John Hobbins, in a couple of posts over at the ever-insightful Ancient Hebrew Poetry blog, has rightly lamented the state of language training in North American seminaries. The sad reality is that even those seminarians who take biblical languages end up not using them — obviously with some exceptions — and if you don’t use it, you loose it. There are probably many different reasons for this state of affairs. Most seminaries appear to have lower academic standards than in the past and minimal language training. There is also a fear of language learning among seminarians. I don’t know how many times I have heard students worrying about taking Greek or Hebrew. Perhaps the biggest problem is that many consider it irrelevant — and if you look at what is considered acceptable preaching in many churches today then a psychology degree is probably more relevant than any language training! (A friend’s dad commented the other day about a local pastor that “he a good preacher, but he doesn’t know his Bible”!?!).
And while I agree with John about the need for more language training, I would add that seminaries need to train women and men to not only exegete the Bible, but also to exegete our culture and think theologically about both.
It appears that this problem isn’t just limited to Christianity. In a more recent post, John has this excellent quote from Ismar Schorsch (then President of Jewish Theological Seminary of America) that highlights that the lack of intellectual rigour in North American religious life:
Faith once moved us to study our heritage deeply, while truth asked of us that we do it critically, in light of all that we know. Willful ignorance was never an acceptable recourse. The interaction set us apart as the vital center of modern Judaism.
Schorsch’s full speech may be found here.