It has been five months since our last report, and we are eager to tell you about the progress that has been made. Let us begin with the reports received at the regular meetings of the Theological School Committee, which supervises all of the activities of the school. Sub-committees of two are appointed to make monthly visits to the school and to report on their visits at the next meeting. From these reports we will glean some information which you are waiting to hear because you are vitally interested in the progress of our future ministers.
From these reports we learn that the professors give evidence of expending a great deal of energy in their work. The instruction is on a very high, scholarly level, given in an easy-to-follow manner, so that it can be absorbed by the students as water in porous sand. The committees are impressed with the vast amount of work that the two instructors have taken upon themselves and by their obvious enjoyment therein. In this day of unionism, which attempts to shirk work as much as the management will tolerate, it is refreshing to see employees (the professors) strain their efforts to the utmost,—and to see the students try to keep up with them! The professors tell us that they are happy with the caliber of work put out by their charges; and in one case, the class in Hebrew grammar, they say it has advanced farther at this date on the school calendar than any previous class. In one of Prof. Hanko’s classes the committee heard him instruct his students to pray before each study session in their home, implying that their studies can have the desired results only under the favor of the King of His church, the Great Shepherd Who has called them to feed His flock. Indeed, all the reports have an optimistic air, predicting a brighter future for our churches in that we will have a new supply of ministers in four to five years.
At the February 7 meeting of the Theological School Committee the first semester grades were reported; and it was evident that this sowing yielded the average crop, as in the Parable of the Sower,—some thirty, some sixty, and some an hundred fold. We also learned that the faculty has decided to introduce Seminarian R. Miersma to the course in Practice Preaching, and have scheduled him to preach his first sermon on March 18, and another on April 23. These sermons will be given in the hearing of the staff and the student body (and possibly some visitors from the School Committee). It was also reported at this Feb. 7 meeting that at the end of the first semester each student was in conference with the faculty for an evaluation of his first semester’s work,—to be encouraged in his strong points, to be strengthened in his own peculiar weaknesses, and to learn that their instructors are vitally interested in the personal progress of each student.
With the approval of the School Committee, the faculty and students plan to attend the March 4 meeting of the Ministers’ Conference of Classis West in South Holland, at which Rev. D.J. Engelsma will deliver a paper on “The Genealogy of Jesus According to the Flesh.” This should prove to be an interesting change of pace for all concerned, and it will also serve to give the young men another inside view of the ministry.
But let’s pay a visit to the school and sit in on a morning session to see for ourselves what is going on. This reporter did that on Thursday morning, Feb. 6. We were happy to see Rev. R. Decker as a surprise visitor, on a mid-week trip to Grand Rapids from Doon, Iowa for committee work. The day was scheduled to begin at 8 o’clock with a test in Dogmatics for the Seminarian; and thereafter the first class opened at 9:15. Prof. Hoeksema led in opening devotions; and in this first class he had only one of the seven students to instruct. Two others were in a Greek Class with Prof. Hanko in an adjoining room. This class was in O.T. Isagogics, and the student got out his notebook to take notes as the professor lectured on the Pentateuch, particularly on Genesis. (By the way, before we share with you some of the salient points of this lecture, let’s first be sure we understand what that strange term means. Isagogics is that department of theology which introduces the student to the Scriptures, touching on such matters as the date, the human writer, the contents, and the canonical significance of each book.)
We learned that the name of the first book is determined by the first word of the first chapter, the Hebrew word bereshith, translated in the English, “in the beginning.” Genesis contains some ten headings under the word toledoth, which is translated in our English Bibles as “generations.” The word does not merely mean the birth and genealogy of a certain line; but in each section there is traced the history of the generations mentioned. “For instance,” said the professor, “in Genesis 2 we find the generations of the heavens and the earth. This is not a second creation narrative. It is not a creation account, but an account of the early history, the stages of development through which creation passed. You have traced in it the setting of that history: the earth as the home of man, the man whom God placed in that home, the position in which God placed him in Paradise, and then the history of what became of man as a covenant creature.” Further, it was explained that sometimes these sections of Genesis are rather brief, especially those which concern the seed of the serpent; but those which concern the seed of the woman frequently supply much historical detail,—like the “Generations of Terah,” which includes the entire history of Abraham and the rise of the two lines of Ishmael and of Isaac. Ishmael’s generations are again very brief. Esau’s also is brief, although it is projected far into history in the naming of the several “dukes” in his line. The name “Genesis,” we learned, is not inspired;—but it is significant because it is an indication of the contents of the book. The book reveals several “beginnings,”—those of the creation, of sin, of grace, of the covenant, of Christ (as far as His revelation is concerned), of the second world, of Israel and the church. Moreover, in these ten-fold toledoth the antithesis is revealed: in each case the line of the seed of the woman is narrowed down, while the wicked seed is merely fitted into the history to serve the line of the true seed (as chaff to wheat).
The professor then spoke of the human writer, Moses, reflecting on the striking fact that Genesis is all pre-Mosaic history. He warned us that we must not make a mistake and conclude that God did not reveal Himself before the inspired writing of Genesis. Revelation and even inspired speech preceded inspired writing by some 2500 years. God revealed Himself to Adam and to Noah, for example, which is recorded in Genesis; and to Enoch, whom Jude calls a prophet. There was no inspired Scripture extant at the time of the patriarchs, but they had revelation in very truth. To the question where Moses received all that he wrote, the professor replied that we must not understand that God simply mechanically told Moses to write down exactly what He said to him, and to write down history of which he knew nothing. That would not be organic inspiration, but mechanical. God used means. Though there were no Scriptures, there was revelation. As revelation continued the body of truth grew in the course of God’s dealings with His people. And in the first 1650 years, until the Flood, there was a strong oral transmission of the truth. Noah’s father was contemporary with Adam! Noah could know the truth only second hand! And after the Flood there was still a tremendous overlapping. Shem, Noah’s son, was still living when Abraham lived. And, beginning with Abraham, who was called out of Ur, the line of the people of God was isolated in a special way from the world. And thus there was a very strong oral tradition also then. Hence, while as yet there were no written Scriptures, all the dealings of God with His people were of utmost importance in the “father-to-son” traditions.
When the question arose in class how Moses could have learned all these truths when he was in Pharaoh’s court, it was pointed out that Moses, under the special providence of God, was brought up in his mother’s home during the crucial time of his life. Though we have little detail of Moses’ life at that time, we do know that first he was at home, and that even later he kept in contact with his fellow Hebrews and appreciated that he was one of them,—even to the extent that he sided with them when he was forty years old. So we must conclude that, with respect to Genesis, Moses through the means of oral tradition knew this history, largely; and through the direct inspiration of the Spirit he was given to write it inerrently. On that note the class in Isagogics ended. Now if you had been in that class, you would have learned all this. Take our word for it!
The next class (after coffee break) was Homiletics. This is the branch of theology which treats of the art of preaching. Five students were present: the Messrs. Kamps, Van Overloop, Miersma, Bekkering, and Slopsema. In this period the students, two at a time, were to write on the blackboard a theme-and-division such as they might make for a sermon. For study and practice today was the kind called “syntheticalanalytical propositions.” That is, the theme was to be synthetical, and the divisions analytical. The first text used in this exercise was Psalm 23:1. Two men wrote out their versions, and this was then criticized by the other three, with the professor having the last word. So, two by two, each had his try-and-descry opportunity with a text which had earlier been assigned for practice. Another text treated was Psalm 25:14. It may safely be said that if some day you hear a sermon on one of these texts by one of these students, his theme and divisions will have been modified to satisfy the criticisms received! We finally deduced that the object of this lesson was that the propositions under the theme must be an analysis of the text, not of the theme. Clear to you? Now you know what synthetical-analytical propositions are.
The 11:15 class was Hebrew Grammar. They were required to read a Hebrew verse, locate the verbs in it, and tell something about them (which was over our head). All your reporter learned from this forty-five minute class was that in Exodus 5 the taskmasters did not tell the Israelites to “make” bricks, but to “brick” bricks. It seems that the Hebrew language contains words that take on the form of a verb or that of a noun when necessary. So much for Hebrew. We would leave you with this observation: what a great improvement over last year’s one-student class! The criticisms leveled at one another, half-bantering, sometimes badgering, but always seriously, all serve to hone their acumen to a razor-sharp edge. One might make the mistake to read, “make bricks” the first time because one remembered it that way in the English Bible; but the second time he comes across it, he will read with confidence, “brick bricks.” So then, until next time, when we will again (as we say in Hebrew) “school you in school,” farewell!