Seabury-Western Theological Seminary has been training ministers for the Episcopal Church for 150 years. It has stopped admitting students for this coming academic year. The Evanston seminary told tenured faculty that their jobs will end next year, although officials insist the school isn’t closing. Officials at the Illinois, campus acknowledge a deep financial crisis is forcing the seminary to overhaul its approach to preparing priests for the church. Leaders are exploring more affordable models for candidates to earn degrees, such as distance-learning and short-term residential stints.

This is clearly “damage control” language and positive spin if there ever was such in theological education. The facts bear out the truth of the situation. Seabury-Western is an Episcopal Church (ECUSA)Compass_cross_2
seminary that has a long history of very liberal theology in the 20th Century. It also serves a diocese that is extremely liberal that is in serious decline, like most of the Episcopal Church in Canada and America. Leaders put all kinds of spin on these developments, even arguing that evangelical churches grow faster because evangelicals still produce more children than non-evangelicals. Duh! When every action you take is anti-family and anti-mission what do you expect?

Episcopal seminaries will not all die at once. One reason is that they have huge endowments to support them, at least for a season. But the picture is indeed quite grim. No one should really be all that surprised. Meanwhile the lone seminary in North America that is training priests for the Episcopal Church, and for other communions for that matter, that is very healthy and has been growing rather positively for two-plus decades is Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry (TESM) in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. Image
At TESM the influence of  Anglican evangelical leaders like J. I. Packer and John R. W. Stott is still highly regarded. Given the way ECUSA has responded to the worldwide Anglican Communion I do not expect much to change in the foreseeable future. If anything Episcopal seminaries will decline even more over the next ten years. Other mainline seminaries ought to take serious note but so far they do not seem to be lining up to learn the hard lessons of what an anti-supernatural and anti-orthodox perspective does to real Christian ministry.   

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  1. Anthony April 27, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    When I was at Church of the Resurrection in Glen Ellyn a number of those who were called to ministry were going to go to Trinity because of its solid reputation. Along with that, Trinity was known for an intentional development of the three streams: liturgical, evangelical and charismatic. Whatever the case may be, they were (and still are) solidly orthodox.
    I have also heard that Nashotah house is highly regarded, and doing well. At least at the time that I was at Church of the Resurrection many people were also looking into that seminary as a possibility for their preparation for ministry.
    If I may be permitted to make a confession, I have to say it is a little difficult not indulging in schadenfreude over the news regarding Seabury-Western. I am currently in a diocese that is being sued by ECUSA/TEC because we left them to join the Southern Cone and receive Episcopal oversight from the Archbishop there. As we well knew, there is no genuine life in revisionist theology, which is what dominates the leadership of ECUSA/TEC. I hope that dwindling numbers will open their eyes to the fact that they are on a decaying path. Of course, they will very likely find some sociological cause to pin it on.
    In the end, I want to let go of my schadenfreude and pray that God will open the eyes of the leadership of the Episcopal Church to see the glory of our resurrected and ascended Lord.

  2. Jon Parker (Student in Ambridge, PA) April 28, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    Thanks for the “shout-out” to us here at Trinity School for Ministry. We are seeing growth wherever we bring the gospel, but we welcome your prayers for us in this ecclesiological “civil war.” It is very hard for many of my fellow students to watch their old sense of mission to “renew the Episcopal Church” changed, by necessity, to “Anglicanism that reaches out to a hurting world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” In the end, this is probably a helpful corrective/centering in our mission but painful all the same.
    Pray for our funding and for Anglicans to come study here. We believe the universal Church still needs us to be thoughtful, Gospel-centered Anglicans in America.

  3. John Paul Todd April 29, 2008 at 8:32 am

    Speaking of seminaries and their agendas/curriculum, I think you have opened a fertile area of mutual interest in which I would very much like to discuss with you and some of your readers. I know this is an area that you have always had a vital interest in but now seems to be an fruitful and expanding area of your ministry. Thank God.
    Let me add two things that may fit in here. First there is another School of Theology training Pastors and leaders for the Episcopal Church in America that I have come to highly regard; The School of Theology at The University of the South-http://theology.sewanee.edu/history
    The tendencies you refer to though certainly not exactly the same, can be said of all of our evangelical seminaries. I mention only one I’m following closely in the SBC which of course is Southern Baptist Theological at Louisville.
    The danger goes to the heart of the whole question of “propositional” truth as the unquestioned model from which to teach Theology. I will only give one example at Southern: the almost exclusive teaching of Systematic Theology in the training of ministers to the exclusion of say, Biblical (Narrative)Theology. There is a course offered by a very competent teacher, but only by special arrangement (as an independent study). I consider this to be a major short-coming. We continue to perpetuate many of the very problems that keep us from experiencing all the riches that are in Christ and His role as the One Mediator between God and Man, the One in whom the Father is well pleased.
    John Paul Todd

  4. Craig Higgins April 30, 2008 at 10:44 am

    I am a Presbyterian pastor who is a proud alum (DMin) of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. I found TESM to be an amazing place–deep scholarship, great community, beautiful worship. I would recommend it in a heartbeat–and often do so.
    Plus, I know the Dean of Nashotah House a bit, and I spent a weeklong retreat there a few years ago. It is a blessed place.

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