That was the focus of a panel last week at the American Academy of Religion Meeting in San Francisco. Lead-off speakers were Dan Aleshire, Director of the Association of Theological Schools and Jennifer Wiseman, who directs the program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Then it was my turn. I pointed out the obvious. There’s no room in the theological curriculum to add anything. Faculty wouldn’t know what to add if they had the time. Students would be able integrate it into what they are already learning. So why bother?
I suggested that seminaries need to remember that their job is to teach theology. Doing our job well today, I argued, means that we have to take science and technology into account. One reason why this is so is because theological ideas or doctrines come mixed with outdated philosophical notions of nature.
For Christianity, this is a real challenge. Our core idea—redemption—is built on a myth of an original human nature that is lost and then restored. Unless students are minimally aware of how science challenges this thinking, seminaries aren’t doing their job.
I also suggested that for today’s students, my classroom references to current science almost always brought the subject matter to life. Students today are not so familiar with philosophy or other sources of criticism of theology. They have an easier time understanding how science challenges traditional ideas and forces them to think. They welcome the challenge. After all, they like to think that their education is relevant to the world in which they will serve.
Seminaries today need to focus on the basics—like theology—and teach it the right way right from the beginning, starting with introductory courses.
Sure, advanced electives are fine. I teach them myself, everything from “Christianity and Evolution” to “Ethics and the Technologies of Human Enhancement.” But the real key for seminaries, I believe, is to teach the core of the curriculum in a way that is appropriate for the clergy of today.