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News Analysis

By David W. Virtue, DD
July 28, 2023

The former Bishop of Arizona, Kirk Smith let the cat out of the bag when he revealed the true state of four Episcopal seminaries he has taught at since he retired.

In an article in The Living Church, "How Working in Four Episcopal Seminaries Changed My Understanding of Theological Education" the bishop revealed the true state of the four seminaries which included General, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, Virginia Theological Seminary, and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific. You can read it here: https://covenant.livingchurch.org/2023/07/24/a-bishop-goes-to-seminary/

"My time at these institutions quickly dispelled my idyllic fantasies! about theological education within the Episcopal Church."

"Being a bishop also allowed me to witness firsthand how the knowledge acquired by seminarians might or might not serve them in the field after graduation," he wrote.

While acknowledging his confidence in the future of the church and the dedication of students from increasingly diverse backgrounds showing immense dedication, he approved faculty members, for "moving away from the academic mentality that prioritizes publication over teaching, focusing instead on equipping their students with practical skills for priestly and chaplaincy roles."

The bishop described several "troubling trends."

The concept of a "core curriculum," encompassing subjects such as Scripture, theology, and liturgics (as defined by the canons), has largely become a thing of the past. Although these subjects are taught (sort of), the real energy and enthusiasm seem to be reserved for "elective" classes that often align with the current cultural debates, he wrote.

Smith went on to say that three of the four seminaries did not have a full-time faculty member dedicated to teaching the New Testament. Instead, adjunct instructors, some of whom were not Episcopalians, were entrusted with this crucial task. He went on to lament that the elective offerings in areas of hot-button cultural issues were disproportionately emphasized.

Of course, this is what happens when you dump Scripture and talk endlessly of inclusion and diversity with the core emphasis on love that Oprah could embrace but not necessarily Jesus. According to the bishops there is no exposition of books of the Bible, no teaching the 39 Articles, the history of the Church; nothing on Cranmer, Ryle, Toplady, Stott, Packer, to mention just a few notable Anglican figures.

"For electives, I would have appreciated a greater focus on classes addressing challenges faced by parishioners in the majority of congregations: the impact of science and computer technology, community organization, youth and children outreach, and practical exposure to parish administration. While there is often extensive conversation (sometimes obsessively so) about the finer points of liturgy, the same attention is not given to skills like running a successful stewardship campaign, recruiting volunteers, constructing a budget, or even how to read a spreadsheet."

That is an indictment on at least three of the four seminaries. And you wonder why when people are not fed the 'bread of life' but the husks of culture that they leave. The New York Times and social media have more answers than what comes from a TEC pulpit!!!

Smith gets it right when he says; "If the church is to grow, it must prioritize meeting the deep spiritual needs of its members, rather than merely tinkering with the prayer book. Additionally, I found Clinical Pastoral Education to be a time-consuming endeavor that has strayed far from its original purpose of exposing students to the ethical and emotional challenges of working in a hospital."

How can a priest, who may know more about woke issues than he knows about the gospel, possibly minister the life-giving Word of Scripture to people who are dying and need to be comforted with the assurances and promises of Scripture when the priests has never been taught how to do this!

Many individuals pursue seminary education for the wrong reasons, moaned Smith.

"Seminary is not a place to "find myself," or "get closer to God," two common responses when I asked students why they chose to enroll. Parishes and diocesan commissions on ministry must take greater responsibility in selection," he said.

Gosh. No call to the ministry to preach the gospel of God's enduring grace to sinners. No talk of justification by faith or living the sanctified Christian life!

Then comes this revelation from the bishop; "There appears to be a temptation to "promote" individuals who may not be suitable for ministry up the discernment chain, passing them along from rectors to discernment committees, then to commissions on ministry, and even to bishops, who -- often against their better judgment -- then send them to seminary."

WHAT AN INDICTMENT! What he is saying is that seminary is dependent on the tuition income generated by students, and this motivates them to ensure their graduation! "The crash doesn't come until these graduates assume their first positions in parishes." he writes.

Recognizing that online education is the Church's future and the Church must embrace it as it provides an easier on ramp for underrepresented groups to engage in theological learning, aligning with our church's goal of more diverse leadership, it bothers the bishop about the content of such teaching.
"The extensive training required to deliver good sermons, conduct funerals, teach effectively, or minister to the sick? Episcopalians rightfully expect a professional clergy who possess the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual readiness to serve in a rapidly changing society. This can only be achieved if bishops send their most capable individuals to seminary and the laity helps to foot the bill." According to the bishop that is not happening.

The reality is mediocrity and the bishop seems to understand that.

He concludes: "How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?"

And TEC doesn't get it. The number of individuals responding to the call to ministry has significantly decreased over the past generation, says Smith. The deeper reality is the Episcopal Church is dying. Not only are their fewer ordinands coming forward, they are men without spiritual chests, unable or unwilling to preach a faithful biblical gospel; wallowing in woke issues that will not attract Generations X, Y and Z. Pushing the LGBTQ agenda is a parish killer. The age of an average Episcopalian is 68 and no new generations are coming forward to fill pews. Churches are desperate for a new generation of leaders which do not exist and never will. They are not coming. The jig is up.


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