Niebuhr, H. Richard. "Chapter Three: The Idea of a Theological School." The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry. New York: Harper & Row, 1956, 95-134.
Niebuhr describes ministers as dealing with "pluralistic churches and a harried ministry" (Niebuhr 1956, 95) and schools as suffering from the same trials. The lack of definition in their purpose leads, in Niebuhr's opinion, to a counter-intuitive impression, that of institutional inertia. The habitual patterns of the institution tend to remain active, even if the institutional philosophy may have changed (Niebuhr 1956, 96). The lack of change in action may reflect a lack of certainty in overall goals.
Niebuhr notes that courses and even entirely new theological disciplines have been added to the curriculum in the first half of the 20th century. Yet they have not resulted in what he considers a coherent whole (Niebuhr 1956, 98). This tendency shows itself in antagonistic attitudes between departments or even between programs described as more "academic" in nature and those considered more "practical" (Niebuhr 1956, 101).
Niebuhr does find in his research that there are pockets of faculty and even occasionally whole schools which have found their mission in the search for essential Christian faith and practice (Niebuhr 1956, 102). Niebuhr briefly describes these renewals in various branches of study.
Niebuhr goes on to discuss "the theological school as intellectual center of the Church's life" (Niebuhr 1956, 107). The Christian intellect seeks to understand and implement love for God and for the neighbor. In its ideal form, the Christian theological intellect is driven by God's love in directions which reject all the self-serving interests we might have in other scientific pursuits (Niebuhr 1956, 109).
An adequate study of theology spills over into other churchly activities. It does not stay in theoretical realms only (Niebuhr 1956, 114). Niebuhr illustrates the impact theological studies may have on worship, preaching, and pastoral care, among other things.
Niebuhr discusses the concept of a school as a theological community in which students, teachers, and theological concepts interact. He distinguishes this from authoritarian indoctrination in which the concepts are imparted with minimal interaction, in a one-way process (Niebuhr 1956, 117). The living interaction of God with teacher and student alike is a critical element. Niebuhr emphasizes this personal engagement and investment at length. This engagement leads to a living dialog with the people and concepts present in the biblical literature (Niebuhr 1956, 122). Further, because the Church is in the secular world, it maintains communication and interaction with learning we would consider secular (Niebuhr 1956, 123). Niebuhr sees the interaction and dialog with the secular world as a critical part of the mission of Church and theological school.
The work of a theological school is, by nature, theoretical. It is centered on the intellectual process of discovery (Niebuhr 1956, 125). There is, however, a real issue of the practical work of the ministry. Niebuhr identifies this controversy as consisting of two different concepts of ministry. From an "intellectualist" point of view, action springs from understanding (Niebuhr 1956, 126). On the contrary, a "pragmatic" point of view sees training in practice to be more important than rationalization (Niebuhr 1956, 127). Niebuhr's view is that practice without reflection or reflection without resulting action will both prove futile. Adequate theological interaction brings the relationships among God, self, and the neighbor into clear view (Niebuhr 1956, 130).