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THE COMMON PROBLEMS OF THEO- 
LOGICAL SCHOOLS 1 



WILLIAM ADAMS BROWN 
Union Theological Seminary, New York City 



I am to speak of the things which we have in common. 
This conference, as we all know, sprang from a common need, 
our need of acting together during the war. There were inter- 
ests of importance to each of us which we could not adequately 
safeguard alone. There was a service we desired to render for 
which some organ of common expression was necessary. This 
double need justified our coming together. The report which 
we have already heard from our secretary shows that the antici- 
pations we then entertained have more than justified them- 
selves in fact. 

The question still remains to be decided whether the 
interests which led to this first meeting still continue, or, if not 
the same interests, interests similar in nature. Are there still 
needs which we can best meet together, a common service 
which we can render? This question will be discussed in 
detail by others when we consider the future of this conference. 
What I have to offer here is a modest contribution to the dis- 
cussion in the shape of an analysis of some of the factors which 
must determine our judgment. What action they may 
invite I do not here venture to suggest. It will be enough if I 
can describe the facts correctly. 

In one sense the question may seem superfluous. Here we 
are, a company of theological teachers, facing the problem 
of the education of the American ministry in the momentous 
years after the war. What interests have we in common? 

1 An address delivered at the Conference of Theological Seminaries, Princeton, 
New Jersey, June 17, 1920. 

282 



THE COMMON PROBLEMS OF THEOLOGICAL SCHOOLS 283 

What have we not in common ? As Christians, as educators, 
as teachers in theological seminaries, there would seem to be 
no limit to the subjects in which we have a common interest. 
If we were to be here for a month instead of for three days 
the time would not be long enough for the half of them. 

But in fact, as we all know, the matter is not so simple. 
We are busy men, all of us, and cannot afford to take time 
for anything that does not bear directly upon our work. To 
justify the continuance of such an association we must show 
not only that we have general interests in common, but that 
there are special objects to be met by our coming together, 
definite ends which our discussion may help us to realize. 

It is clear that these ends must be one of two kinds: theo- 
retical or practical. We are interested all of us, in a clearer 
definition of our task as theological teachers. We are inter- 
ested equally in anything that we can learn from any quarter 
which will help us to discharge that task more effectively. 

But no sooner do we begin to make earnest with either of 
these aspects of the case than we realize how serious are the 
obstacles to be faced. To begin with the theoretical diffi- 
culties. We are all alike Christians. We accept the prin- 
ciples of the Christian religion and have consecrated our lives 
to promote the advance of Christ's Kingdom in the world. 
We feel that the welfare of mankind depends on its accepting 
the message we have to bring and conforming its life to the 
principles we advocate. But alas! We are not ourselves 
fully agreed as to what that message is or what the acceptance 
of these principles involves. Our views differ as to matters 
of the deepest import for our common faith— as to the seat of 
authority in religion, as to the person of the Master we serve, 
as to the nature of the salvation He brings, as to the acceptable 
method of worshiping God, and above all, as to the institution 
which He has established as the organ of our common service 
and our common worship. And these differences do not con- 
cern the circumference of our faith merely. They penetrate 



284 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

to its very core and center. There are acts of worship than 
which none are more sacred in the whole range of Chris- 
tian experience that our consciences will not allow us to 
perform together. There are beliefs touching the central 
fact of our Christian faith on which we differ so widely that 
it is not possible for us as yet to live together within the 
bounds of a single Christian communion. How can we hope, 
differing as widely as we do, to find topics for consideration 
which we can approach with the freedom which is essential 
to profitable discussion without being brought face to face 
with such impassible barriers as to make further progress 
impossible ? 

On the practical side the difficulties are scarcely less serious. 
These grow out of the wide differences in the constituencies 
which we represent and the particular angle at which the 
educational problem presents itself to us. Some of us are 
teachers in denominational schools, training men for the 
service of a single Christian communion. Others are teachers 
in universities where theology is considered primarily as an 
academic subject and the problems of ecclesiastical relation- 
ship are negligible, while still others have consciously adopted 
the ideal of interdenominational religious education. We 
are training men side by side for the ministry of different 
churches with the double ideal of fitting them to serve intel- 
ligently and loyally in their own church and of giving them a 
sympathetic appreciation of the history and ideals of other 
churches. Again the preparation which our students bring 
with them differs widely. Some of us can take for granted a 
college education. Others accept men with less advanced 
preparation and must shape their curriculum accordingly. 
It is clear that the problems of the different groups differ with 
the differences in the subject-matter with which they have to 
deal. What interests one will be unimportant to the other. 
Where, then, shall we find common ground from which to 
start ? 



THE COMMON PROBLEMS OF THEOLOGICAL SCHOOLS 285 

When a theologian is in trouble he is always inclined to go 
back to Schleiermacher. Good old Schleiermacher, who 
lived before the questions which divide us from so many of our 
fellow-teachers across the sea had risen above the horizon, and 
who can, therefore, be cited even in such an hour and such a 
gathering as this without fear of embarrassment. When 
Schleiermacher faced a difficulty he looked it in the face and 
turned it into a friend. "You despise religion," he said to 
the cultivated readers to whom he addressed his "Reden. " 
"As a man interested in religion I want to find a point of 
contact from which we can both start. Very well, let us 
agree upon your contempt as something we can both take 
for granted. " 

Imitating Schleiermacher, I propose to you, as the first 
of the common interests which justify us in continuing our 
association of theological seminaries our differences. I mean 
this very seriously. I think the time has come when progress 
in theological education all along the line, in theory not less 
than in practice, depends upon an intelligent, painstaking, 
and sympathetic study of differences. Two attitudes have 
been taken in the past toward theological differences. On the 
one hand, men have condemned them; on the other, they have 
ignored them, or, what came to much the same thing, have 
made light of them as unimportant or negligible. Neither 
of these attitudes is adequate to meet the present situation. 
The differences are here and they are formidable. Condem- 
nation will not remove them. Depreciation will not minimize 
them. It is time to understand them, and for this such an 
association as this offers us a unique opportunity. 

It has always been important to do this. Unfortunate in 
its effects upon the man who is obliged to face the real issues of 
life, the departmental conception of education is never more 
disastrous than in religion; for religion is of all interests the 
most comprehensive. It affects the whole life and professes 
to make man acquainted with the all-embracing reality. 



286 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

Especially is this true of a religion like Christianity which 
claims to give knowledge of the God who is all men's Father. 
For the Christian with the memory of Christ's high-priestly 
prayer vivid in his consciousness, differences of religious con- 
viction are more than a puzzle. They are a tragedy, for they 
separate those whom it is God's will to join together. It 
becomes, then, a primary duty of the Christian to understand 
the differences in existing religion that so far as possible he 
may learn how to remove them, or, if that be not feasible, to 
minimize their divisive effects. 

I say so far as possible, for there may be differences which 
it is beyond our power to minimize, far less to remove — such 
a difference, for example, as that between imperialism and 
democracy — the theory which insists that men fulfil their 
destiny as they submit their wills blindly to the direction 
of an autocratic state and the theory which sees in the state 
the expression of the common will of all the people as it has 
been ascertained through free discussion and expressed through 
representative institutions. Such a contrast as this — a con- 
trast which expresses itself in religion, in the antithesis between 
ultramontanism in all its forms and that impulse of the free 
spirit reaching out after immediate contact with God which 
gave birth to the movement which we call Protestantism and 
which in a hundred forms is today still struggling to find more 
adequate expression; such an antithesis as this, I repeat, admits 
of no resolution. It presents us with an alternative which 
cannot be evaded. It can be dealt with only through the 
submission or the conversion of one or the other of the two 
parties to the case. 

But there are other differences not unimportant or recent 
in origin, differences rooted in fundamental qualities of 
temperament or age-long associations of history, whose 
significance is altered by understanding. I am thinking of 
such differences as those between the different types of the 
religious experience, between the mystic, the legalist, the 



THE COMMON PROBLEMS OF THEOLOGICAL SCHOOLS 287 

sacramentarian, and the unmetaphysical, common-sense type 
of Christian who finds his conception of religion best expressed 
in the definition of the writer of the Epistle of James. And 
those other differences, even more far-reaching in their effects 
because they are social as well as individual in character, the 
differences which grow out of historic tradition, and express 
themselves in the denominational loyalties which bind men 
to churches as different in their habits of thought and feeling 
as, let us say, the Protestant Episcopal and the Baptist. 
These differences in the form in which they meet us today 
are anything but negligible or unimportant. They keep 
people apart who ought to be working together. They limit 
our freedom of common action in those great corporate matters 
where Christians must speak and work together if speech or 
action is to be effective at all. They are, so far as we can see, 
permanent differences, as likely to last as the differences in 
color or type which separate the races. But that is no reason 
for believing that the effects which these differences now 
produce in sentiment or action will necessarily continue in 
their present form or that some way may not be found to 
make it possible for the unity which exists in spite of them, 
rather let me say through them, to express itself in common 
action and, what is quite as important, in common feeling. 

How can we tell whether this will be so or not ? Clearly 
in one way only, by understanding what these differences 
really are and whence they come; understanding them not 
in the abstract form in which they meet us in books where 
idea is set against idea in logical thesis or antithesis, but as 
they meet us in living men to whom they have emotional 
values as well and for whom they constitute integral parts of 
the complex of feeling, desire, aspiration, and loyalty that we 
call human life. 

That, as I see it, is the first and greatest opportunity 
which this conference offers us — the opportunity of under- 
standing one another better. For, we are all men who have 



288 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

set our hands to a practical task of momentous importance. 
We are interested in our profession not simply as an occupation 
of the mind, a matter of natural interest and curiosity, but as 
a contribution to the great task of making the world a better 
place, and we want to know who are the men with whom we 
can co-operate in this enterprise, the men who share with us 
our major interest so keenly and intelligently that they will 
go to the limit with us in finding some way in which this 
dominant sympathy can express itself in spite of difference. 
I say, we are men who are united by a practical purpose of 
far-reaching significance. There is, for example, the interest 
of securing the common recognition of the supreme place of 
religion in life. It was this which brought us together in the 
first place. We wanted to see that our boys whom the draft 
had taken from their homes and plunged into conditions of 
unexampled difficulty and responsibility were still surrounded 
by the safeguards which the home religion afforded. And 
when the war was over and the armistice came and the inter- 
rupted studies were taken up we wanted to see to it that those 
men who were looking forward to the ministry as a profession 
should have the same right to study under teachers of their 
own profession as was granted the engineer or the lawyer or 
the physician. And now that the armistice is over, and the 
world is turning to the tasks of peace, the same interest con- 
tinues in an intensified form. We want to see to it that 
religion has its rightful place in this country of ours and makes 
its contribution to the ideals and purposes that are to shape 
our national future. We have learned from the study made 
by our Committee on the War and the Religious Outlook that 
religion is still a natural human interest, deep-seated in the 
human heart, only waiting the occasion to express itself, 
But we have learned also how weak and ineffective is the hold 
of the Church upon the imagination of the rank and file of our 
young men, how indefinite and vague are the conceptions 
which they hold of the central verities of our common faith, 



THE COMMON PROBLEMS OF THEOLOGICAL SCHOOLS 289 

and we desire to impress upon the imagination of men in 
general the fact that no solution of the great tasks which lie 
before us can be adequate or effective that ignores the dynamic 
which is laid up for our use in the religious nature of man or 
dispenses with the appeal which is provided by the institutions 
of historic religion. 

But for this we must find some way of acting together in 
peace as we acted in war, of making the things that we hold 
in common, faith in God, in Jesus Christ, in the meaning of 
the universe, in a moral order, in the sinfulness of sin, in the 
ultimate triumph of right— we must find some way in which to 
make these things stand out before the imagination of the 
American people so that place shall be made for them as an 
integral element in the education of the rising generation. 

Or again, take the interest that we have in securing and 
maintaining an educated ministry. Widely as we may 
differ in our conception of the kind of training that is desirable 
or the amount of knowledge which it is practicable to require 
of men who are to enter the ministry of the Christian church, 
we are at one in deprecating the growing tendency to short 
cuts into the ministry. There will be brought before this 
conference at another time certain facts as to the present 
source of supply of candidates to the ministry which give 
cause for serious thought to all who believe in maintaining 
the professional standards which have obtained in the past. 
There is a definite attempt being made on the part of a large 
and increasing number of institutions to claim for their own 
graduates full ministerial qualifications without putting them 
through the discipline which we have hitherto regarded as 
necessary for the preparation of the minister of the gospel. 
This movement raises questions too serious and far-reaching 
to be adequately dealt with by any individual seminary or 
group of seminaries. It is only as we come together, studying 
the whole question of theological education in all its bearings 
as it affects preparatory school and college as well as the 



290 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

seminary curriculum itself that we shall be able to stay this 
tide which is sweeping us from our educational moorings and 
to maintain in forms the standard of an educated ministry 
adapted to the new conditions of the new age. 

This does not mean that our present theological curriculum 
will continue unchanged. There is a whole group of questions 
that spring to mind on which I cannot even touch in this 
connection, questions as to the place of the study of the 
original languages, of church history, of systematic theology, 
and the other studies of the older curriculum in their relation 
to the newer studies which are growing up beside them and 
claiming to supplement if not to supersede them. But 
whether we believe that more or less radical changes in the 
curriculum are necessary we shall all be at one in feeling that 
if we are to stem the tide which is sweeping us from our moor- 
ings, we must in some way relate our theological teaching 
more definitely to the real world in which men are living 
today and to the vital interests which engross their most 
serious attention. 

And this brings me to a third of the major interests which 
we have in common, the only one of which I shall have time 
still to speak, and that is the interest of securing the wider 
acceptance in our political and economic as well as in our social 
life of the principles of brotherhood, service, and faith that 
we all agree are central in the Christian religion. 

There have been two great tendencies which have charac- 
terized the history of religion in the past. We may call them 
the otherworldly and the this-worldly, the tendency which 
thinks of religion as a means of fitting man for another world 
and a different life and the tendency which would use religion 
to transform this world and this life. This contrast is, I 
believe, so deeply rooted in human nature that it will never be 
outgrown. In Christianity as in other religions there will 
always be Christians of these two types and we shall make 
little progress in our effort after unity if we ignore this fact or 



THE COMMON PROBLEMS OF THEOLOGICAL SCHOOLS 291 

try to force either group into the mold of the other. But 
whether our Christianity be of one or other of these two types, 
whether religion mean to us fundamentally a way of fitting 
men in this world for life in another or a way of making this 
world over after the pattern set in the mount we shall all agree 
that while we are living in this world Christians should live 
according to Christian principles and that their lives in all 
their different aspects of them should conform to the standard 
which Jesus has set. And this, we must regretfully admit, is 
not the case today, for what we profess on Sunday of brother- 
hood and service is too often contradicted by the very con- 
ditions into which the necessities of our life plunge us on 
Monday. We are living in a world where competition in 
the most rigorous and uncompromising forms rules our busi- 
ness and our politics. We are living in a time of peace under 
an ethics which is at heart, as we are coming to see more 
clearly every day, an ethics of war, and we realize, even the 
most conservative of us, that if we are to make Christianity 
mean what it must to the great mass of men and women who 
are struggling for a better social life in a world where there is 
so much that would crowd it out, we must find some way of 
giving united witness to that eternal principle of love which 
lies at the very heart of our Christian faith and makes it what 
it is. 

Only in the light of these great common purposes can the 
importance of the differences of which I have been speaking be 
fully appreciated. For these differences, I repeat, are not 
only differences of theory. They are definite obstacles which 
prevent us from working together in the very fields where 
unity is most important. 

Take any one of the fields in which our students will be 
called upon to work — the pastorate, teaching, missions in the 
largest sense — and we are face to face with the disheartening 
and hampering fact of the differences between Christians. 
There is the matter of the local church. What a scandal it is 



292 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

that where there are such areas of unoccupied territory we 
should be wasting our energies in maintaining in a single 
country village or small community three or four struggling 
and competing churches, no one of them paying its minister a 
living wage, no one of them rendering the many-sided and 
comprehensive ministry that would be possible if all were 
combined. We recognize that the present situation is intoler- 
able and yet we do not correct it. Why ? Because we have 
not yet learned to see things in their proportion and feel the 
problem of Christianizing America as a single problem at 
which we must work together if we are to succeed at all. 

There is the matter of religious education, in all its many 
phases, in the church, in the community, in the theological 
seminary itself. How inadequate, for example, is the modern 
Sunday school for the burden of responsibility which is placed 
upon it and what thousands and hundreds of thousands of 
children there are in the congested districts of our great cities 
who are not in Sunday schools at all. There are the boys and 
girls in our high schools and colleges, the young men and 
women in our state universities, the great mass of foreigners 
coming to this country without knowledge of our institutions 
or sympathetic understanding of the genius of our free Prot- 
estantism. There are the earnest men and women in the 
labor movement working in their own way to secure a better 
social order and to realize the ideal of democracy in industry, 
but too often alienated from the church and in ignorance of 
her ideals. Surely, if we are to deal adequately with a situation 
like this, we must do it together. We who are the teachers 
of the teachers of religion must together study the field as a 
whole, map out a nation-wide program and train the young 
men under our instruction to take their part in carrying it out. 

Why do we not do it ? Again because of the differences 
which divide us; because we have not come to see eye to eye 
ourselves as to the great objective; because we have not dis- 
criminated clearly between the differences that grow out of an 



THE COMMON PROBLEMS OF THEOLOGICAL SCHOOLS 293 

irreconcilable conflict of conviction and those which, while 
formidable, are yet consistent with mutual sympathy and 
cordial co-operation in pursuit of the greater ends we hold in 
common. 

What is true of the pastorate and of education is true of 
Christian missions in the widest sense. Here at least it is 
clear that if we are to succeed at all we must work together. 
It is from the foreign field that the call to unity sounds most 
clearly. It is in the foreign field that the most significant 
experiments in union are being tried. It is in its bearing upon 
the missionary enterprise in the largest sense that our home 
differences become most formidable and most disheartening. 

Who is to deal with such a situation if not we? We, I 
repeat, are the teachers of the teachers of religion. We are 
training the men who are to mold the Christian sentiment 
of the future. It is from us that they must learn the meaning 
of the differences that divide us, that they may be taught how 
to overcome them. 

For they are being overcome; that is the interesting and 
inspiring feature in the situation. The movement toward 
Christian unity of which I have been speaking has long passed 
the experimental stage. For generations we have been 
studying this problem of unity in difference and we have 
gathered a body of experience which ought to be part of the 
curriculum of every theological seminary in the country. 
There is the co-operative movement in the foreign field which 
expresses itself in such great facts as the Edinburgh and 
Panama conferences, and the various organizations to which 
they have given rise, the Continuation Committees, the Foreign 
Missions Conference, the Laymen's Missionary Movement, 
the Missionary Education Movement, not to speak of the 
different union institutions on the foreign field. There is the 
co-operative movement at home which expresses itself in the 
Federal Council, the Home Missions Council, the Council of 
Church Boards of Education, and the various local federations 



294 TEE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

of churches multiplying rapidly in our great cities. There 
are the great lay organizations, the Young Men's and the 
Young Women's Christian Associations. There is the move- 
ment for organic unity in all its different forms. In addition, 
no less instructive because not yet so fully in the public eye, 
there are the various local experiments in unity which are 
being tried all over the country in constantly new and sur- 
prising ways. 

The impulse to unity which had already found these 
different forms of expression has been mightily reinforced by 
the experiences of the last six years. Here, as in so many 
other sides of our Christian life, the war has been a great 
teacher. Things that seemed impossible before proved feasible 
when we faced what all recognized as an unescapable duty. 
Beginning the war each with our own independent organiza- 
tion, before the armistice came we had developed machinery 
through which we could function as one. 

And yet this great story, so fascinating in its suggestion, 
so rich in its instruction, is far too little known. What place 
have we as yet made in our seminary curriculum for the 
study of the co-operative movement ? Above all, what have 
we done to teach men the philosophy which underlies successful 
co-operation so that they may approach its difficulties under- 
standingly and plan with some hope of success? Is it too 
much to say that one reason why the Interchurch World 
Movement failed to reach the great success which its advocates 
anticipated was for lack of the preliminary study of the con- 
ditions of success ? More is needed for unity than good will, 
however essential this must be. There must be a knowledge 
of the nature of the difficulties to be overcome, a willingness 
to learn from the past, a disposition to build upon whatever 
has already been attained that we may go on to something 
better. 

Is there not here, I repeat, an opportunity for such a 
conference as this? For the problem of unity in difference 



THE COMMON PROBLEMS OF THEOLOGICAL SCHOOLS 295 

which as Christians we face in the church is only part of a larger 
problem of unity in difference which meets us the round world 
over, and there as here there is no short cut to success. It is 
not only for lack of good will that the League of Nations which 
opened so promisingly is for the time being under a cloud. 
It is because the difficulties in the way were underestimated 
and a short cut sought to ends for which the needed under- 
standing had not yet been reached, or the needed preparation 
been made. But the way is forward, not back, and it is we who 
must point the way. With whatever else we may be able to 
dispense in the new world that is building, the teacher certainly 
must hold his place. For it is the teacher who takes the long 
look and it is the long look which determines in the end where 
men will go.