Why aren’t there more Evangelicals in Patristics (3): Evangelical seminary curricula usually have one Early Church History course, and it’s intro level, so they overwhelmingly get a non-specialist to teach it.

(Parts 1, 2)

Patristics is, I confess, a research-oriented field for most of us. It’s not the most directly relevant to all aspects of training future ministers and missionaries, so it’s not a surprise that in Evangelical seminaries, focused for the main part on training people for those works, Patristics doesn’t have a high teaching profile.

Nonetheless, the structure of programs in Evangelical seminaries is also a factor in the dearth of Evangelical scholars in this field, because scholars require jobs to pay their bills, and most scholarship takes place in the context of combined research-teaching posts. No jobs, no research.

And the typical structure of a lot of Evangelical seminaries looks something like this:

Early church history is one subject, at best. It’s an overview subject, covering 4-5-6 hundred years, and it’s taught at an entry-level. That’s at best, at worst it’s wrapped up in an even broader survey course of 1500, or 2000 years, of church history.

Then you’ve got, probably, a Reformation history subject (so pity the Medievalists among us, who will never get a job in an evangelical seminary), and perhaps a Modern/Denominational-focused subject.

Even those three subjects are an ‘at-best’ for evangelical seminaries in general. Occasionally, if you are truly blessed, you’ll get an upper-level or Masters subject that looks at Patristic thought.

This means that, in terms of teaching load and job design, a Patristics scholar is looking at 1 subject in their specialty. No one is hiring people for a 1-0 load. Not that a Patristics scholar couldn’t teach other things, necessarily. The faculty make-up of evangelical seminaries doesn’t ‘run’ in that direction though. Just go and pick a seminary, and look through their faculty pages, and their course allocations, and the vast majority of positions are OT and NT faculty, and some theology. And who teaches their Early Church History? Nine times out of ten it’s a reformation or denominational history person. Who teaches their Greek? A NT professor. Rarely do you find a patristics person teaching in the other direction, even though they are as qualified to teach, say, reformation history as the reformation history prof is to teach Patristics.

Now, of course, there are exceptions to this, and there are evangelical seminaries, and perhaps more significantly, universities, with Evangelicals doing patristics. Which is great. But this doesn’t change the fact that the curricula design and faculty distributions of evangelical seminaries leave little space, and less hope, for evangelicals in patristics. And scholarship doesn’t happen without money, because scholars need to eat too.

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