Seminary Teachers: who are they?

Any seminary as a theological educational institution exists for the sake of the Church. Of course, education as a concept is not unique to the seminary: the Humboldtian model of higher education is essentially secular in its outlook. The seminary serves as a bridge of sorts between the Church and the world, and so it potentially faces two opposite dangers. 

On the one hand, a Seminary may flirt with the world and with ideas of secular prestige and respectability so much that it compromises its higher spiritual calling. This problem arguably has repeated itself several times in the American Lutheran higher theological setting of the 20th and 21stcenturies. Humanly speaking, this temptation is very understandable: we all want to be recognized and respected rather than having fingers pointing at us with ridicule and contempt. However, any seminary theologian should regularly meditate on Jn 15:18-21 to make sure there is no grievous way in him (Ps 139:24).  

On the other hand, the Seminary may turn into an internal club or quasi-sect, a niche where everybody will feel quite comfortable with one another, having but a vague understanding of how people think in the outside world. This system may go on in the comfortable context of a professing Christian majority, but will collapse very quickly when social upheavals force the people out of the comfort zone. 

Our approach to the organization of the Faculty and teaching staff in Novosibirsk is the following. The vast majority of courses and the core courses of the curriculum are taught by committed confessional Lutherans, members of SELC or her sister Churches. Most members of our Faculty serve as pastors in the Church. 

It is interesting that this corresponds to the ideas of integration of education and research that were part and parcel of M. Lavrentiev’s Akademgorodok concept from its inception in 1950s, where it was the actual scientists from the labs of the local research Institutes who did the teaching at Novosibirsk State University rather than professional teachers who just repeated the same courses over and over, as happened in almost all other Soviet Universities. 

Likewise, it is imperative for us that our ordained instructors do serve in the church in a formal way. We have 3 pastors as part of the Faculty (Rev. Pavel Khramov and Rev. Andrey Lipnitsky, besides myself), and all of us regularly conduct both Sunday and weekday services at the local St Andrew’s parish of the SELC and go to other parishes across Siberia to serve and preach there as directed by the bishop of the Church. We do not get paid for this ministry, but it still an integral part of our pastoral calling, complementing and informing our activity in the seminary classroom. A seminary instructor teaching students to become pastors must serve in the church himself in order to stay in the context of actual ministry. It would probably be a little strange for a surgeon to teach his medical students how to perform a complex surgery if he had been out of the practical field for decades. So on an even greater scale this applies to ordained seminary teachers. Sure enough, it is not always easy to work as a seminary instructor Monday to Friday and then serve as a pastor on a weekend (and many times other days of the week too), but it brings great joy and makes us better teachers for the seminarians.

However, not all of the seminary instructors are pastors, nor should they be – this may lead to an unhelpful overclericalization where the seminary becomes a thing in itself, detached from the people in the pew. In the history of the Lutheran Church one of her greatest theologians and an author of the Book of Concord, Philip Melanchton, was a layman. Likewise we have a layman (Dr. Pavel Butakov) as our adjunct instructor. A layman can bring a fresh perspective and relate to the students in such capacity. So this is how it happens also at our seminary. 

Finally, a small number of courses—of a general, non-theological nature, as a rule—are taught by outside secular instructors with proper credentials. These may be people who are not related to the Lutheran Church and may not even be Christians. We believe that this helps the students to stay more alert to the outside world so that they may learn to communicate with those who are not members of the Church. It is also very good for the seminarians to meet experts in their fields of research, who are not lacking in Akademgorodok and Novosibirsk in general.