“On Weaknesses of Typical Seminary Graduates” — Thoughts by Jack Miller


A good deal of the impetus for the [Leadership] training program came out of dissatisfaction with the seminary/Bible school model of training for service.

The strengths of a seminary/Bible school model are largely intellectual. These strengths include extensive exposure to Scripture, textual criticism, and Greek and Hebrew, sytematic theology, and church history.

The weaknesses are too many ideas and truths given too quickly and sometimes superficially, without a sharp focus on the unifying power of the gospel and the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

The other critical weaknesses include a minimal interest in prayer and learning to work together as teams.

I do not mean at all to suggest that everyone who attends seminary is tainted with every weakness I shall mention.  I am only talking about what is common enough to be said to be virtually typical.

The typical seminary graduate has these serious problems and often does not know he has them:

1. In a formal sense he likely has his doctrines straight. But his thinking about biblical truths lacks sharp focus.  Why? Because of lack of understanding of the majesty, power, simplicity, and joy found in the gospel!  And because of a failure to apply to himself concretely to the uncompromising demands of God’s holy law and to be broken by the exposure of his radical self-centeredness!  Often the graduate is a man who sees himself as a repairer of the walls of the city of God but fails to see that his own walls are broken down.

2. He likely has a pretty hazy idea how his ideas apply to life and has not wrestled seriously with learning to communicate biblical truth with divine clarity, power, and concreteness.

3. He likely will see himself as a corrector of others without being awakened to the supreme importance of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6 that we are to be correcting ourselves first. He may evidence more of the self-protectiveness that goes with pride than the openness that goes with the fruits and graces of the Holy Spirit.

4. He may not know how to control his own tongue or how to guide others in controlling theirs. He may have no idea whatsoever about working through conflicts in the church and how to engage in constructive conflict.  The idea of spiritual warfare conducted by fervent prayer may well be virtually unknown to him. Why should it not be?  Charles Hodge’s large three volumes on Systematics has a section of more than 300 pages on the means of grace, and of these 300 pages only 17 are devoted to prayer, and the quality of these 17 pages is not up to the fine quality of the rest of the volumes!  A spiritual disaster for training to have that kind of embalance in a valued text for theological training!

5. He will be typically inexperienced and un-humbled through his working only with students. He will easily assume that the church is mostly a classroom.  His ignorance of small group and congregational dynamics will be massive and he will likely have little idea how dangerous this is.  Only a few seminary graduates that I have known had any idea that there is such a thing as congregational dynamics.

5. The net effect is that he is likely to be self-protective rather than seeing his whole Christian life as one of a son who constantly engages in repentance, both tasting of its sorrows and its joys.

Against this background, at the beginnings of New Life Church we strongly emphasized the congregation as training ground in prayer, repentance, and witness.

Reflections by Jack Miller in “Training and Mobilization: A New Form of Education.”


Jack Miller Reflecting on the Relationship of Justification and Sanctification in Union with Christ in the Context of Discipleship

Dr. C. John (Jack) Miller[T]he theological leadership of the conservative church has done a poor job in establishing the necessary link between justification by faith and discipleship.

For example, an able teacher like [Dwight] Pentecost takes the following strange position: “We affirm again that it is possible for a man to be saved without being a disciple of Jesus Christ” (p. 29, Design For Discipleship).

Among the Reformed as well as the Arminian forgiveness and acceptance with God has somehow come across to men as the end of the road and not the beginning. Discipleship has been misconstrued far too often as a second-step addition to salvation, the option reserved for the elite and the ascetic.

Since no human power can overcome these obstacles, you need to have God put his weapons in your hands. The first weapon is the promises of God. You will find that the promises of God will do more for you than any other resource.

In the summer of 1970, I studied a number of the life-and-power promises of the Old Testament and began to see how they came to focus on our glorious Lord Jesus Christ. Stimulated by these Christ-centered promises, I began to see the present age as a time of fulfillment and harvest (Lk. 10:1-2), an age of spiritual power associated with unceasing prayer and continued repentance (Zech. 12:10). This is the hour of crisis opportunity and the Spirit of Christ calling for the bold confrontation of the lost with the gospel (Acts 2:22-39).

From these same promises I began to grow in understanding of Christ as Sanctifier as well as Justifier. In particular, I began to see a splendid harmony between justification by faith and the call to discipleship in the gospels and the Epistle to James.

I had toned down the radical demands placed upon disciples by the Lord. I had almost said that justification by faith cancelled out the cost and necessity of discipleship. But suddenly it dawned upon me that these were the two sides of Christ’s great ongoing kingdom work.

By justification and the sanctification of discipleship [Christ] destroys all self-righteousness and all self-effort in order to give all glory to God.

In Justification by faith the sinner abandons his own righteousness and humbly submits in faith to the righteousness of God earned by the Lord Jesus Christ. And in becoming a disciple the sinner at the same time abandons his own self-control, his self-rule, and humbly submits in faith to the Sovereign lordship of the Redeemer.

Once this fundamental understanding came to me, once I grasped the work of discipling as a grand prophetic design set forth in the promises, my faith was quickened, my boldness increased, and it seemed most natural to see evangelism as an integral part of discipleship.

Evangelism is phase one in the process of God’s making disciples. He uses Christian men as instruments but the Holy Spirit acts as the primary means. For the Spirit is the promise; He is Christ’s chief executive on earth (Matt.28:20, Acts 2:33).

Left to ourselves, duties end obligations in a small group would overwhelm us. And how would we ever be able to disciple “the nations”? But if the key is that God is at work discipling through the Spirit of Christ, then everything takes on a different color.

Christ has come as the great Dawning. As the Son of righteousness, He has risen with healing in His wings and God’s people have joy like that of well-fed calves bursting forth from the stall (Mal. 4:2).

Discipling depends on the reality of Christ’s present existence and lordship. A disciple is a person committed to a living Lord, a learner ever submitting himself more completely to the will of the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We must view the cost of discipleship in this light. The disciple is called to renounce everything (Lk. 14:33), but by faith he also knows that he now owns all things in Christ (I Cor. 3:21-23).

Christ’s kingdom is the pearl of great price which is so valuable that the shrewd trader gives all in order to obtain it (Mt 13:45-46). The trader had not been rich and healthy before he met Christ.  No indeed, he was bankrupt both in respect to righteousness and in respect to spiritual strength and life. By faith he took hold of the only true riches found in Christ – forgiveness, acceptance with God, eternal life, joy, peace, and love.

In being a disciple and discipling others, the leader must be a wealthy man in Christ. He must be pre-eminently a man of faith seeming to rest his whole life on the promises of God. Faith then is the material from which disciples are built.

Jack Miller, How To Overcome Introversion In The Small Church, 44-45, in the context of Part VII, Leadership Through Small Groups, The Jack Miller Collection, PCA Historical Center at Covenant Seminary, St. Louis, Mo., n.d.

“What is the Gospel” — Podcast from 8/7/11

“What is the Gospel?” Postcast