A Review Article On Reading Institutional Histories -- By: Jeffrey P. Straub

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 15:0 (NA 2010)
Article: A Review Article On Reading Institutional Histories
Author: Jeffrey P. Straub


A Review Article On Reading Institutional Histories

Jeffrey P. Straub1

A School of the Church: Andover Newton Across Two Centuries, by Margaret Lamberts Bendroth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. xiv + 210 pp. $28.00.

An Uncommon Union: Dallas Theological Seminary and American Evangelicalism, by John D. Hannah. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009. 399 pp. $24.99.

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 1859-2009, by Gregory A. Wills. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. xiv + 566 pp. $35.00.

As a historian of Christianity, I am generally interested in most any aspect of ecclesiastical history. As one involved in ministerial training, I am especially interested in the history of ecclesiastical education. I find it fascinating how this field has expanded since the first western university was birthed by the Church in the eleventh century. These schools tended to be places where both canon and civil law were studied. The first university in North America was Harvard, founded in 1636. While not exclusively focused on ministerial training, that component was significant in all the early schools. In the past nearly four hundred years, various ecclesiastical groups have seen the need to commence institutions for the training of men for ministry.

As these institutions grow, they become important influences to the movements that gave them birth, contributing an educated clergy who enter into the churches and shape future generations of ministerial candidates. In many ways these institutions were both shaped by their traditions but also served as the agents of change in the very groups that gave them life. As such, the study of the institutions within a particular tradition provides more than a mere survey of historical academy development. The reading of these histories becomes a lens through which their larger movements can be examined. Indeed

Bendroth is correct when she declares “the real story of this book is about mainline Protestantism” (A School of the Church, p. xiii).

In the past couple of years, three such seminary histories within American Protestantism have been written. When juxtaposed, they offer interesting insights into twenty-first-century American Christianity. Two of the histories under consideration are historically Baptist, though Andover Newton today is less Baptist than Newton Theological Institution was at its inception. Arguably, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is more baptistic today than it was twenty-five years ago as it has returned to its historic theological identity that had nearly been lost after more tha...

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