“Ought not a Minister to have, First, a good understanding, a clear apprehension, a sound judgment, and a capacity of reasoning with some closeness… Is not some acquaintance with what has been termed the second part of logic, (metaphysics), if not so necessary as [logic itself], yet highly expedient? Should not a Minister be acquainted with at least the general grounds of natural philosophy?

-John Wesley, “An Address to the Clergy,” in The Works of John Wesley, 3ed ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979; 1st ed., 1972), p. 481.

What do you make of this quote? Is Wesley correct? If so, how should this alter the present course of (some of) our Evangelical seminaries (i.e., those with no philosophy departments, no philosophy courses, and–yes, you guessed it–no philosophers)?

8 Responses to

  1. Susan says:

    Keith,
    It is difficult for me to understand how anyone could work through (well) much theology without considering whether one views hold up philosophically. I don’t know how many times I’ve cringed at the person who declares confidently, “and of course there’s no time in heaven…” or ” “the fire mentioned in 2 Peter 3:10 is merely a metaphor for redemption” or “angels are immaterial beings” for example. How does one evaluate (or even make) these claims without engaging philosophy?

  2. Keith says:

    Susan, thanks for your input! Of course, of all people, I sort of *expected* you, the “philosophical pastor” to agree with me! But seriously, the lack of precision and philosophical shallowness of so many preachers is alarming.

  3. Susan says:

    I wonder sometimes whether more preachers would be interested in the way philosophy interfaces with theology if they were required in seminary to take a course in philosophy that introduces them to the ways epistemology, ontology, and philosophical ethics have informed the “doing” of theology throughout the history of the church. I think it may be that by providing the right lens, the issues might come into view and the need to understand them become more obvious. I have been wishing we had a class like this here at Denver Seminary…. We have a History of Philosophy class, but nothing that interfaces theology and philosophy intentionally, for pastoral ministry…

  4. Nancy says:

    Ditto to Keith and Susan. Susan I would add first a class of intro philosophy to distinguish the philosophical categories. Then incorporate a few “philosophies of” such as science and finally really jam on how philosophy informs theology. This first helps the pastor navigate the challenges of the contemporary world and as such better equip and encourage his or her flock.

    I’ve heard the following. “Evangelicals are overly concerned with truth.” “Just like the cup of coffee we made this morning can’t really know us, we can’t really know God.” How many times have we heard uninformed (including myself in the past) leaders conflate epistemology and ontology in postmodern discussions?

  5. Keith says:

    I think the philosophy/theology interface course is a great idea, and I agree that an intro course would have to be prerequisite. I think the issues you both raised are legitimate, but others that pastors ought certainly to have a grasp of include the nature of human freedom and worldview issues such as naturalism.

    I wonder what it means to be “overly concerned with truth.” If that is actually alleged against us Evangelicals, I will happily wear it as a badge. It’s also interesting to note that the assertion, “…we can’t really know God” just is saying you know something about God.

  6. Xavier says:

    Let me throw a wrench in here and say this: What about the little known pastor who, say, pastors a church in a small Island of the Caribbean? I myself grew up in the Caribbean and there are scores of rural churches I know pastored by some who didn’t even go to highschool. In fact the training most pastors often recieve is training from their previous pastor, and most of it is ministerial–very little is academic.

    In a centralised institution like the Catholic church, it seems to me you can have better academic training for pastors, but evangelical groups (and there are SO many of them) are so fragmented it’s every man for himself. How do you provide adequate and useful academic training for a group of pastors from a small village on a small island–each of them from a different denomination? Is Wesley’s statment just unrealistic?

  7. Keith says:

    That’s a great point, my island friend! My original point, of course, was that our evangelical seminaries (all of them) ought to offer philosophical training. It sounds, based upon what you said, that there are no such institutions on your island, so you’re raising a new (though good) question. I’m inclined to say that such pastor’s still ought to conform to Wesley’s (getting back to the original post) mandate. Even though they did not receive such training as they would in, say, Susan and Nancy’s classes, we still hold that they should “have, First, a good understanding, a clear apprehension, a sound judgment, and a capacity of reasoning with some closeness.” As for their having “some acquaintance with…logic…mataphysics… [and] at least the general grounds of natural philosophy,” it is still desirable, though admittedly tougher to realize. Notice, however, that Wesley’s mandate does not call for mastery in these areas; I want to caution us from overstating Wesley’s mandate.

    Notice something else: you ask how we may provide “adequate and useful training” for these guys. But adequate and useful for what? That depends, I suppose, on what sorts of ministries they are to be engaged in; adequate in one may place may not be adequate in another. My guess is that they are not dealing, for example, with many of the philosophically technical challenges that we see here in the States. Of course, this is not meant as an insult to our island brothers and sisters. It’s just that, unless the Church there is awfully behind the state, I’m assuming the pastors have education comparable to the lay people, and since you said many don’t even go to highschool, I think it’s fair to assume there aren’t many Richard Dawkins, Bertrand Russell, and Michael Martin types there. Nevertheless, we do desire them to have philosophical training that is at least sufficient to form correct and precise theologies/doctrines. So, where does that leave us?

    Thoughts and Ideas with no final point: (1) Might it be the responsibility of those who *can (and do)* receive such training to go to such places and pass that training on to the rural pastors? (2) The quote is from Wesley’s “Address to the Clergy.” Perhaps, given that he was not addressing such pastors as you mention, we are attempting to expand Wesley’s context further than he intended. (3) I think you’re absolutely, utterly correct about the Catholic church’s organization being far more conducive to academic training. (4) Perhaps we are assuming too much when we speak of the philosophical training such pastors may need. I certainly don’t think they MUST be familiar with, say, the metaphysics of grounding counterfactuals or the A vs. B theories of time (though such familiarity may be requisite elsewhere, such as for the pastor of a church in, say, South Bend, Indiana or Princeton, NJ). I’m only claiming that our (to stick with the example) Caribbean pastors need to be trained in at least the basics of logic, metaphysics, and natural philosophy. I don’t think (basic) knowledge of these areas even demands that much training. Some focused reading, deep (quiet) reflection–and the Caribbean is a good place for that–and hard thinking will get one most of the way there.

    What do you think?

  8. Xavier says:

    I think you’re right. Regarding (1), the answer is absolutely yes. There must be mutual dependence in the body of Christ. We ought to think about our faith in more global terms. (2) I should have been more mindful of Wesley’s intended audience. (3) Maybe we should all become catholics🙂 (4) I agree with you there as well.

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