Reform in Theological Education
AT the recent International Congregational Council, the question which sharply divided the audience, was twice reopened by special order, and furnished the chief topic of discussion for the remainder of the session was one not primarily of doctrine or polity, but of education. Yet problems of education are always rooted in philosophy, and affect the conduct of life. As Principal Fairbairn pointed out, the education of the minister involves the conception of theology on which the ministry is based. It also involves the momentous issue of the sort of man the minister shall be.
Under the limitations of time and mode of treatment which a great assembly imposes, these deeper aspects of the subject the discussion at the Council could not touch. The sharp collision of opposing views is valuable as a means of bringing needed reforms to public attention, but is incompetent to throw much light on the issues raised. For, as Edward Caird has said, “ controversy is apt to narrow a principle, and to deprive it of the full riches of its meaning, just because it tends to reduce it to the mere negative of that to which it is opposed.” In the present article I propose to contrast two conceptions of theology, two types of minister, two policies of theological education which are struggling for supremacy in all our Protestant denominations ; and to point out the reforms which are needed to make our American seminaries expressive of the theology which the world is fast coming to believe, and productive of the kind of minister which the churches are already beginning to demand. For, though institutions are slower to change than either ideas or men, doctrines, men, and institutions must ultimately become all of one type or all of the other.
One conception of theology regards God as a Being beyond the clouds, who at sundry times and in divers manners has broken through the mechanical world order to promulgate his laws, inflict his vengeance, and rescue his favorites ; and in due time sent his Son to suffer the penalty which otherwise would have fallen upon all mankind. Man’s salvation depends on rightly apprehending the exact letter of the law which God miraculously revealed, the precise terms of the covenant he arbitrarily made, the specific conditions of pardon which he graciously established. Because God is holy and Christ is gracious, it follows as a logical inference and implication that man should be holy and gracious too. Yet these ethical and social obligations are deductions from the decree of God and the sacrifice of Christ, rather than the eternal principle and substance out of which God’s law and Christ’s sacrifice alike proceed.
The other conception of theology regards God not so much as an arbitrary authority outside the world as the spirit of love and sacrifice within it. All righteous legislation and moral insight are the progressive unfolding of his will; and the unique position of Hebrew law and prophecy is due to intrinsic ethical and social superiority, and the clearness with which legal code and prophetic insight in fictitious and literary rather than in scientific and historically accurate form, but with substantial truth and practical impressiveness, are ascribed to the one God who rules the world in righteousness and mercy. Christ is the well-authenticated Son of God, because the righteousness and mercy which are the very essence of divinity became his constant meat and drink, and the spirit of love, which is the Spirit of God, was without measure upon him. Sin is selfishness; and pain to others, degradation of self, are its inevitable and indissoluble penalties. The wrong sin does and the degradation it works can be redeemed by nothing less personal and costly than that bearing of the sufferer’s sorrows and that sharing of the sinner’s shame of which the cross of Christ is the consummate and typical example. Salvation is restoration to the lost life of love. Whatever goes to the making of a happy home, the upbuilding of an honest fortune, the just administration of industry, the wise conduct of public affairs, is part and parcel of that life of love wherein the Christian walks humbly with the omnipresent God, lives in fellowship with the ever living Christ, holds communion with the Holy Spirit. Heaven is not merely the hope of a happy hereafter, but the present experience of the joys of human love and the glory of human service and sacrifice, when seen in their true light as a participation in the life and love of the Father, in whose image all mankind are made. Concern for sinners is not an apprehension, deduced from passages of Scripture, that they will be punished by and by ; but perception of the obvious fact that, in so far as they are selfish, sensual, cruel, mean, they are already dead to their best capacities, lost to their true estate, and that nothing but the resurrection of the crucified Christ within them can save them from the death and degradation in which they actually are.
Corresponding to these two theological conceptions are two types of minister. The minister of the first type knows that since all men are descendants of Adam, all have sinned. He is prepared to warn them of the punishment that is in store for them hereafter. At the same time he holds out the pardon which, in consideration of the sufferings of Christ, God offers to all who will accept it on the proffered terms. To all who thus repent of their sin in the lump, and accept the covenant of grace, he gives assurance of “ abundant entrance ” into heaven. To be sure, this bare theological outline is not the total content of the gospel he proclaims. The minister of this type has inherited common sense, and shares the common notions of morality which are recognized by the community in which he was brought up. He is prompt to condemn the obvious vices, like lying, stealing, drunkenness, and licentiousness, which both the Bible and public sentiment denounce ; and to commend the staple virtues of temperance, chastity, truthfulness, and honesty. He is usually a man of tender human sympathy; and, through meditation,prayer, and the study of the Scriptures, he has become deeply imbued with a Christlike holiness and charity. His office and function, his common sense and sympathy, his conduct and character, make him a power for good, second to none in the community in which he lives and works. Ministers and missionaries of this type are often men of a depth of piety, a force of character, a wealth of sympathy, a record of heroic conflict with evil and sacrificing service to their fellows, so strong and deep and sweet and pure that those of us who fancy we hold broader views of spiritual truth feel personally unworthy to unloose the latchet of their shoes. Nevertheless, we must resolutely refuse tQ confound in our minds the nobleness of personal character, which is due to a great combination of influences, with the more specific question of the adequacy of a conception of theology or a method of theological training.
The minister of the second type, of whom, in certain respects, Henry Ward Beecher was the great forerunner, has a vision of what God’s love would make of human life. He sees the happy children, the eager youth, the pure lovers, the tender husbands and fathers, the devoted wives and mothers, the considerate brothers and sisters, the revered grandparents, God’s love begets within the Christian home. He sees the honest work, the thrifty economy, the independent selfrespect, the fair exchange, the mutual good will, which God’s love breathes into industrial and commercial life. He sees the loyalty and enthusiasm and heroism and self-sacrifice which God’s love inspires in the citizen of a free Christian state. He sees how ennobling to the mind, how chastening to the affections, how steadying to the will, God’s love becomes when, in the form of education, it trains ardent youth to trace the workings of God’s mind in natural laws, and the expressions of his will in human institutions. He sees how beautiful and sweet is social intercourse when God’s love brings together men and women in mutual admiration and helpfulness, enjoyment and improvement.
The minister of this second type, just because he carries with him to every heart and home, to every custom and institution, this beauteous picture of the heaven God’s love would make of them, finds much sorrow to share, much sin to rebuke and correct. Every child’s unhappiness is to him a personal grief, the cause of which it is his care to remove. The bitterness that is in store for each wanton, wayward youth he feels pressed to his own lips ; and by warning and counsel is as anxious to avert it as though the cup that holds it were his own. The young girl, heedless of the priceless pearl of pure affection she bears within her maiden breast, he will gently warn against the swinishness that would flatter and caress merely to trample and defile. He will be tactful to point out to the hard and mercenary father the greater riches he is missing in neglecting to win the confidence and share the innocent enthusiasms of his children ; and to show the anxious and troubled mother the point at which a just maternal fondness and solicitude pass over into slavishness and fussiness on the one hand, or pride and vanity on the other. He knows how to drop here and there the needed hint to make the neglected wife more appreciated by the thoughtless husband, or the aged parent more prized by the grownup children, before it is too late.
The minister of this second type feels with every workingman in his parish the fearful temptation to do shiftless work, when good work receives no more recognition and pay than bad, and studies how to make it worth the poor man’s while to persevere in unappreciated and unrewarded integrity. He shares with the merchant and contractor the tremendous stress of competition with inferior and adulterated products, with men and firms who do not intend to pay their creditors, with corporations which have secured from public or quasi-public officials exemptions, discriminations, and rebates, which only bribery or power can buy. He will stand with the member of the trade union at the parting of the ways, and tell him whether he will best honor God, and least dishonor himself and wrong his fellows, by standing alone in support of his wife and children, or by joining his comrades in an attempt to secure the claims, just or unjust, of the union. He will stand up for the employer when all men revile him, so long as in his action the employer is simply obeying the great impersonal forces of supply and demand, market rate of wages, competition, and combination ; and he will dare to reprove him to his face the moment he goes a step beyond this, and by his personal choice adds a feather’s weight to the burdens and privations of the workers in his employ. He will not attempt to dictate to his people what political views they shall support; but he will hold them strictly responsible for giving the full measure of influence and efficacy that belongs to their position to whatever views they hold. He will know enough about education to give advice as to whether a boy is better fitted to the plough or the bar, to bookkeeping or authorship; and to tell young girls and their mammas what fools they make of themselves when they purchase artistic accomplishments, or college education, or social position, at the cost of impaired health, unbalanced nerves, and prematurely exhausted vigor and vitality. He will be keen to discover and disclose the difference between the wholesome social life which is a joy to those who give and those who receive, and its wretched counterfeit which is begotten of rivalry, born of ostentation, and fruitful in heart-burnings and bickerings and jealousies and animosities.
Yet clearly as he sees and grasps these multitudinous details of human life, the minister of this second type does not, like a mere ethical teacher, regard them as so many unrelated fragments. He sees them all as cases of the presence or absence of God’s love in human hearts. To all these various problems he applies the one sovereign remedy of the love of God, as it came into the world in Jesus Christ, and dwells here to-day as the Holy Spirit in which Christian men and women live and do their work.
Corresponding to these two conceptions of theology and types of minister are two plans of theological education. A seminary course constructed on the first plan consists chiefly of five parts, each of which may have subordinate branches. First, Hebrew, to get the text of the divine law and covenant. Chaldee, Assyrian, and Arabic may be added as options. Second, Greek, to get the letter of the new covenant, and the precise word of the latest inspiration. Hebrew and Greek exegesis may be duplicated by Biblical theology, which binds into sheaves the gleanings from these linguistic fields. Third, dogmatic theology, which weaves into a single system the separate strands of truth gathered from the Scriptures. Subordinate to this is apologetics, the defense of the established doctrines against critics and heretics. Fourth, church history, the study of the ways in which previous dogmatic theologians have done their work, including the forms and institutions in which the Christian truth has found embodiment. Subsidiary to this may be added excursions into patristic literature, mediæval customs, and modern controversies. Fifth, homiletics, the art of fitting a doctrine to a text, and proclaiming it convincingly. To this department elocution is the most usual and important appendage.
Seminaries established on this plan may appropriately be tied to a creed, which professors must sign, and in which the students are to be so trained that they shall believe and preach the creed, the whole creed, and nothing but the creed. In view of the immense importance of having precisely these doctrines, and no others, proclaimed to the churches, every student who goes through the three years’ course without dissent, however listlessly and indifferently, should be graduated and ordained to the ministry. Indeed, where this view is carried to its logical conclusion, short cuts, devised by wellmeaning evangelists, prepare a man in a few months, without either of the languages or much of the history and philosophy, to go forth and proclaim the simple story of how God came into the world, what he said and did, what terms he laid down for man’s salvation, and what men must do to avail themselves of the offer that he made. The readiness of many churches to be content with these undisciplined exhorters shows how firmly the old conception of theology is still rooted in rural regions, and how little the new type of minister is appreciated there.
Whether the course is long or short, provision will be made that little or no original thinking and investigation shall be done. The favorite method of instruction in seminaries conducted on this plan is the dictated lecture, which gives in finished and final form the interpretations, doctrines, and motives the students are expected passively to receive, and forever after subserviently to proclaim. Seminaries which are the chosen arks for such precious traditions will not hesitate, by free tuition, free room rent, doubledup scholarships, and indiscriminate charity, to fill up with as many duly docile students as they can afford to hire; and to retain them, regardless of whether they are industrious or lazy, bright or stupid, thoughtful or superficial.
The seminary course constructed on the second plan will include most of the traditional theological subjects; but it will approach them in a different spirit. Imbued with the historical method, it will trace the beginnings of our faith in Jewish and Christian sources, availing itself of the most exact literary and historical criticism and antiquarian research. Yet it will value the Hebrew prophets for the light they throw on the labor problem, the problems of taxation and currency and expansion, the problems of charity and correction and municipal government, the problems of domestic happiness and social purity and industrial opportunity. It will read the Biblical writers with constant reference to the writers who are stirring the conscience and creating the ideals of the modern world. It will teach theology in order to show all truths of nature and of man reduced to rational unity around the central insight of that loving purpose of God which finds its consummate fulfillment in the supreme character of Christ. But the unity thus gained will not be a little closed circle apart from the scientific, ethical, and philosophical conceptions of the age. It will be a strenuous attempt to see through these conceptions to the Divine Thought which is at their common centre, and gives them all whatever measure of reasonableness they contain. It will teach church history, not as a single section of the life of the past, but as showing how spiritual conceptions have moulded secular institutions, and divine forces have guided human affairs. It will present Athanasius against the world as the inspiration of the modern Christian scholar, whose task it is to make men see and believe that there is a God within the world, in an age when agnosticism has conclusively demonstrated that we can prove the existence of no God outside it. It will hold up Luther as an example to the theological reformer of to-day who will venture to carry to its logical conclusion the principles of the Reformation. It will set before its students the Puritan of the seventeenth century as the model for the preacher of the twentieth, who shall abandon the rhetorical ritualism of the sermon, and plead with his congregation, simply as a man with men, to live the life they know they ought to live. It will teach homiletics, not to show how to make sermons of the approved pattern, but, by incessant practice under severe criticism, every week throughout the whole three years, to train the minister to drive home, by telling phrase and luminous figure and logical demonstration, the truth he sees, into the hearts and consciences of the men who see it not.
Such a seminary will leave its professor free to
It will insist that its students shall either come from families which have acquired the economic virtues of thrift and independence, or else in some degree shall have worked out these virtues for themselves. It will compel them to make their own investigations, do their own thinking, and present satisfactory original results, as a condition of scholarship aid and ultimate approbation to preach. It will introduce into its curriculum enough secular subjects, like philosophy, ethics, sociology, and literature, which underlie the ministry as anatomy and physiology and chemistry underlie medicine, to give the students sufficient material for the application of their spiritual principles, and to keep them in close touch with actual life. It will take for its province whatever truth is necessary to help its students to grasp human life in the unity of the love of God.
This plain statement of the case renders argument superfluous. The adherent of the first conception of theology, who hopes to perpetuate the minister of the first type, does not need to be told that the new plan of seminary instruction will gently lay his favorite theological positions upon the shelf, and in due time render the old type of minister extinct. Neither does the adherent of the second conception of theology, who prefers the minister of the second type, need to be told that the old seminary curriculum can never, save by the provocation of opposition and reaction, foster the modern theological opinions, or turn out the modern minister. Still, by way of summary, it may not be amiss to state in definite terms the precise steps which must be taken to transfer the seminaries from the old basis to the new.
First, indiscriminate eleemosynary aid to theological students must be stopped. If law and medicine held out the opportunity of board and room, heat and light, clothing and furniture, instruction, and all the comforts and refinements of a cultivated club to anybody who could raise fifty dollars a year, these professions would soon be swamped by the horde of idlers and degenerates who would apply. It is one of the highest testimonials to the Christian ministry that it has suffered so little harm from these pauperizing processes which would have been the utter ruin of any other profession. Under these eleemosynary conditions natural selection does not get a fair chance to do its wholesome work of toning up the manhood of the ministry.
Second, a high standard of scholarship must be maintained. Men who seek to enter the ministry by short cuts from the Young Men’s Christian Association or the Young People’s Society of Christian Endeavor, through a few months of cramming in a school for “ workers ” or a preparatory course for evangelists, must be rigidly rejected. They are as little fit for the profession of the ministry as a Christian Scientist is fit for the practice of surgery. To help out these would-be preachers, plagiarism has been reduced to a profession, and unscrupulous publishing houses are growing rich out of this miserable merchandise. With the most liberal borrowingfrom pernicious homiletical helps, and the most ingenious “ reshuffling of cant phrases,” these premature preachers burn the ground of their parishes over in shorter time than it took them to learn their trade ; and the last state of the fields which they have devastated is like that of the swept and garnished chamber of the parable. The regular seminaries need to rigidly exclude unpromising material at the start, and weed out the indolent and the incompetent throughout the course. A year ago, Union Seminary in New York, on careful sifting of applicants, found that out of seventy-two candidates thirty-six were not sufficiently promising to spend time and money upon, and had the conscience and courage to reject them. Several of those who were admitted were discouraged from returning at the close of the first year. The Chicago Congregational Seminary reports this year a move in the same direction. The minister must be taught to endure intellectual hardship, equal at least to that of professions like engineering and journalism, which have less to say about consecration and self-sacrifice.
Third, the seminaries must not tie their professors to the teaching of a prescribed creed. A man can dictate the views of another man, or body of men ; he can teach no views but those he individually holds. The attempt to tie teaching to creeds is either futile or pernicious. If a man believes the identical creed set forth, then there is no use in making him sign it; for in that case he will teach it, whether he signs or not. If he does not believe it, he must either teach what he does not believe, which is in every way disastrous and reprehensible ; or else, as all men under such circumstances do, he must crawl away from his signature through some such loophole as “for substance of doctrine,” or “ subject to the further light which may yet break forth from God’s Holy Word.” If he must sign, he of course must resort to some such device to nullify his action. For that any candid and open-minded man should find himself in exact agreement with the substance and what Professor James calls the “ fringe ” of doctrinal systems drawn up generations ago is psychologically impossible. Human minds are not cast in moulds which can be employed unaltered year after year. They grow in correspondence to their environment. To evade the strict consequences of agreement to teach a creed is a less evil than to teach it contrary to one’s convictions ; though neither attitude is ideal. That the men who sign these creeds, and then contrive to find liberty under them, are perfectly honest and conscientious, one does not question for a moment. But the position in which the requirement to sign a creed places them is a very unfortunate one, and exposes them to much annoyance and misunderstanding. For a Protestant, imbued with the scientific spirit, to teach the letter of an ancient creed is absolutely impossible; and to explain to the satisfaction of the public his necessary departure from it is not always easy. Hereafter no seminary should be founded with such impossible conditions ; any more than a charter should be granted to a college which proposed to bind its professors forever to teach the McKinley doctrine of the tariff or the Bryan views of the free coinage of silver. If a man is as sure of the truth of a theological position as he is of the law of gravitation or the equality of the three angles of a triangle to two right angles, he will not feel the need of stipulating that the professors in the institution which he founds shall always teach those views. It is the doubter posing as believer who ties up teaching to a creed. For he is afraid that, if left to candid inquiry and fair discussion, the views he thus seeks to protect may be disproved and overthrown. When you see a baseball bat or a golf club tightly wound around with cord, you instinctively infer that there is some weakness or crack at the protected point. These creeds which are wound so tightly around our theological professorships are everlasting proclamations of the weakness of the doctrines they thus artificially protect. If professors in Protestant seminaries generally would resolutely refuse to sign any creed whatever as a basis of their teaching, not on grounds of dissent from this or that objectionable dogma in this or that particular document, but on the principle that all such subscription is inconsistent with the first principles of Protestantism, then either the courts would excuse professors from signing, as Quakers are now excused from taking oath, or else new foundations would be forthcoming to support men who should be nominally as well as actually free.
Fourth, secular studies must be carried on side by side with the traditional theological subjects, throughout the seminary course. A seminary in which the bulk of the student’s time and attention for the three years previous to his entering upon the ministry is devoted to events that happened, languages that were spoken, views that were formulated, more than a thousand years ago, is not a place where men are most effectively fitted to become leaders of their fellows. Men so trained are in danger of becoming mere blind leaders of the blind, whose common destination is the ditch of tradition ; dead buriers of the dead in the grave of conventionalities. The seminary should keep its men constantly grappling with philosophical, ethical, social, industrial, political problems. It should keep them busy reading the literature in which the temptations and struggles, the ambitions and passions, the complications and entanglements, characteristic of this modern life are reflected and portrayed. It cannot throw the burden back upon the colleges, and say that it is their business to teach these subjects. Partly from the limitation of time, partly from the immaturity of the students, partly from the difficulty of finding men competent to teach them in a vital way, the colleges make at best only a beginning. The proper attitude and approach to these subjects for a professional student is very much more thorough and fundamental than the average college is able to give to its undergraduates. Then what is wanted of the seminary is their presentation in the light of the central Christian principle. The seminary student should know not only how men actually think and feel and act in their domestic, industrial, social, and public life, but how the Christian spirit will help them to transform each of these relations into the sweet, pure, just, generous, heroic life which is at once the will of God and the glory of man. As a matter of fact, the average graduate of the seminary in time past has not gone forth to his parish with clear-cut conceptions of just the changes which he hopes to see the spirit of love work in these concrete conditions. A pitcher of a university baseball nine tells me that he keeps a list of all the men on other teams with which he ever expects to play, and over against each name is noted down whatever weaknesses and peculiarities that player has. The moment one of these players comes up to the bat, this pitcher knows the kind of ball most likely to make him strike out, or bat into a baseman’s hands, and pitches accordingly. How many ministers have such a clear conception of just how each member of his congregation stands toward the spiritual life, and is prepared, in public or in private, to say the precise word which will help that man to improve his course of life at the particular point of greatest selfishness and meanness and animality ? How large a part of the seminary course is fitted to equip its students for this task of taking men just where they are, in moral obtuseness and deterioration, in philosophical crudeness and perplexity, in social indifference to the condition of their fellows, in economic parasitism and political irresponsibility, and wake them up to insight and sympathy and responsibility and practical serviceableness ? The study of Hebrew and Greek and church history and theology and homiletics is indeed a help in this direction. In these days of the historical method, no one would think of cutting these subjects out of the seminary course. But they ought to be carried farther, and brought down to date. Hebrew and American moral and social problems should be made to shed light on each other. The literature of Palestine and the literature of England should be studied together, so that the ideals of the former should measure the worth of the ideals of the latter; and the methods of the latter should explain the figures of speech and other rhetorical expedients of the former. Carlyle and Ruskin, Matthew Arnold and Emerson, Newman and Browning, all have points in common with the prophets of the Old Testament, and the biographers and letter-writers of the New. Only the man who can appreciate these points which Biblical and modern writers have in common is in a position to recognize the profound superiority of the Bible writers over all who have come after them, in the directness with which they seize the central point of spiritual significance, and by holding fast to that are able not only to sway and mould the men and issues of their day, but to exercise a perpetual influence over all succeeding generations. In the same way, the man who is not grappling with the problems of tariff, coinage, corporations, and imperialism will never appreciate the real greatness of Moses and the prophets who were the successful solvers, on spiritual principles, of the kindred problems of their day. The man who has never seen the inside of a prison, a settlement, a tenement-house sweatshop, a cheap lodging house, or known the hard conditions in which the less fortunate workers in our cities toil for the mere conditions of subsistence, with nothing left for comfort or even decency, can scarce understand either Christ’s sympathy with the poor and the outcast, or his fierce outbursts of indignation against the prosperous hypocrites who were responsible for their condition.
The actual life of the men and women of to-day, in all its heights and depths, in all its hopes and fears, in all its despair and aspiration, in all its cruelty and bitterness, in all its impersonal grinding and its personal brutality ; life as it is affected by customs, institutions, and ideals ; life as it is dependent on charity, correction, and legislation ; life as it is reflected in amusements, education, literature, and art; life as it looks to God ; life as it stands related to the purpose of Christ; life as it can be transformed by the Holy Spirit, — that should form no small part of the subject matter of study and investigation, reflection and prayer, of the theological student throughout his seminary course. A theological course winch makes no adequate provision for these things is as wide of the mark as a medical course which should recite the origin and history of medicine, the names of the diseases to which men are liable and the prescribed remedies therefor ; but should give no opportunity for dissection of the human body, no study of normal and pathological physiological processes, no histological and bacteriological study of the minute tissues and the organisms which, by fastening and feeding on them, are the occasion of the disease of the body as a whole.
Fifth, methods of instruction must be more individual and original. In the lower grades, we can teach children the elements of history, geography, grammar, and science by the authority of book or teacher. But we do not expect them to become geographers, historians, or grammarians as the result of such a process. Even in the lower grades these methods are rapidly being supplemented by more first-hand methods. Long before he leaves college, the student learns to make his own selection of subjects for study, and to regard the pages of textbook or the notes of lecture simply as guides for the independent reading and discussion of the subject. The seminaries, on the other hand, were established, not to investigate truth, but to propagate specific views and doctrines. Hence the dictated lecture, handing on the received doctrine in final and finished form, was the appropriate mode of instruction. Nevertheless, the departures from this method have been notable. Had the single element of candor been added, had there been a disposition to welcome and adjust to considerations not included in the assumed premises, the classroom of Professor Park, where some were set to attack, others to defend the lectures, would have presented as fine a spectacle of intellectual gymnastics as the world has witnessed since the days of Socrates. There are lecture rooms of theology in American seminaries to-day where the atmosphere is as free as in any German university. On the other hand, there are many such rooms where the air is very hot and close and stifling, where the windows are never opened and ventilators are unknown. There is some research in church history; some (but nowhere enough) systematic writing throughout the entire course, with merciless and constant criticism, in homiletics. But on the whole, the tradition of passive receptivity, rather than active, independent, and original investigation, still dominates the seminaries of the country. Too many students are content with what the book or the professor says, rather than eager to discover for themselves the dictate of reason or the deliverance of research. When these students become ministers they lose power as years go on. No one can stock up in three years with enough ideas to feed a congregation upon for the following forty. Even the truth that a man gets in this second-hand way speedily dries up and shrivels on his hands. The true function of the seminary is, not to impart fixed and final information, but to awaken interest, open up fields for reading and investigation, give a central germinal principle, and train the student to apply it in a limited field, so that he can go out and continue to apply it for himself to whatever new matter he may meet. The minister ought to be the man who knows that the principle of love is competent to solve all moral and spiritual problems in earth, or heaven, or hell; who has been trained to solve a few problems in the light of it; and who, when he strikes a domestic sorrow, a labor difficulty, a political policy, a social custom, will know how to analyze it and show just how the lack of love accounts for whatever is bad in it, and how the application of love can make it better. No man who has merely listened respectfully to the lectures of his professor, no matter how wise that professor may be, will ever be able to unravel and disentangle the complicated problems of life, and bring in the principle of love to make them smooth and straight. Everywhere else the graduate student must present some work of his own, in law case or dissection or thesis or experiment, to show, not what he has heard from a man or read in a book, but what he can do for himself. More work akin to this should be required of the student of theology.
I do not mean to say that most men hold in toto either the one or the other of the contrasted conceptions of theology ; or that most of our seminaries are altogether antiquated, while few or none have any redeeming features; or that most ministers are hopelessly abstract and general in their views ; and that we must wait until the reconstructed seminary turns out a new crop before we shall have men who are fit to preach the gospel. The broader conceptions of theology are stealing over the world without observation, silently and gradually, as sunlight breaks upon the sleeping world at dawn. Few of us fortunately have gotten the old altogether out of our blood ; and fewer still can pretend to have thought the modern view through to its logical conclusions. Between seminaries there are great differences. A majority of those connected with the more conservative sects are still in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity, so far as either theological progress or pedagogical improvement is concerned. On the other hand, the Harvard and the Episcopal schools in Cambridge, Union Seminary in New York, the Baptist Seminary in Chicago, most of the Congregational seminaries, and some others have taken decided and promising steps in the direction of one or more of the reforms suggested. In all these seminaries there are departments which have been completely and radically reconstructed on a thoroughly modern and scientific basis. In some of them sociological opportunities have been opened, philosophical and literary courses offered, which are all that could be desired.
The seminaries, however, were built on a model which was furnished by a theology which is fast becoming obsolete, and so far as they cling to that model they tend to turn out men who are not properly fitted to grapple with the complex problems of the modern world. I once heard Professor Paulsen, in a lecture at the University of Berlin, attempt to account for the fact that at the beginning of the century among professional students at the university the majority were students of theology, and the minority were students of medicine, while at the end of the century the proportion is exactly reversed. “Formerly,” he said, “ when one had anything the matter with his body he assumed that nature would bring him out all right; but if anything was the matter with his soul, he went at once to the clergyman to get it cured. Whereas now, if one has any ailment of the body, he runs straight for a doctor ; but if there is any trouble in his soul, he keeps it to himself.”
The reason, I fancy, is deeper than the mere change of disposition in the patient. The science of medicine, which then was vague, general, clumsy, and often false, has made enormous strides, until at the end of the century it is prepared to ascertain the causes, describe the course, and accurately, if not always successfully, prescribe the remedy for most of the diseases to which flesh is heir. Theology, on the contrary, has made no corresponding increase in the precision and definiteness with which it attacks the problems of the spiritual life. It still deals with sin in the mass, and administers drastic doses, indicated by general symptoms, laid down in the authoritative books. Give the world a theology as detailed and definite as modern medicine, and ministers as skillful to trace the workings of the spirit of man in holiness and sin as is the modern physician to trace physiological processes in health and disease, and both the minister and the salvation he preaches and applies will be as much in demand as ever. The theological seminaries hold the key to the situation. Hence it is not in unkindly criticism, but in an earnest desire to secure official expression for the theology which the world has come to believe, and adequate training for the ministers the times demand, that attention is called to their traditional weaknesses and inherited shortcomings.
William De Witt Hyde.