Posts Tagged ‘Seminary’

After teaching the disciples, Jesus asked them:

“Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt. 13:51-52).

John Calvin comments on this somewhat difficult parable:

We must keep in recollection what we have formerly seen, that all the parables of Christ were explained in private. And now the Lord, after having taught them in this kind and familiar manner, warns them at the same time, that his object, in taking so much pains to instruct them, was not merely that they might be well informed, but that they might communicate to others what they had received. In this way he whets and excites their minds more and more to desire instruction. He says that teachers are like householders, who are not only careful about their own food, but have a store laid up for the nourishment of others; and who do not live at ease as to the passing day, but make provision for a future and distant period. The meaning, therefore, is, that the teachers of the Church ought to be prepared by long study for giving to the people, as out of a storehouse, a variety of instruction concerning the word of God, as the necessity of the case may require. Many of the ancient expositors understand by things new and old the Law and the Gospel; but this appears to me to be forced. I understand them simply to mean a varied and manifold distribution, wisely and properly adapted to the capacity of every individual. – Calvin, Commentary on Matthew


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We often hear the phrase “pastor as scholar” used to describe the serious intellectual responsibilities tied to the ministry. A pastor should be well-versed in the original languages, master the trajectories of church history, and possess a solid grasp of the philosophical issues facing the church today (just to name a few).

And as important as these are, we must never forget that they are all, in the end, pastoral. In other words, theology is for ministry; it is for proclamation. It’s not so much that the pastor is a scholar but that the scholar is a pastor.

Carl Trueman gets at this in summarizing John Owen’s own study and practice.

In his work on the communion with the divine, Owen connects his theology, it its catholic, Protestant, and Reformed dimensions, to that most critical of Puritan concerns: the worship of God. And in so doing, Owen demonstrates that most delightful aspect of precritical theology: its essentially ecclesiastical and practical purpose. None of his theology was intended for its own sake, as some kind of glass-bead game to be played by an elite few in isolation from the world around. On the contrary: it was theology done within the church for the benefit of the church. As speculative and as metaphysical as many of the issues [were], for Owen none of it was purely abstract. Whether polemic, commentary, or doctrinal exposition, his work always connects to the life of the church and the health of Christians, individual and corporate. The divorce of theology as an academic discipline from the ecclesiastical context, so basic to the modern discipline, would have been inconceivable to Owen and is another point of basic continuity between his work and that of his predecessors. As the great patristic writers were capable of flights of intellectual brilliance in developing a theology which was basically concerned for the health of Christ’s flock; as the great medievals put their massive intellects to the service of the church and wrote both massive theological systems and profound and moving hymns and prayers; as Luther and Calvin always saw their theology as having a primarily ecclesiastical function and as terminating in the preaching of the word and the administrating of the sacraments; so Owen draws on that most Christian of doctrines, that of the Trinity, refracts it through a Reformed soteriology, and applies it to that most basic and universal aspect of the Christian faith, the devotional life. – Carl Trueman, “John Owen: Reformed Catholic, Renaissance Man,” (2007) p. 128.

Ministry, therefore, is not so much about “going up” into the rarified airs and untrammeled musings of theological exactitude, untouched and untroubled by the world below. Here we may feel impregnable, fully equipped to battle the problems of society. But “here” is not ministry. No, ministry is very much about “going down” into the very depths of peoples’ pain and confusion; to empathize with them; to appreciate their humanity (which is our humanity); to weep when they weep; to laugh when they laugh; indeed, to “become all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22).

Is this not what Christ did? Is this not what Paul did?

As such, the tools of the trade (i.e. a seminary education) are only valuable when we see them in this light: as eminently practical. It’s not so much about learning theological principles and philosophical abstractions which we can then later “apply” to reality down bellow. No, it is in our studies that reality itself is opened up to us! And we are sent plummeting to earth, our feet firmly striking the ground. It is here that our problems become apparent; that our nature and weaknesses strike us in the face. And then we realize that our problems are not just “down below,” but all around us. We all suffer from the same fallen humanity; and we are all weary pilgrims.

Thus a pastor doesn’t become a scholar to escape the vicissitudes of the mundane and the ordinary, to perch unassailable by the unpleasantries below. For here we will not find safety: only coldness, and finally death.

God demonstrates his character to us by stooping down to our nature, and “getting his hands dirty,” as it were, with our flesh and blood. Out of the dust of the earth he created them male and female (Gen. 1:27). And then, God, in the person of Christ, took this humanity upon himself, forever, identifying with us in the most empathetic and intimate way ever. And as under-shepherds, ministers are called to no less. Indeed, we must first loose our lives if we want to find them (Matt. 10:39). For there is no greater love than this (Jn. 15:13).

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I’ve been talking with my close friends about the difficulty ‘gospel men’ have determining when to fight a theological battle or just avoid offense. As we mature, I doubt this difficulty will go away. Rather, we will likely be tempted to fall into two extremes: 1) offending everybody whenever we disagree with them, or 2) Offending nobody even though we strongly disagree with them.  Both, I believe, are wrong.

As for me, I hope to follow my Lord’s example and that of the apostle Paul.  Although they were gentle as doves with those who needed protection, they surely didn’t avoid conflict with those who needed opposition (“I opposed him to his face,” Gal 2:11), and on occasions seemed to seek it out. And even though they must have known it would arouse the vitriol of their opponents, they didn’t stop short of employing singularly inflammatory statements.

I wonder if Christ or Paul would fair too well in our day… Should we fight? Or should we not? Is there a time to fight? (I think a wise man once said there was a time for everything.)

With that in mind, I ran across this address by J. Gresham Machan entitled ‘The Scientific Preparation of the Minister‘ which was delivered September 20, 1912 at the opening of the 101st session of Princeton Theological Seminary.  As some of us gear up for the ‘Christianity and Liberalism Revisited‘ conference this weekend at WSC, I thought the following paragraph may be particularly appropriate:

Beneath the surface of life lies a world of spirit. Philosophers have attempted to explore it. Christianity has revealed its wonders to the simple soul. There lie the springs of the Church’s power. But that spiritual realm cannot be entered without controversy. And now the Church is shrinking from the conflict. Driven from the spiritual realm by the current of modern thought, she is consoling herself with things about which there is no dispute. If she favours better housing for the poor, she need fear no contradiction… The twentieth century, in theory, is agreed on social betterment. But sin, and death, and salvation, and life, and God – about these things there is debate.

You can avoid the debate if you choose. You need only drift with the current… The great questions may easily be avoided. Many preachers are avoiding them. And many preachers are preaching to the air. The Church is waiting for men of another type. Men to fight her battles and solve her problems. The hope of finding them is the one great inspiration of a Seminary’s life. They need not all be men of conspicuous attainments. But they must all be men of thought. They must fight hard against spiritual and intellectual indolence. Their thinking may be confined to narrow limits. But it must be their own. To them theology must be something more than a task. It must be a matter of inquiry. It must lead not to successful memorizing, but to genuine convictions. – J. Gresham Machen

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I had the pleasure of getting to visit Westminster Seminary for the first time yesterday.  And it was a pleasant experience.   I got to check out the library and the bookstore and met several very friendly students as well as some staff.  Among all the thoughts (lofty expectations, souring hopes) that one might anticipate, what has arisen to my mind has been of a more cautionary nature. (And this I hope will be for my own good.) What has been pressed upon my heart and mind is a dark and foreboding sense of the reality of apostasy in the church — even in our best Seminaries.  And I say this in no way referring to anything specific to Westminster… I mean I just arrived here!  I have nothing with which to judge.

While perusing the periodicals in the Library I happened across the ‘Master’s Trumpet’ and a sermon delivered to the Synod of New Jersey in 1858s by a man named John Hall.  It was titled ‘The Castaway Preacher.’  The subject struck my attention since it is something that has been on my mind for the last week or so.  In this piece the preacher exhorts on 1 Corinthians 9:27:

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (ESV)

Recently I’ve been reading through 1 Timothy and thinking about the warnings Paul gives his young apprentice.  The apostle talks about having a “pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” He points out that “Some have wandered away from these and turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.” Furthermore he exhorts Timothy to: “fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience.” And he tells him that “Some have rejected these and so have shipwrecked their faith. Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.”

Whatever our initial thoughts are on these verses, we must agree these are strong words.  What is Paul getting at? Who is he talking about?  Who would fit this profile today?  Could it be me?  Could it apply to anybody around me? Are we just to be in fear? Fear of failing? Fear of sin?  God forbid, for that would be sin of itself.  So then how do we deal with an issue as tough as this one? Furthermore, I think about the stories of those who have been in the ministry and have fallen either into gross sin or even apostasy.  And one wonders how this happens.

Here are some quotes of John Hall I found particularly interesting:

“A hypocrite may deceive the holiest session, and die in the confidence of the purest church…” (12)

And regarding even the reasonableness that this question be on the minds of ministers – that they practice what they preach:

“The presumptuous sins of a preacher must be the most aggravated of all that come under that inspired designation; and it must be the highest grade of presumption for an expounder and teacher of religion to trust either in his office or his theology, to shield him from the application of such a test as this.” (13)

And then what do we look to as the answer to this problem?

“There is, then, no preventive, no remedy, but the spiritual mind. The revival we need is the revival of the piety of ministers.” (p14)

I admit, that last line is not won I’ve heard too many times before – if at all.  Usually we think of revival in terms of lay people better hearing and better obeying the message.  But here the stress is laid on the ministers own character and faith; are they watching ‘both’ their lives and their doctrine? or just one and not the other?

I will follow up with some of my own observations upto this point in my next post.  But let me leave you with an extended excerpt from Hall’s sermon.  Here we see a glimpse into the spiritual deadness which will follow many a so called minister and will inevitablly destress the church.  May God grant her mercy and grace to appoint those who are duely called.

“The signs of a castaway preacher, so far as they are distinct from those of the trials of other Christians, will appear to be such as these: he has no cordial or practical belief in what his function compels him to preach; he feels an intellectual pride, and enjoys an ambitious gratification in preaching, but has no heart in it as the means of glorifying God and restoring man; with him the ministry is no more than a profession; preaching is his livelihood. If he labour for success, it is for the sake of maintaining his professional position; he is actuated, as men are in their secular vocations; he seeks for promotion; his choice of place and occupation, and his charges, are determined by the preponderance of personal advantages; he will not forego domestic comfort for the sake of ministering in obscurity to the least provided; he finds ready excuses for retiring from labour, or for indulging indolence; he counts his life too dear to run risks; he is always looking for material reward, even for his prayers and consolations; he resorts to tempting adventures, not merely from necessity, or while the necessity continues, but from the love of gain and the pleasure of accumulation; he hoards penuriously while he preaches liberality; he loves general literature more than theology, the society of the world more than the society of the Church; he preaches and prays, visits and writes for fame and notoriety; the pleasure and excitement of the act of preaching are the effect, not of zeal, but of self-complacency; and the bible in hand.gratification or disappointment which he experiences, does not relate to the souls of the people, but to his own vanity; he looks on his fellow-ministers as competitors and rivals; he is envious and jealous; mortified at being overlooked, and ever suspicious of slights. But this is only a random sketch of particulars. Perhaps all may be comprehended in the phrase of the text by saying, that the character described is only a preacher to others . He may have the gifts of prophecy and knowledge, may speak in the tongue of angels, but he is not in himself such a preacher as Christ requires; his unction is not from the Holy One, and so he is disowned, rejected, castaway.” (p9)

All excerpts taken from the ‘Master’s Trumpet’, Issue 5, March 2009.

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