Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pulpit Review: Distance Education?

Horton, David, General Editor. The Portable Seminary: A Master's Level Overview in One Volume. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2006. 784 Pages. Cloth. $34.99. (LHP)

This title caught my attention a couple of years ago. The cover was attractive. And as much as we say we shouldn't, we still judge books by their covers. And titles.

The thickness of the volume was equalled only by the boast of the title and subtitle. Both are unfortunate. The book's Introduction makes it clear that this was not really the intent of the editors/authors/compilers:
Can one volume replace a seminary education? Absolutely not. There is no way to replace the depth of the teaching or the personal interaction one receives in seminary or graduate school. Again, what The Portable Seminary offers is an introduction--an overview--to a graduate-level education (17).
Amen! Thanks for putting this at the beginning of the book.

Yet, perhaps the marketing department posts:
The Breadth of a Master's Degree in Biblical Studies--Complete in One Volume

Take your theological education to the next level without the time, expense, and formality of seminary. Discover all the major topics in a typical seminary master's program authoritatively taught by respected professors, authors, and leaders. This introduction to a biblical studies degree is ideal for the layperson or anyone in vocational ministry who lacks the time or finances to attend classes, who lives where formal training is unavailable, or whose previous education is primarily secular. Study what you want, when you want. Also useful as a handy one-volume reference.

In The Portable Seminary you'll study

surveys of the Old and New Testaments
systematic theology
biblical languages
church history
Christian education...and more

The distinguished international faculty includes
Robert G. Clouse
Kenneth O. Gangel
Norman L. Geisler
Julie Gorman
Alister E. McGrath
A. Scott Moreau
Mark A. Noll
Bruce L. Shelley
Robert H. Stein
Tite Tinou
John R.W. Stott
Ravi Zacharias
...and many more!

Continue--or begin--your theological education today.

David Horton is a former businessman, missionary, and mission executive whose publishing experience began nearly twenty years ago. A graduate of Oregon State University, he is currently editorial director at Bethany House Publishers and the author of three previous books, including Boys Life Adventure Bible Storybook.
(Publisher's website)
Allow me as one reader of the 784 page tome to stick with the more realistic intent and promises of the Introduction. This is really more of an annotated syllabus, seminary pre-reading, or seminary review than "a portable seminary." I spent the time and space on this discussion so that other potential readers are not disappointed or mislead in the least.

(Pause for a deep breath and smile.)


Now, on the balance, this is a rather helpful book.

Its contents are impressive and comprehensive.

I wish I would have had something like this to read the summer before I began seminary in the fall.

In one volume you have a basic systematic theology, a brief introduction to both the Old and New Testaments, a survey of Christian history, an introduction to apologetics and world religions, an over-emphasis on Christian ethics and Leadership, and some fundamentals of Christian education and discipleship. (Again, I'm judging the book by its cover, here, literally!)

While no mere blog entry can give a full analysis of a book of this size, I offer the following brief critiques:
  • I reject the assertion that "no...denomination has all the answers" (21). Why would anyone belong to a church body that didn't have some answer to confess where the Scriptures spoke?
  • There is an unfortunate openness to some wiggle room in what human reason can do apart from Christ after the Fall (118). I pray this is merely a misunderstanding on my part.
  • I take issue with the "Garden Tomb" (photo, 312) being identified as the "traditional burial place of Jesus." Why was the Church of the Holy Sepulchure ignored?
  • I am very picky when Martin Luther is invoked, mentioned, or taught. We are missing some of the necessary context beginning on page 473. In addition, the Lutheran confessors (475) actually intended the Augsburg Confession as a proposal for reconciliation, yes, but more faithful to the Scriptures, true "catholicism," not "Catholicism." Small-c catholicism means what has everywhere and always taught about God, Christ, and salvation from the Scriptures alone.
  • A positive view of pietism always troubles me because it is not an accurate reflection of Luther nor Lutherans (567).
  • There is an over-emphasis on leadership and church growth.
  • Page 640 on Education needs expansion to cover the varieties of pastoral education in the United States. After my 4-year degree, I receied a seminary education. That culminated in a Master of Divinity. Two more years would mean a Master of Sacred Theology. Two more would be a Ph. D. The D. Min is another common "practical" doctorate.
  • 674 could be improved by introducing Matthew 28:18-20 where Jesus teaches that disciples are made by means of baptizing and by means of teaching.
  • I will always reject "consubstantiation" as a false, incomplete caricature and misrepresentation of the Lutheran "view" of Holy Communion. It sounds too similar to "transubstantiation," a false philosophical theory. My Confession is that Jesus means what He says "This is my Body" and "This cup is the new testament in my blood." If Lutherans are to be criticized or condemned on this matter, accuse us of taking Jesus too seriously!
  • Emphasis on the Biblical languages of Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic is weak.
While not a comprehensive list, those are my major concerns, "landmines," if you will, for folks who would use this book to prepare for Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO or Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN.

It's a pretty short list for a volume of nearly 800 pages!

Please do not misunderstand the big picture of my impression of this volume.

It is impressive.

It is helpful.

It would be a good book to share with a young man, an elder, or another man in your congregation who is wrestling with the possible desire to serve the Lord and the Lord's people as a pastor.

It would also be a good one-volume reference for a pastor to have at home or in the car to review and re-learn.

But, in a future edtion/revision, would the publisher kindly consider a more accurate and helpful title?

$35 is a very affordable price for what is essentially the content of six (or more) books published under one durable and attractive hardcover.

The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.