Prof. Cammenga is professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
The Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary (PRTS) is committed to the training of men to be capable preachers of the gospel. The goal of the seminary is that young men graduate who are equipped to preach the glorious gospel of God’s sovereign, particular grace in Jesus Christ (the Reformed faith) in the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRCA), in the sister churches of the PRCA, and in other churches of our Lord Jesus Christ throughout the world. Included in this goal is the goal of preparing men also to labor on the mission fields of the PRCA, her sister churches, and elsewhere in the world where Christ is gathering His church through the work of faithful missionary-preachers.
PRTS is committed to preparing preachers. This is the task of the seminary because we are convinced that preaching is the chief—really the only—calling of the minister of the gospel. This is so because preaching is the God-ordained means by which lost sinners hear Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of Christ are brought to salvation and into the church. This is Scripture’s (which is to say, God’s) regard for the preaching of the gospel. The apostle Paul teaches this in I Corinthians 1:21, where he says that “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (See also such passages as Romans 1:16, 17 and Romans 10:14, 15.)
The church must have preachers. But the church must have sound preachers, preachers who are committed to expounding the truth of Scripture, preachers who rightly divide the sacred text. It is not just anything that passes for preaching that is the means of God unto salvation, but the preaching of the truth. The preacher is to “nourish up” the flock “in the words of faith and of good doctrine” (I Tim. 4:6). For the sake of this, he is himself to “hold fast the form of soundwords” (II Tim. 1:13). Paul’s charge to the minister is: “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” And he warns that “the time will come when they will not enduresound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (II Tim. 4:2, 3).
As a Reformed seminary, PRTS is committed to the distinctive doctrines of the Reformed faith, as those truths are summed in the historic Reformed creeds and have been developed by the Protestant Reformed Churches throughout their history. This commitment is expressed in the Catalog of the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
The seminary is therefore dedicated to preserve and develop the truth of the Word of God and to provide an education in this truth in all branches of theology. More specifically, the seminary maintains this truth as it has been historically maintained since the time of the great Protestant Reformation, especially the Reformation of John Calvin. There is no need therefore for apology in pointing out that these principles and truths of the Calvin Reformation form the heart of all the instruction offered (p. 4).
The instruction in all the courses taught in the seminary curriculum aims to ground the student in the doctrines of the Reformed faith, thus preparing him to proclaim these great doctrines one day in his public preaching and teaching. But this is especially the focus of the Dogmatics courses. The Dogmatics courses are at the heart of the curriculum of PRTS. This central place of Dogmatics in the curriculum is emphasized in the Catalog.
… the emphasis in the curriculum is on dogmatics and exegesis. This is not without good reason. Dogmatics is important inasmuch as all the life of the church flows out of sound doctrine and a clear and concise understanding of the faith “once delivered to the saints.” Sound and effective preaching is preaching of the truth (p. 5).
Dogmatics, as the name itself indicates, is the study of dogma, that is, the doctrines of Scripture as those doctrines have been systematized and set forth by the church. Another name for this discipline is Systematic Theology. In Dogmatics all the main doctrines of Scripture are studied, as those doctrines are elicited from Scripture. At PRTS, Scripture is regarded as the only, the ultimate, and the infallible authority for right doctrine. Careful attention is paid also to the creeds of the church, since the creeds authoritatively define the dogmas of the Reformed faith. In addition, the Christian tradition, specifically the Reformed tradition, is examined. The Protestant Reformed Churches recognize their debt to and dependence on the church of the past as that church was led by the Spirit of Christ into the truth (John 16:13). The text used in the Dogmatics courses taught at PRTS is Reformed Dogmatics, by Herman Hoeksema. In addition to the main text, students are required to do extensive reading in other sources, both within and outside of the Reformed tradition.
At PRTS, all the doctrines of the Bible are treated according to the traditional method in the Reformed church of the six loci. The word “locus,” the plural of which is “loci,” means “topic” or “subject.” Reformed Dogmatics arranges all the main doctrines of Scripture under six main headings. Those six main headings, along with a description of the material covered in each of them as found in theCatalog of the Theological School of the Protestant Reformed Churches, are as follows.
—Theology. A study of the doctrine of God, treating the knowability of God, being of God, the names and attributes of God, the Trinity, and the divine decrees.
—Anthropology. A study of the doctrine of man, treating creation, providence, the original state of man, the fall and sin, and the punishment of sin.
—Christology. A study of the doctrine of Christ with emphasis on the counsel of peace, and on the names, natures, offices, and states of Christ.
—Soteriology. A study of the doctrine of salvation, including the idea of the ordo salutis(order of salvation) and the various steps in theordo salutis: regeneration, calling, faith and conversion, justification, sanctification, preservation and perseverance, and glorification.
—Ecclesiology. A study of the doctrine of the church, including definitions of the church, the attributes of the church, the marks of the church, and the means of grace.
—Eschatology. A study of the last things, including a treatment of the idea of the end, the intermediate state, the signs of the second coming, the return of Christ, the resurrection, the final judgment, and the new creation.
One semester is devoted to each of the six loci of Dogmatics. This means that through three of the four years of his seminary career, the student at PRTS is taking one or another of the Dogmatics courses.
In addition to the six Dogmatics courses, PRTS also requires incoming seminary students to take a one semester course entitled “Introduction to Dogmatics.” In this introductory course, the whole subject of Dogmatics is introduced, and a study is made of the name, definition, and principles of Dogmatics, with special attention paid to the doctrine of Holy Scripture.
In a small seminary it is necessary that faculty members “double up” the courses that they teach. At PRTS Dogmatics is combined with Old Testament studies. The Old Testament branch of study is divided into three main areas: Hebrew, Old Testament Exegesis, and Old Testament History.
PRTS maintains a strong emphasis on mastery of the original languages in which God gave the Holy Scriptures to His church. At PRTS, seminary students are solidly grounded in the Hebrew language, the language of the Old Testament. Whereas many seminaries are relaxing their language requirements these days, PRTS continues to maintain high standards in its language departments. If a man cannot master Hebrew or Greek, that man is not ordinarily called to the ministry of the Word.
Two full years (four semesters) are devoted to a study of the Hebrew language. This course may very well be the most demanding of all the courses in the seminary curriculum. The first-year student devotes himself to a thorough study of the various elements of the Hebrew language, mastering the grammar and syntax of the language, as well as a working vocabulary. The second-year student, building on what he has learned in his first year, busies himself in reading and translating select passages out of the Hebrew Scriptures. Forms are identified; grammar and syntax are analyzed; and significant exegetical points are examined.
The student at PRTS who has successfully mastered the Hebrew language applies his language skills in the Old Testament Exegesis classes. The word “exegesis” refers to interpretation and explanation of the Scriptures. PRTS offers three semesters of Old Testament exegesis. The three main types (genres) of Old Testament literature are studied: history, poetry, and prophecy. Lectures are presented explaining the important principles that govern the interpretation of these different types of Old Testament literature and illustrating the implementation of these principles. Students are assigned select passages out of the Hebrew Bible on which they must prepare written, detailed exegesis that would serve as the basis for making a sermon. That exegesis is presented in class, and then analyzed by fellow students and by the professor. Special emphasis is placed on preparing exegesis with a view to preaching. Students are instructed in making the all-important transition from exegesis to sermon.
Belonging to the Old Testament department is also the study of Old Testament History. At present, two semesters are devoted to a treatment of Old Testament History. The first semester covers the history from creation through the conquest of Canaan. The second semester covers the history from the time of the Judges through the post-exilic period. Stress is placed on the covenant of God as the unifying factor in Old Testament history, as well as on the progress in revelation as the promise of God’s covenant gradually unfolds throughout the Old Testament. Students are given a thorough grounding in the facts and significance of Old Testament history in order to equip them to preach out of the Old Testament, teach Old Testament history catechism classes, and lead Bible studies that deal with various periods of Old Testament history.
The studies in Dogmatics and in the various subjects relating to the Old Testament are demanding—exceedingly demanding. Many, many hours of reading, writing, study, and preparation are required. But at the same time, what an exciting work! To be busy with the Scriptures—the very Word of God! To be mining from those Scriptures the precious truths of God! To be examining the testimony of the church of the past and the writings of the giants of the faith raised up by God throughout the history of the church! To be preparing to preach the glorious gospel of grace for the gathering and building up of God’s people! There isn’t any more exciting work in the whole world! That excitement is shared by students and faculty alike at PRTS.
With humble thanks to God, the faculty of PRTS counts it a distinct privilege to be involved in the important work of the church in training men for the gospel ministry. Pray for us and for the work of the seminary. Pray that God will continue to keep us faithful. Pray that He will continue to use us for the blessing of the Protestant Reformed Churches, our sister-churches, and Christ’s church the world over. Pray that He will continue to raise up men convicted of the call to the ministry, men who say with Paul, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (I Cor. 9:16).