Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Twenty-five Years in the Seminary Business, Part 1
I realized at the end of the 2015 Fall Semester that I had completed twenty-five years of teaching at GPTS (I began in the Spring Semester of 1991). There are many seminary professors who have been teaching loner than I, at larger schools, who therefore have more experience than I do. But I intend to put down some of my reflections based on the last twenty-five years.
First, in general, students entering seminary today seem to have a weaker grasp of the content of the English Bible than they did when I started teaching. That’s bothersome to me. I remember when I went back to my home church after my first year of seminary. There was an older lady who said to me, “How wonderful it would be to just study the Bible all day.” I didn’t correct her, and perhaps that’s the view many people have of seminary. But English Bible is only part of the curriculum. There are languages to be learned. Church history and theology have much in the way of required reading. Even the English Bible courses are often more concerned with technical issues, than with a mere recitation of content. Then there are the extra-curricular activities that seminary students get drawn into, such as teaching Sunday school, occasional supply preaching, and the demands of family life. So a student who comes to seminary with a weak grasp of English Bible content likely will not leave seminary with his understanding of the English Bible much improved. This is further confirmed by the fact that many men, even after seminary, do not do all that well on presbytery Bible content exams.
So my recommendation is that those who are contemplating attending seminary should work first on their grasp of the English Bible. Read it regularly and carefully. Develop your own outlines of the books. Yes, study Bibles and other books provide such things. But if you spend the time working out your own outlines, they will be more meaningful, and stick with you longer than those pre-digested outlines that have been provided for you.
Second, it might be the impression of many that seminary is where men learn their theology, so that the perspective of the school would naturally have a significant effect on a man’s theological commitments. However, I’ve found that not to be the case. Usually a man comes with his commitments already in place. A man’s commitments generally reflect the commitments of the church or the pastor under whom he began his growth as a Christian. Further, a pastor will generally direct any of his men who are considering seminary to a school that is congenial to his own commitments. So in general, seminary will give a man greater theological sophistication, but rarely will it alter his basic theological commitments. More on this next time.