New Testament Studies
In the Protestant Reformed Seminary there is a great deal of emphasis on Biblical-Exegetical studies. There is good reason for this. No one can function in the ministry without a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures and the skill to expound and apply those Scriptures to the needs of the church. The minister is the servant (the Apostles called themselves “slaves”) of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, cares for the sheep through the office of the minister. This means, among other things, that the minister must feed the flock of God and care for the flock of God with the Word of God. He must bring to the sheep the Word of Christ and nothing else. This is what the people of God need. If the minister is to do this he must know the Word of God and he must be able to explain and apply the Word of God to the concrete needs of the people of God. It is the aim of the Biblical-Exegetical studies to prepare the student for this work.
Before a student is able to exegete (explain, interpret) the New Testament he must acquire the proper tools with which to work. For this reason there is heavy emphasis placed on the study of the original language of the New Testament, the Greek language. Beginning already at the pre-seminary level, students are trained in Greek grammar and syntax. Their study of Greek grammar arid syntax continues in the first year of Seminary with special emphasis on syntactical-exegetical points. In this one-year course the student gains experience in reading selected passages from the Greek New Testament. Also in the first year of his study the student is given a two-semester course in Biblical Hermeneutics. This course is a study of the principles and correct method of Biblical interpretation. Included is an introduction to the principles and methods of textual criticism. The views of the liberal higher critics are presented and criticized. Prof. Hanko teaches the above subjects.
The student also receives two years of instruction in New Testament Exegesis, one year from Prof. Hanko in the Pauline Epistles and the book of Revelation and one year from the undersigned in the Gospels, Acts, and General Epistles. Passages are assigned to the student who must interpret them and present his material in class for discussion and criticism by the professor. In addition the professor presents exegesis of his own on selected passages. The value of these courses is inestimable. Exegesis provides the basis and content of a sermon. In these courses the student acquires the skill he needs to interpret the Scriptures correctly in order to proclaim the gospel.
Two more courses are taught in New Testament studies, both of which are taught by the undersigned. The first is a one-semester course in Isagogics. This is an introduction to the books of the New Testament. Subjects covered are the date of composition, authorship, and contents of each of the New Testament books. But emphasis is placed on the canonical significance of each book. How does each book fit into the whole of the New Testament? What is the unique message of each book? The, second subject is New Testament History. New Testament History begins with a study of the inter-testamentary period, the four hundred years preceding the birth of Christ. This period spawned the many sects and institutions and philosophies of which we read in the New Testament. Among these are: the Pharisees, Sadducees, synagogues, Herodians, the Epicureans, and Stoics. The course covers the history of the Gospel narratives, the history of the Apostolic Church in the Book of Acts and the historical passages of the Epistles. The necessity of these courses ought to be self-evident. The purpose is to give the student a working knowledge of the New Testament. This will benefit the minister in every sphere of his work. It will be of special benefit for the minister’s catechism teaching and his leading of Bible study societies in the church.
All of the courses in this branch of the curriculum, with the exception of two, are taught by the undersigned. Prof. Hoeksema currently teaches Homiletics and Prof. Hanko teaches Catechetics. When the seminary initiates the new four year curriculum in the 1981-1982 term these will become the responsibility of the undersigned. All of these courses, as is indicated by the name of this branch of study, are practical in nature. They deal with the practical aspects of the minister’s work and calling. And they deal with the life of the church: its preaching and teaching, its mission work, its government and discipline, the care of its individual members in crisis (e.g. sickness, grief, etc.). Finally, all of these courses are theological in nature. Practice must always be rooted in the 1 theological principles of the Word of God.
What is Homiletics? The name is of Greek derivation land refers to the art of preaching. What, therefore, is Homiletics all about? A man may have a theologian’s mind, a vast knowledge of the doctrines of the Word of God. He may possess a keen insight into the Scriptures. He may even possess the ability to exegete the Word of God. If, however, he lacks the ability and skill to convey the message of the Word of God to God’s people he will be a failure in the ministry. He needs the skills necessary to “…declare the whole counsel of God publicly…” (Acts 20:20, 27). This is what Homiletics is all about. The student learns the history, principles, and methods of preaching. Emphasis is placed on the latter. The student learns how to formulate the content of his exegesis into a sermon which can be effectively delivered in the pulpit. He is taught how to find the theme of a text or passage and how to divide that main thought logically (in Reformed circles that is usually three points). The student learns how to construct a sermon outline. He needs an outline that is orderly and logical, otherwise he will have difficulty preaching. The fruit of all this instruction (or lack of it!) becomes apparent in the Practice Preaching course. This is taught all six semesters under the present curriculum by the faculty under the chairmanship of the Rector, Prof. Hoeksema. Each student must prepare and deliver two sermons per semester on texts assigned by the faculty. The student delivers the sermon before faculty and students. The sermon is then criticized extensively from both a positive and negative point of view. The student’s delivery is also evaluated. When the student has progressed to the point where the faculty deems him ready, he is licensed by the faculty to speak a word of edification in the worship services of the churches.
Catechetics belongs to the Practical-Theological branch of studies. This course is a study of principles of catechetical instruction and teaching methods employed in the training of catechumens. Emphasis falls upon the importance and necessity of catechetical instruction in the church and its place from the viewpoint of the catechumens as the seed of the covenant. The membership of the church consists of believers and their seed. According to Scripture God establishes His covenant with us and our children (cf.Acts 2:39). For this reason the instruction of the children of believers is a crucial part of the official work of the minister. Theological students must be trained in this highly significant aspect of the ministerial calling. Through this means God brings the children of the covenant to the consciousness of their faith so that when they arrive at years of discretion they may confess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. By means of catechetical instruction (the means of grace) Gob gathers His church in the lines of the generations of believers. To prepare the student for this work is the purpose of catechetics.
In a course called Liturgies a study is made of the Liturgical Forms used in the Protestant Reformed Churches (Baptism Form, Lord’s Suppers Form, Ordination Forms, etc.). The history, content, importance, and doctrinal teachings of these Forms are covered. Included in this course is a study of the Biblical principles of worship and a study of the various elements of the worship service: prayer, Psalm, singing, offerings, preaching, etc. The purpose of this course of study is quite obviously to prepare the student to lead the congregation in the proper worship of God Who is a Spirit and Who must be worshipped in spirit and in truth (cf. John 4:24).
“Poimenics” is a word derived from the Greek which means to shepherd. It is the name of a course which purposes to instruct prospective ministers in the art of pastoral care of the sheep of God. The principles of pastoral care, as these are taught in the Scriptures, are taught as well as the more practical methods of pastoral care. This course deals in a rather practical way with such duties of the minister as visiting the sick, family visiting, comforting the sorrowing, visiting the widows and widowers, caring for those who have emotional problems such as depression or anxiety, counseling those with marriage problems. In our stress-filled, pressure-packed, fast-paced, and exceedingly immoral and sinful age more and more of these problems are surfacing in the churches and occupying more and more of the minister’s time. Partly for this reason then seminary has expanded this course so that, beginning in the 1981 term, it will be a full-year course of instruction.
In Principles of Missions the student is taught the principles of Scripture upon which mission work is based. Included in this is the Biblical basis for mission work, the definition of mission work, the character, purpose, and necessity of this work in the present day. In the light of, the open doors which God has given to our churches, this course has become a very significant one in the seminary curriculum. Our churches will need in the future men trained not only for the pastorate but also for work on the mission fields, both foreign and domestic. This, course too has been expanded and, beginning in the 1981 term, will be a two-semester course of study. The second semester will concentrate on the Biblical methods of doing mission work.
Finally among the Practical-Theological studies is a course called Church Polity. This course covers two semesters and is a study of the principles of church government as taught in the Word of God and relating to the institutional life of the church on earth. An article by article study is made of the Church Order adopted by the Synod of Dordrecht, 1618-1619, and used in the Protestant Reformed Churches. God is a God of order and “all things must be done decently and in good order in the churches” (I Corinthians 14:40). The aim of this course is to prepare the student to lead the church and to govern the church together with the elders according to the principles of government found in the Scriptures.
It is our prayer that the seminary may continue as it has in the past to train adequately and properly young men to be under-shepherds of the Great Shepherd of the Sheep. In that way our congregations will flourish and the name of God will be praised. To that end we earnestly covet your prayers.