Richard Briggs on Teaching Scripture to Ordinands/Seminarians (Gupta)

In the latest issue of Theology journal, Richard Briggs offers a poignant reflection on teaching Scripture to ordinands and seminarians (“New Directions in Teaching Scripture to those Training for Ministry,” 118.4 2015). Firstly, he notes that many Bible professors are much more interested in their own hobby horses and working in traditional academic categories than they are deeply reflecting on what formational and vocational needs should be prioritized for seminarians. In his own words, he says that he has a troubling sense that “what we are good at in teaching biblical studies does not always equate to what our students need with regard to Scripture for lives to be spent in ministries of various kinds” (251).

Briggs notes that much of what students learn in regards to Scripture is how to write essays. Sometimes they break further beyond that to think more philosophically and hermeneutically about Scripture. But Briggs urges that students ought to be “orientated towards the cultivation of phronesis,” practical wisdom (252). Whether one agrees with Briggs or not (I am inclined to agree with him), our seminary faculty and leaders ought to be reckoning with the question – to what end is the Bible studied (252)? It is not enough to answer: “because it is there” (252, Briggs notes this problematic assumption).

Again, going back to our hobby horses and the trends within the guild, Briggs observes that too often our academic discussions don’t seem to have much clear bearing on ministerial formation. If we think that our academic concerns ought to be important, that should be properly explained.

Why not spend time talking about the church, Christian leadership, and worship? Briggs does not explicitly say this, but he implies that students have a need to learn about the Scriptural foundations of their ecclesial understanding of ministry and worship – why is this not discussed more in introductory courses?

At George Fox Seminary, we are going through a curriculum revision, so it is the perfect time to be re-thinking our Scriptural requirements. The more traditional academic NT survey model does not serve our students well. The textbooks handle “survey” matters well, so I have desired to focus class time more on ancient context, biblical theology, theological interpretation, ministry formation, and ethics. I hope I have tried to model some of the things that Briggs has been calling for. Furthermore, though, the traditional seminary approach is to train ministry leaders and academics (those going on to a PhD) with the same courses. Briggs has made me seriously re-think this. In any case, I hope you will get a hold of his article if you teach Scripture to seminarians and ordinands.

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4 thoughts on “Richard Briggs on Teaching Scripture to Ordinands/Seminarians (Gupta)

  1. I think that this is a very important issue. I suspect that at least part of the reason why critical biblical scholarship has not made its way to the people in the pews these last many decades is that ordinands are not being helped to work out what to do from the pulpit with what they learned in biblical studies courses in seminary/theological college. I found it quite hard work to figure out what to do with what I had learned in biblical studies and I know that some of my colleagues simply regarded it as a hoop they had to jump through before they could go back to ‘preaching the truth’ because in general the information was dumped on us without giving us any help with how to apply it in the context of the community of faith rather than in academia.

    I do some teaching of lay preachers for my denomination and I always get to do the stuff about various kinds of biblical criticism. I always include some of my research about eyewitness testimony and human memory as well as some of the work on community memory and oral tradition. Once I have come to the conclusion that not only do we not have Jesus’ exact words in the gospels, but that we don’t have any way of actually *being sure* that we have found them, I spend time talking with the students about what that means for preaching, because I am not saying that therefore the Bible isn’t true, but rather that we need to be careful how we use it. One of the students who comes from one of our very conservative congregations came up to me after one course and told me that she had been quite prepared to hate everything I was going to say, but had actually found it very, very helpful.

    • Judy -I think this is spot on. Part of what we ought to be doing in seminaries is helping students not just to learn Scripture, but also to learn how to teach and use Scripture in the churches, and not just in the area of “preaching.” Many of my students have no aspiration to be preachers, but I still need to serve their needs when it comes to studying and modeling how to read Scripture.

  2. Thanks for sharing this Nijay. I am also very concerned that we treat biblical literature as not only an artifact from the past, but as a (trans)formative witness that is somehow “more” than just an artifact of the past for contemporary Christian practice.

    However, I do no work at a seminary. I teach undergraduate biblical studies at a Christian liberal arts university. What would you say is the role of “setting” in this discussion?

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