“Family Guy” Sees what Seminaries Don’t

In a “Family Guy” episode from 2005 Peter lists 29 shows that had been canceled by Fox after short runs (“North by North”). Check out the video clip. It’s impressive how many shows a network runs through. In their attempt to catch lightening in a bottle, they break lots of bottles. Too bad seminaries don’t realize the foolhardiness of this endeavor.

I came to the seminary just as the charismatic movement was about purged from the bowels of the church. I went out into the ministry with the spiritual gifts movement in full swing; then there was friendship evangelism, small group organizing, the contemporary worship which gave way to praise bands which gave way to the church submerging into the bowels of postmodern thinking.

The St. Louis seminary pretty much goes with the ebb and flow of these winds of doctrines modifying them where they are most egregiously offensive to confessional Lutheranism, but never, ever breaking with what moves and shakes in the society around us. Fort Wayne usually does better. However, with this last curriculum change they have embraced exegesis over systematics, discovering Biblical truths anew rather than confessing them from of old.

Frankly, you’re crazy if you think you’re going to be able to do better with the doctrine of the Trinity than the Cappadocian fathers or with the Two Natures in Christ than Chemnitz. If you try by original exegesis to arrive where they did, I can virtually assure you that you will end up in heresy.

In summer 2017 For the Life of the World on pages 4-6 there is an article entitled “The Importance of Excellence in Spiritual Formation” by the Rev. Peter K. Lange. (This is totally an aside but what all the publications from synod, seminaries, service organizations, and schools have in common is that they are long on form and very, very short in content. “Welcome back to the age of jive” which too was all about outward appearances.)

Too bad Lange and/or the editors of For the Life of the World didn’t read the 2011 CPH published book The Church from Age to Age. This is what it said in regard to the early 18th century founding of a pietistic seminary. “Pietist education led to profound changes. No longer was education to be book centered. A school was regarded not only as a place where information was transmitted but also an institution to transform character” (598).

Real transformation is the result of justification. Zacchaeus, Paul, the disciples cowering behind locked doors becoming the apostles of the Faith are all examples of this. But when your aim is to transform people, the Gospel doesn’t “work” reliably enough, and so you go to the Law. The Law can do wonders to outward appearances but “Our flesh has not the pure desires/ The spirit of the Law requires/ And lost is our condition” (TLH 377, 2).

I submit that spiritual formation is the new raison d’etre for the seminaries existence because if you fill students with dogmatic theology and confessional certainty they turn the world upside down even as the apostles first did. But that is not popular, it wasn’t back then and it’s less so in a world eaten alive by the cancer of postmodern uncertainty.

So, what the seminary aims to turn out is an ill-defined, actually unable to be defined, spiritually transformed person. And like the woman from the Rodney Earl Keene song “who talks all about AA”, they will talk all about their spiritual transformation. To the “we would see Jesus” of John 12, their response is not the finger of John the Baptist that Luther liked to talk of, but “look what He did for me” which is the stuff of 18th century pietism, 19th century camp meetings, and present-day Baptist, non-denominational, and LCMS movers and shakers.

Fox would cancel such a program as this. Luther and Walther did long ago.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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