Attending Our Seminary

What is it like to attend our seminary, to sit in class, and to study there as a student? In one sense, these are easy questions to answer. It is much like any other school. We have classes from Tuesday to Friday mornings, Mondays being reserved for practice preaching. We usually have coffee break at about ten o’clock and on Wednesdays, attend chapel. The rest of the time is devoted to homework, study, and preparation. This description is somewhat deceptive, however. In the first place, the course load at our seminary is generally much heavier than at many schools and seminaries. Secondly, much more is demanded of students in the way of individual study. The material which we learn at our seminary is not simply handed out in the form of class lectures with perhaps some supplemental reading. Rather, it is gathered through much study and careful and gradually more precise exegesis. These student efforts are brought to class where they are criticized, evaluated, and brought together in a unity. The nature and amount of this work varies naturally with the type of course and the subject material.

What is more difficult to describe about attending our seminary is the nature and character of the classroom instruction. There is a unity of thought and purpose which runs through all of the classes. This has its focus in the Scriptures as the infallible Word of God. The Bible is the center of all our studies. It is the authority before which we must bow in all our labors. God’s Word is constantly open in class. Further, it is approached with reverence and not with a sterile intellectualism. The Scriptures are studied in their unity, in their diversity, and in their central focus in the revelation of God’s purpose in Christ. This means that much of our work is exegetical and in connection therewith involves much use of the original languages of Scripture. This aspect of Biblical study, of exegesis, of respect for the Scriptures as the Word pf God, is one which makes study at our seminary both enjoyable and rewarding spiritually. This element which is sadly lacking in much of the reformed world around us is central in our seminary. There is a fine line between preaching and lecture. The lectures we receive often have a definite sermonic character, and it is not an exaggeration to say that some of the finest preaching in our churches occurs in the instruction in our seminary classrooms. 

Intimately connected with this is the consistent and pervading Reformed emphasis of our instruction. There is a unity of Reformed understanding and vision at our seminary. Our rich Reformed heritage is studied as to its origins, development, and content. The creeds and confessions are often before us in class. We seek to explore the riches which our Reformed fathers were led to see in God’s Word, to build upon that foundation, and to appreciate our distinctive heritage as Protestant Reformed Churches. While in many Reformed seminaries the heritage of the reformation is a dead tradition which is being discarded, at our school it is a living, vital, and dynamic reality, a world and life view which colors the whole of our work. 

There is also a basic unity and integration of instruction at our seminary. This often manifests itself in class. Often an aspect of the truth of the Word of God which is being considered in one discipline will also be considered in another class. As a result, the same idea is discussed from several different points of view and in relation to different areas of study. A question, for example, which comes up in Dogmatics class is liable to be considered also from the point of view of its place in church history, or in the unity of the Scriptures, or in its practical application to the idea of catechism instruction. This makes studying at our seminary a rich and challenging experience. 

The instruction at our seminary is directed to preparing men for the ministry in our churches. This means that there is a pastoral direction and focus to our studies. The focus is not scholarship as an end in itself, but it is the work of the ministry which receives the emphasis at our school. As a result, while our seminary indeed stresses the need for careful scholarship, it does not lose itself in remote academic study, but relates doctrine to life, and instruction to the work of the ministry. Our studies all come together therefore in Exegesis and Practice Preaching. It his in these classes that the hours of student study crystallize. Student presentations in class and practice preaching are thoroughly evaluated and criticized. This is done with a view to the improvement in precision and accuracy of Scriptural interpretation, clarity of presentation, and quality of delivery. This aspect of our schoolwork is the most challenging and sometimes the most discouraging part of our work. This is so because it is here that the question of one’s own calling to the ministry comes most clearly to the foreground. Head knowledge at this point is not enough. Usually one’s own sharpest critic is oneself, and the encouragement and direction of the faculty and the mutual support of fellow students play a vital role at this point. Criticism is both positive and negative, occasionally sharp, but done out of Christian love and concern, not only with a view to the welfare of the student preacher, but also with a view to the needs of our churches for well-grounded and thoroughly furnished ministers of the Word. Throughout there pervades a sense of purpose and devotion to the cause of God’s kingdom and the welfare of His Church.

Because of the amount of work connected with being a student at our seminary—roughly 90 hours a week in a good week, more when tests or sermons are due—one would think that the seminarian’s social life would be somewhat limited. While this is true to some extent, yet this is partially offset by the size and, closeness of the student body. Ours is a small seminary and classes are also small. There is therefore a close fellowship of students and faculty, both in and out of class. Because of the small class sizes, the discussions in class take on a personals character, and there is room for student questions and concerns. There is further the daily coffee break together, prayer together, and chapel worship. In addition, there is the mutual sharing of problems and. difficulties among the students, the occasional after school football game, and visiting with one another. In addition the students and faculty occasionally gather for a potluck or picnic. We also have a student club, which was revived last year, at which students and faculty gather to present papers of theological interest and for discussion. 

Still it must be acknowledged that the daily routine class and study leaves little in the way of free time. There are the normal problems of life, finances, home and. church which also demand attention. Hence it is that if any one thing perhaps characterizes the students’ life it is business and work. As most of the students, both seminary and pre-seminary, are married, it is often the wives and children who are overlooked. When the flesh grows weary through much study, the encouragement of our wives who must often carry on the duties of the household without us, is a source of great strength and help. The words of encouragement and interest expressed by members of our churches are also greatly appreciated. 

Attending our seminary is a time of spiritual growth, and learning. The basic tools necessary for the work of the ministry are being acquired, and a basic foundation in the Word of God and Reformed truth is being laid. One becomes aware as one studies of the many depths and riches in the Reformed heritage and the Scriptures which one has not yet explored. As a result, one becomes aware that seminary is only a beginning, the beginning of a lifelong work. That work is done in a spirit of prayer and reflection upon one’s calling to that work, that if it be God’s will, He may have a place for us in His Church in the work of the ministry. To that end we covet the prayers of our churches, that God may bless the work of our seminary, that we may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works.