Wednesday, September 24, 2008

TF Torrance: The Difference Between University and School

Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Frame of Mind: Reason, order, and openness in theology and natural science (Colorado Springs, CO: Helmers & Howard, 1989), 129.
"The fundamental ethos of a university is different from that of a school. In a school, instruction and learning are the prime functions of teacher and pupil, and the objective is some prescribed standard level of knowledge and competence in various subjects. In a university, on the other hand, all this plays only a subsidiary role, for the prime task of students is to engage in inquiry, and to learn as they pursue their inquiry under the ultimate authority not of the university teachers but of the truth itself. Correspondingly, the university lecturer is not an exalted schoolteacher but a thinker and researcher to whom the student is, as it were, apprenticed in academic and scientific inquiry."
Given TFT's distinction between university and school, where might we place and MDiv program at a seminary? My reflex would be to locate it more under school than under university, because - as a professional degree - it is primarily concerned with certain competency levels. But, I'm worried that such an approach to theological education could stifle the joy and excitement that comes with the study of God and his works, and so I am sympathetic to the university paradigm as well. In any case, this goes to show the difficulty involved in developing a coherent account of what a Seminary is.

4 comments:

Michael said...

Theological seminaries are an American innovation that predated the kind of universities that Torrance probably had in mind (i.e., those influenced by the German model). When the university movement got going in the late 19th century, most seminaries maintained a commitment to education and research within the context of a commitment to the (or a) church. There was an interesting exchange between Princeton President Francis Patton and Harvard President Charles Eliot in 1884, in which Patton wrote that seminaries are not only concerned with theological education but also with ministerial education. And the church, Patton said, “holds certain definite convictions … it is absurd to suppose that the church should not take the oversight of the theological training of her ministers.” Elsewhere, Patton wrote that “the seminary is a place for the practical training of ministers, but it is also a place for advanced scientific research in theology.”

Congratulations, by the way!

Jason said...

Using Torrance's categories, the seminary degree (M.Div.) should definitely take place in a school. People can still love their subject in a school. Love of the subject matter isn't a problem, nor is a lack of "apprenticeship." One training to be a pastor should be apprenticed to a pastor in a parish, not a teacher in a school, assuming, of course, that one should be apprenticed by the type of person you want to become!

So, using Torrance's tags, the seminary should be a pastor's school, and the parish should be his or her university.

WTM said...

Michael,

Thanks, and thanks for the history lesson. :-) Speaking of which, I thought that the University of Berlin actually predated seminaries in the USA by a few years. At least it was a couple of years before PTS was founded. In any case, it is interesting that the universities of Europe are not so committed to particular faith communities given that they reside in nations that posses a state church.

Jason, I like your concluding sentence, and I think that TFT would too!

Michael said...

The modern German research universities, which have their roots in the 18th century, didn’t significantly influence higher education in America until the latter half of the 19th century. Often, it was seminary graduates (like Charles Hodge) who went abroad and became interested in what Schleiermacher and other scholars were up to.