It was taught by monks living in monastic communities (and later cathedral schools)! Monastic schools were founded in the third century. These schools sent missionaries to uncharted territories after the fourth century.'

During this stage, the Eastern church fathers became steeped in Platonic thought. They held to the misguided view that Plato and Aristotle were schoolmasters whose techniques could be used to bring men to Christ. Though they did not intend to lead people astray, their heavy reliance on these pagan philosophers severely diluted the Christian faith.'

Since many of the church fathers were pagan philosophers and orators prior to their conversions, the Christian faith soon began to take on a philosophical bent. Justin Martyr (100-165), one of the most influential Christian teachers of the second century, "dressed in the garb of a philosopher."" Justin believed that philosophy was God's revelation to the Greeks. He claimed that Socrates, Plato, and others had the same standing for the Gentiles as Moses had for the Jews."

After AD 200, Alexandria became the intellectual capital of the Christian world as it had been for the Greeks. A special school was formed there in AD 180. This school was the equivalent of a theological college."

In Alexandria, the institutional study of Christian doctrine began.' Origen (185-254), one of the school's early and most influential teachers, was deeply influenced by pagan philosophy. He was a colleague of Plotinus, the father of Neoplatonism, and drew much from his teaching. According to Neoplatonic thought, an individual must ascend through different stages of purification in order to attain

IBetore the twelfth century, the only education in the West was provided by monastic and cathedral schools.

Marrou, History of Education in Antiquity, 329.

In his book, Ascension and Ecclesia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999). Douglas Farrow exposes how Greek thinking took hold of theology through Origen and then Augustine and how it inevitably affected many areas of church life. 11 Eusebius, The History of the Church, IV, 11, 8.

Boggs, Christian Saga, 151; Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages, 126-127.

Some say it was founded by Pantaenus, the teacher of Clement of Alexandria. Others say it was founded by Demetrius. B. H. Streeter,

The Primitive Church (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1929), 57; James Bowen, A History of Western Education 1 (New York: St.

Martin's Press, 1972), 240; Bowdon, "Theological Education in Historical Perspective," 76.

Bowen, History of Western Education 1:240; Collins and Price, Story of Christianity, 25.

to oneness with God." Origen was the first to organize key theological concepts into a systematic theology.

Of this period Will Durant has observed: "The gap between philosophy and religion was closing, and reason for a thousand years consented to be the handmaiden of theology."' Edwin Hatch echoes these thoughts, saying, "Within a century and a half after Christianity and philosophy first came into closest contact, the ideas and methods of philosophy had flowed in such mass into Christianity, and filled so large a place in it, as to have made it no less a philosophy than a

After Origen's death, Christian schools disappeared. Theological education reverted back to the episcopal form. Bishops were trained by personal contact with other bishops." The sum and substance of clerical learning at this time was the study of Gregory the Great's pastoral theology." Gregory taught bishops how to be good pastors." By the mid-eighth century, bishops' schools were founded. In the tenth century, cathedrals began sponsoring their own schools."

Scholastic. The third stage of theological education owes much to the culture of the university." By 1200, a number of cathedral schools had evolved into universities. The University of Bologna in Italy was the first university to appear. The University of Paris came in a close second, followed by Oxford.'

The University of Paris became the philosophical and theological

Durant, Caesar and Christ, 610. Neoplatonism flourished between 245 and 529, and it influenced Christian thought directly through Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, and Pseudo-Dionysius. Such an idea is still very prevalent in Catholic thought. See Philip S. Watson, Neoplatonism and Christianity: 928 Ordinary General Meeting of the Victoria Institute, vol. 87 (Surrey, UK: The Victoria Institute), 1955. Pastor's Notes 5, no. 2: 7. Durant, Caesar and Christ, 611. IE Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages, 125. Marron, History of Education in Antiquity, 329. Schaff, History of the Christian Church, 4:400.

Gregory's work, Book of Pastoral Rule, was written in AD 591. It is a discussion on the duties of the bishop's office. Douglas, New Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, 289. Notre Dame was one of the earliest cathedral schools. The University of Paris grew out of a cathedral school. Bowen, History of Western Education 2:111. After 1100, the cathedral schools expanded, being broken up into "grammar schools" for boys and a higher school for advanced learning. ^ The word university comes from, the medieval Latin universitas, which was the term used for the medieval craft guilds (Bowen, History of Western Education 2:109).

William Boyd, The History of Western Education (New York: Barnes & Noble, 1967), 128. For a discussion on the origin of the university system, see Helen Wieruszowski, The Medieval University (Princeton: Van Nostra nd, 1966).

center of the world at that time." (It would later become the seed of the Protestant seminary.)2S Higher education was the domain of the clergy." And the scholar was viewed as the guardian of ancient wisdom.

The present-day university grew from the bishops' responsibility to provide clerical training." Theology was regarded as the "Queen of Sciences" in the university.' From the mid-twelfth century to the end of the fourteenth century, seventy-one universities were established in Europe.3 0

Contemporary theology cut its teeth on the abstractions of Greek philosophy.' University academics adopted an Aristotelian model of thinking that centered on rational knowledge and logic. The dominating drive in scholastic theology was the assimilation and communication of knowledge. (For this reason, the Western mind has always been fond of creedal formulations, doctrinal statements, and other bloodless abstractions.)

One of the most influential professors in the shaping of contemporary theology was Peter Abelard (1079-1142). Abelard is partly responsible for giving us "modern" theology. His teaching set the table and prepared the menu for scholastic philosophers like Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)."

Distinguished by Abelard, the school of Paris emerged as the model for all universities to follow." Abelard applied Aristotelian logic to revealed truth, though even he understood the tension between the

Bowen, History of Western Education 1:110.

The word seminary comes from the Latin seminarium, meaning "seedbed" (Reid, Concise Dictionary of Christianity in America, 1071). Collins and Price, Story of Christianity, 112.

Rowdon, "Theological Education in Historical Perspective," 79. The Lateran Council of 1215 exhorted every metropolitan bishop to ensure theology was taught in every cathedral church.


^ Power, Legacy of Learning, 149. The history of university degrees is quite interesting. People who passed academic standards were called masters. Lawyers were the first to be called doctors. Doctor means "one who teaches." It comes from doctrine which means "learning." A doctor, then, is a masterwho teaches. Eager students who wanted recognition were called bachelors (p. 153). The cathedral chancellor had ultimate control of the university. Masters gave lectures to the bachelors who at first lived in privately hired rooms, then later in halls lent to them by the masters (Rowdon, "Theological Education in Historical Perspective," 79). The word facultywhich means "strength, power, and ability." appeared around 1270. It represented the various subject divisions of the medieval guild. The word faculty eventually replaced guild and came to refer to the group of scholars in each subject. Bowen, A History of Western Education 2:111, Charles Homer Haskins, The Rise of Universities (New York: H. Holt, 1923), 17. S1 Stevens, Other Six Days, 12-13; and Stevens, Abolition of the Laity 10-22. D. W. Robertson, Abelard and Heloise (New York: The Dial Press, 1972), xiv. Bowen, History of Western Education 2:109.

two: "I do not wish to be a philosopher, if that means I contradict St. Paul; I do not wish to be a disciple of Aristotle, if that means I separate myself from Christ." He also gave the word theology the meaning it has today. (Before him, this word was only used to describe pagan beliefs.)"

Taking his cue from Aristotle, Abelard mastered the pagan philosophical art of dialectic—the logical disputation of truth. He applied this art to the Scriptures.' Christian theological education never recovered from Abelard's influence. Athens is still in its bloodstream. Aristotle, Abelard, and Aquinas all believed that reason was the gateway to divine truth. So from its beginnings, Western university education involved the fusion of pagan and Christian elements."

Martin Luther had it right when he said, " What else are the universities than places for training youth in Greek glory."" Although Luther was a university man himself, his critique was aimed at the practice of teaching Aristotelian logic at the university level."

Seminarian. Seminary theology grew out of the scholastic theology that was taught in the universities. As we have seen, this theology was based on Aristotle's philosophical system." Seminary theology was dedicated to the training of professional ministers. Its goal was to produce seminary-trained religious specialists. It taught the theology—not of the early bishop, monk, or professor—but of the professionally "qualified" minister. This is the theology that prevails in the contemporary seminary.

One of the greatest theologians of this century, Karl Barth, reacted against the idea that theological education should be relegated to an elite class of professional orators. He wrote, "Theology is not a private reserve of theologians. It is not a private affair of

To the disgust of many in his day, Abelard called one of his books Christian Theology (Robertson, Abelard and Heloise, xii—xiii). This shouldn't be confused with the approach of the apostle Paul, who may have used Greek logic to reason with the Greeks and rhetoric to communicate with them but did not use dialectic (Greek logic) to understand or interpret Scripture. Marsden, Soul of the American University, 34. Ibid., 35.

Ibid., 36. For Luther's ideas on education, see Boyd, History of Western Education, 188ff. Ironically, Luther's coworker Melanchthon combined humanism (which has pagan roots) and Protestantism in the education of Northern Europe. Bowdon, "Theological Education in Historical Perspective," 79.

professors. . . . Nor is it a private affair of pastors. . . . Theology is a matter for the church. . . . The term 'laity' is one of the worst in the vocabulary of religion and ought to be banished from Christian

Concerning the seminary, we might say that Peter Abelard laid the egg and Thomas Aquinas hatched it. Aquinas had the greatest influence on contemporary theological training. In 1879, his work was endorsed by a papal bull as an authentic expression of doctrine to be studied by all students of theology. Aquinas's main thesis was that God is known through human reason. He "preferred the intellect to the heart as the organ for arriving at truth."' Thus the more highly trained people's reason and intellect, the better they will know God. Aquinas borrowed this idea from Aristotle. And that is the underlying assumption of many—if not most—contemporary seminaries.

The teaching of the New Testament is that God is Spirit, and as such, He is known by revelation (spiritual insight) to one's human spirit." Reason and intellect can cause us to know about God. And they help us to communicate what we know. But they fall short in giving us spiritual revelation. The intellect is not the gateway for knowing the Lord deeply. Neither are the emotions. In the words of A. W. Tozer: "Divine truth is of the nature of spirit and for that reason can be received only by spiritual revelation. . . . God's thoughts belong to the world of spirit, man's to the world of intellect, and while spirit can embrace intellect, the human intellect can never comprehend spirit. . . . Man by reason cannot know God; he can only know about God. . . . Man's reason is a fine instrument and useful within its field. It was not given as an organ by which to know God.""

In short, extensive Bible knowledge, a high-powered intellect, and razor-sharp reasoning skills do not automatically produce spiritual men and women who know Jesus Christ profoundly and who can

" Barth, Theologische Hagen and Antworten, 1/0,183-184, quoted in Eller and Marquard, Karl Barth Header, 8-9. Durant, Age of Faith. 964. John 413-24; 1 Corinthians 2:9-16. " Gems from Tozer (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, 1969), 36-37.

impart a life-giving revelation of Him to others.' (This, by the way, is the basis of spiritual ministry.) As Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) once put it, "It is the heart which perceives God, and not the reason.""

Today, Protestants and Catholics alike draw upon Aquinas's work, using his outline for their theological studies.' Aquinas's crowning work, Summa Theologica (The Sum of All Theology), is the model used in virtually all theological classes today—whether Protestant or Catholic. Consider the order in which Aquinas's theology is laid out:




The Divine Government (Salvation, etc.) The Last End"

Now compare this outline to a typical systematic theology textbook used in Protestant seminaries:

Unity and Trinity



The Origin and Character of Man

This topic is far beyond the scope of this book. Four great resources that open up the Scriptures on the subject are T. Austin-Sparks, What Is Man? (Pensacola, Testimony Publications, n.d.); Watchman Nee, The Spiritual Man (New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, 1977); Mary McDonough, God's Plan of Redemption (Anaheim: Living Stream Ministry, 1999); and Ruth Paxson, Life on the Highest Plane (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996).

Pensees #424. For an outstanding discussion on how God can be encountered beyond the bounds of human reason and intellect, see Dr. Bruce Demarest's Satisfy Your Soul: Restoring the Heart of Christian Spirituality (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1999). "Thomas Aquinas Concludes Work on Summa Theolog/ae," Christian History no. 4 (1990), 23. Later in his life, Thomas had a spiritual experience with the Lord. It went beyond his intellect to his spirit. The experience was so profound that Thomas declared: "All that I have hitherto written seems to me nothing but straw ... compared to what has been revealed to me."After this experience of Christ, Thomas gave up all of his voluminous writing. His mammoth Summa Theologica was never completed. He laid down his pen on December 6, 1273, saying, "And I now await the end of my life" (Summa Theologica, Great Books of the Western World, vol. 19, Thomas Aquinas I, vi; Collins and Price, Story of Christianity, 113). Summa Theologica, vii.

Soteriology (Salvation, etc.) Eschatology: The Final State"

Without a doubt, Aquinas is the father of contemporary theology.' His influence spread to the Protestant seminaries through the Protestant scholastics.' The tragedy is that Aquinas relied so completely on Aristotle's method of logic chopping when he expounded on holy writ." In the words of Will Durant, "The power of the Church was still adequate to secure, through Thomas Aquinas and others, the transmogrification [transformation] of Aristotle into a medieval theologian." In another book Durant says that "he began a long series of works presenting Aristotle's philosophy in Christian dress."" Aquinas also quotes from another pagan philosopher profusely throughout his Summa Theologica.53 Regardless of how much we wish to deny it, contemporary theology is a blending of Christian thought and pagan philosophy.

So we have four stages of theological education: episcopal, the theology of the bishops; monastic, the theology of the monks; scholastic, the theology of the professor; and seminarian, the theology of the professional minister.'

Each stage of Christian education is and always has been highly

Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), v. Any standard Protestant systematic theology text follows this same template. All of it was derived from Aquinas.

Aquinas's theological system continues to get reinforced. For instance, most Protestant seminaries in America and Europe follow what is known as the Berlin Model of theological education. This model started in Berlin in 1800. It was an outgrowth of enlightened rationalism that reinforced theology as a cerebral exercise. Most modern seminaries use this model today (Vantage Point: The Newsletter of Denver Sem/nary, June 1998, 4). According to Dr. Bruce Demarest, "As a legacy of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, evangelicals often extol 'reason' as the key that unlocks the knowledge of God. Theology then becomes an intellectual undertaking—an activity of the mind and for the mind. Morton Kelsey observes that 'In Protestantism, God became a theological idea known by inference rather than a reality known by experience.' Through a 'left-brain' approach to the faith, God easily becomes an abstraction removed from lived experience. A. W. Tozer noted that even as many scientists lose God in His world (for example, Carl Sagan), so many theologians lose God in His Word" (Satisfy Your Soul, 95-96). Francis Turretin (Reformed) and Maitin Chemnitz (Lutheran) were the two leading Protestant scholastics. The term logic chopping denotes going to great lengths to force the logic of an argument to fit a particular idea. If you doubt that Aquinas did this, simply read his Summa Theologica. Aquinas relied heavily upon Aristotelian logic and philosophy to support his theological views. Aquinas also wrote commentaries on Aristotle's work. According to Durant, Aquinas knew Aristotle's works more thoroughly than any other medieval thinker except for Averroes. For a full discussion on how Aquinas adopted Aristotle's philosophical system, see Douglas, Who's Who in Christian History, 30-34, and Durant, Age of Faith, 961-978.

Durant, Story of Philosophy (New York: Washington Square Press, 1952), 104; Durant, Age of Faith, 962. The French chair of philosophy at Paris upbraided Thomas for tarnishing Christian theology with the philosophy of a pagan.

Aquinas quotes Pseudo-Dionysius, a Neoplatonist. over 100 times in his Summa Theologica. Aquinas no doubt thought that the Dionysius he quoted was the man that Paul converted to Christ when in Athens (Acts 17:34). It was not, however. Pseudo-Dionysius was a Neoplatonist who lived much later than Dionysius the Areopagite.

A fifth brand of theology called "lay theology" or a "theology for the whole people of God" is being championed by some contemporary scholars. See footnote 5 in this chapter.

intellectual and study driven." As one scholar put it, "Whether a school was monastic, episcopal, or presbyterial, it never separated teaching from religious education, from instruction in church dogma and morals. Christianity was an intellectual religion."" As products of the Reformation, we are taught to be rationalistic (and very theoretical) in our approach to the Christian faith."

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