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Raising the Language Bar for Seminary Studies

16th July 2007

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.


5 Responses to “Raising the Language Bar for Seminary Studies”

  1. Ancient Hebrew Poetry: What’s Wrong with Seminaries? Why Don’t They Provide Solid Training in Biblical Interpretation? | Withering Fig Says:

    [...] Tyler F. Williams puts in his two cents at Codex. [...]

  2. Chip Says:

    Well said, Tyler. A theological “education” which does not place a great emphasis upon reading the original languages and yet says it stands in the Protestant tradition is hypocritical.

    As an aside: I would be interested in finding out what you thought of integrating computer aids (read: bible software) into early language education. Is it a pedagogical crutch or a critical evolution? Christo van der Merwe has a very interesting article about one such teaching method.

    What do you think?

  3. Charles Halton Says:

    Great statement Chip. I very much agree.

  4. Menachem Mendel » Blog Archive » Languages, Critical Inquiry and Theological Education Says:

    [...] posts on the need for stronger language skills for theological students. His post has resulted in a number of interesting responses. As someone who has taught rabbinical, graduate, and non-degree (לשמה) [...]

  5. Christian Seminary Language Education: It’s Pretty Sad. « A d F o n t e s Says:

    [...] Education: It’s Pretty Sad. Recently a good friend directed me to the following posts by Tyler Williams, who was dovetailing off a post by John Hobbins about the state of linguistic education in [...]