Seminaries as Tombs for the Dead

From Medium: Spiritual Abuse and Westminster Seminary California: A Letter From an Alumnus by Timothy Isaiah Cho

[I’m bolding what caught my eye.)

Note: The following is from a letter I received by an individual who has asked to remain anonymous. The writer is a fellow alumnus of Westminster Seminary California. The writer has provided an honest and heartbreaking account of his experience at the seminary and Reformed churches that is reflective of many others. I have reproduced the contents of the letter unedited.

Dear Mr. Cho,

Like you, I graduated from Westminster Seminary California. I appreciate that you are willing to be honest about some distressing things about our school as well as the topic of spiritual abuse. For what it’s worth, I wanted to share my own experiences at the seminary and Reformed churches. I hope this may be helpful.

The other day, I was talking with a friend on the anniversary of my seminary graduation about how ill-equipped we were for pastoral ministry. We realized that several important things were missing that weren’t ever touched upon during our time in seminary. It got us thinking. What did we glean? Why did it seem so empty? Why did ministry feel like we were desperately trying to find resources on how to actually minister to people in our day? Was our entire Westminster Seminary California education a waste of time?

It got me thinking about the gaping holes in my experience in Reformed churches and what I didn’t learn and how it has left devastating consequences for real ministry for myself and many pastors I know.

One such glaring topic that is in the news almost daily is abuse. We never had to discuss or read about abuse in any of its forms. Seminary didn’t equip us to deal with the real issues of physical or sexual abuse in congregations. We weren’t instructed in how to deal with police on such issues or what the civil law requires. The gospel’s relationship to justice in our day was never touched on in a practical manner. Justice in our context was given a vacant expression.

Mercy ministry was hardly touched upon. We didn’t get any advice or help in knowing how to create or lead a church in the correct use of the diaconate or mercy ministry. Helping people with their physical needs and the church’s responsibilities towards its congregants was never touched upon in any practical way.

The biggest niche of church members was never taught — married couples. We never had a required class on marriage counseling. We weren’t required a single book on the topic. We had a one week course on counseling in general that barely scratched the surface and ended up being biblicist in its approach to difficult issues. Pretty remarkable…

My Reformed seminary education didn’t equip us to deal with any real framework for ethical issues surrounding us today. Most classes that even touched on ethics were left nebulous, esoteric, and impractical. We talked about the catechism, the proof texts, and moved on. Any viewpoints dissenting from the radical “two kingdoms” model was mocked and ridiculed: “No one could be so stupid to be a Neo-Calvinist or believe in transforming culture. That’s an over-realized eschatology!” We were required to write a speech defending some position that we could’ve done without having taken the class. In other words, there was no coherent worldview (for lack of a better word) conveyed in our entire seminary education. Philosophical inquiry was openly ridiculed and mocked.

Another thing that we came away with was the ridiculous notion that if we got the Reformed lingo down, we would really have the secret knowledge necessary for ministry. Sadly, students who didn’t learn the “Reformed speak” couldn’t follow along in class, but for those who knew it, it ended up being empty cliches and shibboleths on who was in the “in group” and who wasn’t. There was very little educating going on. Frankly, the professors’ academic research and lectures were pretexts to prove that our lineage and thought in the Reformed tradition was not only legitimate but the only sane expression of the “Truly Reformed.”

The letter continues, if you want to read it.

For me, this is merely confirmation: seminaries are, with a few select and temporary exceptions (maybe), merely tombs of the mindless dead.

Fourth-rate academic institutions… at best.

“Two kingdoms?”


Westminster has already chosen which kingdom it will live under…. and it isn’t the kingdom where God’s law, justice, and mercy is expanded, in the real world.

“By their fruits ye shall know them.”

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