Friday, August 20, 2010

Some Early Thoughts on the Possibility of a Reformed Seminary in West Virginia

A seminary in West Virginia would make seminary education available to those within the State who might not otherwise have the opportunity or ability to attend seminary.

I don’t know any statistics to prove my case, but I am under the general impression that our State does not produce very many Reformed seminarians.  If this is true, there are probably many different reasons.  I am sure these reasons are not unique to WV.  Everybody who attends any graduate school in any field of study must overcome the obstacles of cost, location, time, and academic prerequisites.  Again, no real figures, but I believe that people in our State might be among the most disadvantaged with regard to these obstacles. 

So a centrally located seminary, say in the Charleston area, would make the possibility open to more people.  It would have to be exceptionally affordable in order for already financially-stressed people to even be able to consider it.  Since finances are already an issue, working seminarians would have to have the content delivered non-traditionally—a variety of class times and modalities that would fit most easily into a working family-life.   There is not much that any of us can do about academic prerequisites (chiefly a Bachelor’s degree) other than to just encourage and support potential seminarians in their efforts to finish college.

However, other Reformed denominations have lay-pastor training programs that might be exemplars.  If it is true that lack of formal education need not stand in the way of the spread of reformed theology, then perhaps we could provide pastors for churches who are educated at least to the level that increases the chances of their staying true to the tenets of historic Reformed theology throughout their ministries.  This might mean that graduate education is not absolutely necessary.  However, I wonder if the possibility of a generational slide away from Reformed theology might go along with this, ie, if this generation reduces its education and ordination requirements for the sake of training lay-pastors, what is to prevent the next generation from reducing them even more, to the point that eventually the purpose of a reformed education is undermined?  I speculate that this generational slide has already happened to Baptist theology.  Calvinistic Baptists were once influential, but could it be that their lack of clergy ordination standards resulted in a modern Baptist movement that hardly knows what Reformed theology is?

A seminary in West Virginia would allow us to really focus upon the spread of Reformed theology in the State of West Virginia.  I have already made some comments about the weak state of Reformed theology in our State.  Others have made some good comments in reply.  More Reformed seminarians might mean more Reformed missions throughout the State. 

A Seminary in West Virginia would also allow us to explore the unique cultural distinctives of Appalachia in general and West Virginia in particular.  Don’t get me wrong--what can be found here can probably be found throughout the country, but our culture is intense in its “You’re not from around here” mentality.  And what makes our culture unique is not that it does not exist elsewhere, but that it is so concentrated here.  And it is concentrated here to such a degree that statistics do indeed show that West Virginia is different from other States.   

In spite of this, West Virginia is not culturally monolithic, so this seminary would need to acquaint itself with the wide variety of cultural elements in our State.  We have college towns and industrial towns and coal mining communities and farming communities and communities that have virtually no predominate work or industry.  But whatever is unique about our State would need to be explored by this seminary and then passed on through pastoral theology to our seminarians.   Armed with a strong understanding of our culture, seminarians might have better opportunities to spread the Gospel, advance the Kingdom, and entrench Reformed theology.

So, like I said, these are early thoughts.  Lots of minds would have to come together on this one, but I am interested in at least beginning the process of considering the possibilities.  Feel free to add thoughts.


  1. Hello Bill,

    I stumbled upon your blog today from a Google news service that was delivered to me by email today. It is nice to see another reformed blogger in West Virginia.

    West Virginia is strange since it seems to be the buckle of the Bible belt. I agree that there is a vacuumed in our state of the Reformed Faith and those churches that are from the reformed tradition they don’t seem reformed when attending their worship services. I think a reformed seminary would be beneficial to our state but I think it would a miracle to see it happen here.

    Now that I found you I will try to follow you as you blog.


    Timothy Spradling

  2. Good to have at least one reader, Timotheus! My name is Dennis btw. I am the pastor of Winifrede Presbyterian Church, one of your local sister churches in the PCA.