The development of pastoral education has taken some interesting twists and turns over the centuries. Speaking in broad strokes, the education of the Levites was based on the Pentateuch until the rest of the Old Testament was penned by divine inspiration. Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers formed the core of Levitical pastoral theology. The Prophetic Books received by the Prophets unpacked the Pentateuch’s meaning, called the people to repentance, and expanded on the Messiah’s saving work. As the Wisdom Books came into being, they helped Levites, prophets, and the scribes learn how to better meditate on God’s Word, how to apply it, and how to cultivate pastoral prudence. “Schools” provided training for the Levites, prophets, and scribes (1 Kings 12:8, 10; 2 Kings 2:7; 5:22; 6:1–2; 10:1, 5–6; 12:2; 22:8).
Apostolic education consisted of three years of communal life with Christ and Old Testament instruction, a model still influencing seminary education. Through the Old Testament, the Epistles, and later the Gospels, the apostles taught their students how the New Testament is concealed in the Old Testament and how the latter is revealed in the former (Cf. John 5:39). The Gospels became a renewed Pentateuch for the Christians. Some may have served as catechisms, too (e.g., Matthew and Luke). The doctrines and theological ethics concretized in the Gospels are fleshed out in the Epistles’ more propositional form. The Pastoral Epistles and the Letters to the Corinthians provided the pastoral theology of the new clergy. The New Testament reaffirmed the Old Testament notion that theology is a God-given practical wisdom (Psalm 111:10; 119:104, 130; Proverbs 1:2, 7; 9:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5–6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6) cultivated through prayer, meditation, and the cross/trial (Psalm 119:15, 26, 84).
While Tertullian (fl. turn of the third century) objected to Athens’s Greco-Roman or classical education (i.e., classics, liberal arts, and athletic competition) having any influence on Christian education, most of the Early Church Fathers in the East and West appealed to Scriptural precedents (e.g., Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 9:23–27; 15:33; Titus 1:12) for using Greek education (especially the humanities) as a helpful toolbox for interpreting Scripture and carrying out pastoral duties. Thus, the Fathers were willing to “spoil the Egyptians,” but they also recognized the dangers in making use of the best education of their day. Sometimes they were even led astray by Greco-Roman thought. Their pastoral education recognized that theology was a God-given pastoral prudence for the purpose of explicating Scripture, preaching, and pastoral care. This is made explicit in Augustine’s (354–430) On Christian Doctrine and Gregory the Great’s (ca. 540–604) Pastoral Rule, famous guides to Biblical interpretation and preaching from this era. The monks kept this tradition alive through Late Antiquity and supplemented it with monastic approaches to pastoral theology.
However, the rise of the cathedral schools and Scholasticism in the High Middle Ages brought about a myopic reduction of university education to Aristotelian logic, not unlike the scientism or positivism so prevalent today. As a result, Scholastics tended to do theology in dehumanizing, unhistorical ways and without the grammatical and literary understanding necessary to properly interpret the Biblical text beyond the fundamentals. More pastoral theology manuals and pastoral helps were produced than times past because of technological innovations and need. Guido of Monte Rochen’s (fl. 1331) Handbook for Curates was a very popular pastoral theology. Even though there was a resurgence of preaching and pastoral care, the Gospel was obscured by the Medievals’ improper imposition of Aristotelian logical, metaphysical, and ethical categories upon the doctrines of man, sin, and grace.
Martin Luther’s (1483–1546) Reformation emerged out of the need for Gospel-oriented preaching and pastoral care. This was facilitated by Wittenberg’s Renaissance Humanist education reform that revived the humanities, giving the Lutherans the grammatical, historical, and rhetorical tools necessary to return to the primary sources (instead of digests) as well as read the Bible and the Church Fathers contextually. In other words, Wittenberg returned to a more Biblical and patristic educational model that focused on the explication of Scripture in a historical-grammatical way rather than through syllogistic logic.
In addition to professors of exegetical (Biblical) theology, Wittenberg added professorships in theological commonplaces (loci communes). At this juncture, published Theological Commonplaces were more Biblical reading guides (sort of like Bible Cliff’s Notes) than systematic (doctrinal) theology with prolegomena, which developed in the seventeenth century. Wittenberg also established historical professorships at the liberal arts level, but a professorship in historical theology only become normative in the 1650s. In order to provide practical theological training (i.e., sermonizing, liturgical theology, pastoral care, catechesis), Lutheran theology students had initially followed up their university study serving as schoolmasters or deacons under experienced pastors before becoming pastors themselves. Lutherans soon recognized the need for post-university schooling in practical theology. The beginnings of the seminary first emerged at the Lutheran Cloister at Loccum in 1677. Even then, the first true Protestant post-university seminary was established at the Lutheran Cloister at Riddagshausen in 1690.
As Confessional Lutherans have critically engaged the modern theologians, Confessional Lutherans have increasingly revealed modern theology’s flawed presuppositions and shown that a robust Confessional Lutheranism can better address the concerns of modern theology without abandoning the apostolic faith. The most significant developments in Confessional Lutheran seminary education have been vicarages, seminary field experience, and the further expansion of new areas of study within practical theology, especially in light of the social sciences and the social upheaval since the 1960s.
At present, Confessional Lutheran seminary formation is confronted by the following new challenges: How to provide a sufficient foundation for pastoral education in an education environment that has increasingly sought to demote the humanities? This is compounded by the problem that many humanities and social science programs no longer believe in a fixed human nature and have become hotbeds of social constructionism. How best to realize the four dimensions of pastoral formation; namely, spiritual formation, academic formation, pastoral formation, and human formation? How best to equip the new generation of pastors to minister in an increasingly globalized, secular, and hostile world while keeping them filled with the joy of the gospel and confidence that the one holy Christian and apostolic church will prevail until Christ comes again because Christ has already prevailed over sin, death, and the devil?
Rev. Dr. Timothy Schmeling