Written by Dr. Todd Mangum
Thursday, 12 January 2012 00:00
Last month, I participated in an on-line symposium on “The Future of Seminary Education” hosted by Patheos – my article forwarded the thesis that professional training for soul is as necessary as the training of physicians for physical care (see http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Soul-Care-Requires-Professionals-R-Todd-Mangum-11-09-2011.html#).
Here, I’d like to elaborate and invite discussion on a couple of points raised in that article.
Part of what characterizes our current culture is suspicion of authority, aversion to institutionalism, and skepticism toward credentials. These attitudes are understandable to a degree, are they not? Consider how many authority figures have let their people down, how many institutions have been found rife with corruption, and how many credentials have turned out to be overblown or padded, or how many highly credentialed persons have turned out to be cranks, or just plain jerks when the crowds or cameras were not present?
I understand the reaction against authority, institutionalism, and credentials. There are definitely limitations surrounding all three, which warrant a degree of wariness. But, simple “reaction against” is not the answer, either. Unchecked individual autonomy is no better – and may be considerably worse – than hierarchical authoritarianism; good ideas without the infrastructure of organizational power to help forward them tend to die prematurely, and, without credentialing of any kind, there are few dependable means to screen out glib loudmouths willing to offer their opinion from those studied enough in a field to form opinions worth fuller consideration.
Jesus warns against leaders letting their authority go to their heads (Matthew 20:25-28), and He warns His disciples particularly about deriving prestige from credentials (Matthew 23:5-11). Look carefully, though, and we find that Jesus is not undermining all exercise of authority (in fact, He actually says authorities in heaven will back the legitimate exercise of church authority on earth, see Matthew 16:18-19; 18:15-20; John 20:22-23); He even recognizes the legitimate authority of the Pharisees to the extent they represented Moses’ teaching accurately (Matt. 23:1-3). Other New Testament writers follow His lead (e.g., 1 Tim. 3; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; Heb. 13:7, 17).
What seems to have bothered Jesus was not bona fide leaders exercising authority, but poseurs seeking prestige and securing for themselves credentials and positions of authority to do so. The current postmodern skepticism toward ecclesiastical authority, the institutional church, and ordination credentials may represent a prophetic opportunity to recover what is most important.
My hope is to establish credentialing that affirms credible training in the right things, and to produce leaders that can revive and refocus the church to make it more viable, so as to regain its voice in a culture that badly needs to hear from God. Is that a pipedream? Or a calling from God for our seminary? What do you think?
Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical. He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention. Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons. See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum