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Affirming a house of studies

by Pastor Paul Andell (Saint James Lutheran Church, Philadelphia, PA; WordAlone board member)

May 17, 2006

photo of Pastor AndellFrom the beginning of my time on the WordAlone board I have lent my voice in support of a theological house of studies. Until 2000, when the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia dropped Saint James as a field studies education site, I had supervised seminarians for 20 years. I had seen, first hand, the kind of person the seminary was training. Though "good" people, the majority had no passion for mission and, many, little grounding in confessional faith. Half, perhaps, rose to the caliber of person suited to serve Christ and His Church as an ordained pastor.

Parenthetically, I believe Saint James was eliminated for two reasons. Philadelphia began offering field experiences in Episcopal and Presbyterian settings, thereby widening their choice of sites, and they knew I was critical of the historic episcopate.

Drawing from my own experience at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pa., and from witnessing the Philadelphia seminary, I came to the growing conviction that Evangelical Lutheran Church in America seminaries were not attracting the better candidates nor were they equipping them well to be evangelical Lutheran pastors. Pressed as to where I could recommend a called, Christ and Gospel-centered person to be schooled for Lutheran witness, I have had no compelling answer.

As I did not attend Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., I cannot speak either to its past or present. Its reputation of great service to generations of the church is, I feel, well deserved. To its great credit, Luther has provided many of the conscientious leaders we count on in WordAlone--current and former professors as well as graduates.

But my concern is now about the future. Something is very wrong with the direction and content of theological education for Lutherans, a drift we have all witnessed. Whatever way the wind is blowing--and it shifts--influences the whole church, especially our seminaries.

It troubles me that, in the heritage we represent, few of our ELCA colleges or seminaries, as institutions, have been able to speak prophetically, to distance themselves--politically or theologically--from the flow of recent "correctness."

This puts us in a crisis of conscience around biblical and historical faith. It is about our heritage and the fact that there are influential people walking around calling themselves "Lutheran" with whom many of us cannot identify.

If this is our reality, and we in WordAlone know it is, then it is about keeping our eyes focused on the future of a Lutheran witness, whoever the players may be. When were we ever seeking to be politically correct as a movement? Aren't we supposed to be saying, "Thus says the Lord?" I think so. In my opinion, the best way to help our seminaries wrestle with their orientations is to demonstrate our resoluteness toward a standard of excellence they are not able to reach in many cases. And we need to do it with those willing to do a new thing. I hope that WordAlone's theological house of studies raises the bar for all theological education in the ELCA.

The recent decision by the WordAlone convention to support an autonomous and accredited Lutheran theological house of studies somewhere in the land is both forward thinking and necessary in the present climate.

I believe it is the work of the Holy Spirit among us and is an awesome moment in our efforts as we pray and work for renewal and reform.