Seminaries exist (ostensibly) for the purpose of training pastors for service in the local church. Such service, however, is never divorced from the larger context of life in this world — and that larger context includes politics. As I’ve explained elsewhere, pastors don’t have the luxury of just “preaching the Gospel” in response to difficult questions of justice, culture, values, and even politics. The Gospel must not only be preached, it must also be applied.
Unfortunately, far too many seminaries ignore the broader questions of ethics and politics and focus exclusively on training in biblical languages, theology proper, and church history. This leaves seminary students — who may one day be your pastor — to be discipled in the ways of politics by the loudest voices in popular political outlets that often lean left or are outright propagandists for the regime.
What would it look like for seminaries to better train pastors to more faithfully and fearlessly engage in politics? Here are three considerations.
1. Recover the rich protestant history of political theology
Augustine. Martin Luther. John Calvin. Johannes Althusius. John Gill. Matthew Henry. Francis Turretin. These men are often (and rightly) known for their significant theological contributions to Christianity in general and specifically the Protestant tradition. From these men, we get great resources like Augustine’s City of God, Luther’s 95 Theses, Henry’s Complete Bible Commentary, and Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, which was the very first systematic theology textbook used at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
But these men didn’t just do theology in a vacuum. They also thought and wrote about life in this world, including questions about the role and purpose of government (or as they often spoke of it, the “civil magistrate”), the nature of human relationships in society, and how Christians should act in regard to their own nation.
For example, consider the sermon preached by British Baptist pastor Andrew Fuller entitled “Christian Patriotism.” He delivered this rousing address in the early 1800s when the British feared an imminent invasion by Napoleon:
“Ought we not to seek the good of our native land; the land of our father’s graves; a land where we are protected by mild and wholesome laws, administered under a paternal prince; a land where civil and religious freedom are enjoyed in a higher degree than in any other country in Europe; a land where God has been known for many centuries as a refuge; a land, in fine, where there are greater opportunities for propagating the gospel, both at home and abroad, than in any other nation under Heaven?
… as Christians, we are not of the world, and ought not to be conformed to it; yet, being in it, we are under various obligations to those about us. As husbands, wives, parents, children, masters, servants, &c., we cannot be insensible that others have a claim upon us, as well as we upon them; and it is the same as members of a community united under one civil government. If we were rulers, our country would have a serious claim upon us as rulers; and, as we are subjects, it has a serious claim upon us as subjects. The manner in which we discharge these relative duties contributes not a little to the formation of our character, both in the sight of God and man.”
Consider his words and ask yourself this: Why don’t pastors talk like this today? The answer is, at least in part, that future pastors aren’t being taught the rich history of Protestant political theology in their seminaries. If we want to see pastors better equipped to engage in politics, this must change.
2. Offer and require classes on biblical approaches to specific political issues
Many seminaries do require that their students take an introductory course on Christian ethics. However, that is usually the only required course that touches on political topics.
But given how the sexual revolution in particular has terraformed our cultural landscape into a nearly unrecognizable transgender hellscape, seminaries should seriously consider requiring their students to take an advanced ethics course exclusively focused on teaching historic Christian sexual ethics. Such a course should cover everything from the nature of marriage, the ethical problems with artificial reproductive technologies, the nature of God’s creation order as it pertains to biological sex, the history of the ideology and pseudoscience that props up the transgender movement, and what it means to be a human being made in the image of God with both a sexed body and an eternal soul.
This isn’t the only topic that demands special attention. Seminaries should also consider offering courses that teach future pastors the true nature of religious liberty in America (and how “separation of church and state” isn’t actually in the First Amendment); the political issues with the unconstitutional “Johnson Amendment” that sought to prevent pastors from endorsing candidates from the pulpit; and even a committed course to the history of church-state relations in America.
3. Host regular seminars with experts and practitioners in the field of politics
Finally, seminaries should ensure that their students have the opportunity to regularly hear from Christians who work in the political world. There is no substitute for experience, and far too many pastors who stand behind pulpits preaching about politics have never even knocked on doors in a local election.
Seminaries should bring in political practitioners, First Amendment defense lawyers, Christian public officials, Christian journalists, etc., to teach young seminary students what life in the “real world” of politics is like.
If pastors are going to lead their congregation faithfully through the troubled political waters of the 21st century, seminaries must ensure that they are trained well, from a biblical, historical, and philosophical perspective. To that end, the suggestions I’ve outlined here are just a start. But if implemented, I believe it would go a long way towards helping all Christian pastors both preach the Gospel and equip the people in their pews to live Christ-honoring lives not only at home and work but also in the public square.
Originally published at the Standing for Freedom Center.
William Wolfe is a visiting fellow with the Center for Renewing America. He served as a senior official in the Trump administration, both as a deputy assistant secretary of defense at the Pentagon and a director of legislative affairs at the State Department. Prior to his service in the administration, Wolfe worked for Heritage Action for America, and as a congressional staffer for three different members of Congress, including the former Rep. Dave Brat. He has a B.A. in history from Covenant College, and is finishing his Masters of Divinity at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Follow William on Twitter at @William_E_Wolfe