We Still Need Seminaries

In a rebuttal countering the argument that seminary education may not adequately train pastors for ministry, the dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Oral Roberts University stresses the important role they play in training the leaders of tomorrow.

Peter Wagner's critique of North American seminaries presented in his book Churchquake and in two Ministries Today articles ("What the Doctor Recommends," July/August 2000; and "Are Seminaries Making the Grade?" September/October 2000) can be summarized as follows:

1. Seminaries consider academic achievement more important than ministry skills.

2. The highest priority of professors is often to impress academic peers, not to train students.

3. The academy irresistibly tends to enrich irrelevance through faculty tenure and required courses.

4. Seminary faculty members rarely are or have been pastors themselves, and almost none have been successful pastors.

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5. Seminaries are accountable to accrediting associations, not to the churches for which they are presumably training pastors.

6. The nature of academia is to produce a critical spirit throughout the community.

7. Seminary training is pricing itself out of the market.

As the dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Oral Roberts University (ORU), I read Wagner's critique with mixed feelings. While he may be describing situations he knows firsthand, I am unable to confess that these conditions exist at our school or in the other regionally and professionally accredited Pentecostal/charismatic schools with which I am familiar.

It appears that Wagner's concern for the things of the Spirit was ridiculed at the school where he taught, and his research was not taken seriously. I cannot imagine such a scenario taking place at ORU. His work as a missionary-theologian and academician would be taken seriously here even though it might be debated and challenged for improvement.

Wagner could have been more helpful if he had acknowledged that there are at least three groups of Protestant seminaries: liberal, evangelical and Pentecostal/charismatic. While I am not in a position to defend the liberal and evangelical schools, I do feel compelled to point out that although we can certainly improve in some areas, the Pentecostal/charismatic schools do not fit his characterization. If Wagner's criticism causes Pentecostals and charismatics to feel that they do not need professionally accredited seminaries, Wagner would have done a disservice to the cause of Christ in the 21st century.


A brief summary of the history of the modern Pentecostal movement may bring clarification. Earlier Pentecostals and pioneer charismatics came from the "wrong side of the tracks" both economically and academically. They were considered uneducated holy rollers. They did not have many to call on who were capable of articulating a defense of their faith using biblical languages and scholarly tools of exegesis and hermeneutics.

Eventually, out of the fires of healing evangelism, God raised up ORU as a pioneer institution with its purpose of training students "to go into every person's world." A graduate school of theology was launched at the earliest possible stage of ORU's development for the purpose of "training Christian leaders to carry God's healing power and seed-faith lifestyle to the world's suffering and lost...Because God wants people to be whole, and we want what God wants--healing for the totality of human need."

Mainly due to the lack of Pentecostal scholars, the school for a long time had faculty from primarily one mainline denomination. More than a decade ago, this situation changed. The seminary at ORU became a transdenominational school and began to train ministers for the independent charismatic movement as well as denominations. Graduates from this recent phase are beginning to emerge as pastors and leaders of independent churches and ministries. ORU today is the oldest and largest regionally and professionally accredited Pentecostal/charismatic seminary in the world.


In addition to its accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCACS), the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) in the United States and Canada accredits ORU School of Theology and Missions. ATS never tells its member schools what theology they should teach. Its function is to make sure that the schools do what they claim to do. Among the 200 schools accredited by the ATS, only two are charismatic and university-related (ORU and Regent University Divinity School).

ORU School of Theology and Missions stands as a testimony of the foresight of its founder and chancellor Oral Roberts. His son and current president, Richard Roberts, has shown he can keep the school true to its founding principles.

It is no secret that professionally accredited degrees are required of charismatic ministers in certain areas. Military chaplaincies as well as hospital and health care chaplaincies require such training. People called to teaching ministries in academic settings need such degrees. Many church members who are connected to the Internet also require well-informed and anointed pastors. Only persons with accredited degrees can enter certain restricted countries as missionary educators.

ORU seminary graduates, as military chaplains, were baptizing people in the desert in pools made of plastic bags during the Persian Gulf War. They could not have done so without earning properly accredited degrees. A number of leaders of megachurches and ministries are current students at ORU seminary, as they recognize the need to upgrade their training to match the challenges of the 21st century.

Going back on academic training for ministry will mean giving up a large territory to the enemy and in a few years, once again, we could find ourselves on the other side of the academic tracks. I hope we will never again have to look for outsiders to articulate our faith to the wider community. The local church can and should develop ministers for the future. Ministry institutes have their place in preparing and retooling ministers. However, I believe that the church, in partnership with the seminary, can develop ministers and ministerial teams of a higher caliber.

The ORU School of Theology and Missions, through its field education program, already has partnerships with several churches in the Tulsa, Oklahoma, area to offer the best ministerial training possible. While ORU's professors hold degrees from Yale, Princeton, Vanderbilt and other world-class universities, almost all have worked as successful pastors, missionaries or chaplains. Everyone testifies of being Spirit-filled, and all are active in local churches and ministries.

In our seminary, the faculty gathers together for prayer. They attend all chapel services where men and women who move in the Spirit preach and teach. They mentor students with diligence while pursuing their scholarly responsibilities. All our professors are willing to pray for the sick and are not ashamed to lead a person to Christ. We require students to take courses such as "Holy Spirit in the Now" and "Signs and Wonders."

The Board of Regents, which supervises our seminary, includes well-known healing evangelists and charismatic megachurch pastors. This is my context, and it makes it hard for me to fully relate to Wagner's criticism.

Wagner is most helpful to us as he reminds us how much we exist for the church. He has challenged us to reach out to more local churches. We already have working pastors and evangelists lecturing in our classrooms. As a new initiative, I have appointed a committee of faculty and local pastors to critique our curriculum in terms of the needs of the local church.

We want to be responsive to the leadership and ministry needs of the churches and ministries we serve. Ultimately, we want to be a signs and wonders seminary that is influenced by the local church and which, in turn, can influence the local church in its quest to fulfill the Great Commission.

Thomson K. Mathew, D.Min., Ed.D., is dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Oral Roberts University.

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