The task of the Protestant Reformed Churches with their Seminary, as argued in two preceding editorials, is training men to be able ministers of the Word of God. This task the Churches have as a mandate from the apostle of Christ: “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (II Tim. 2:2).
It is not the primary task of the Seminary to develop the science of theology. “Doing theology” is not even a purpose of the Seminary alongside the training of pastors and teachers. I say this even though I love theology, find the study of theology meat and drink, and take huge delight in the fact that the Reformed “Form for the Installation of Professors of Theology” (hereafter, “FIPT”) calls theology, “Queen of Sciences.”
Sharp warning must be sounded against viewing the Seminary as a laboratory for “doing theology,” or as a think-tank for theological reflection. This is a plague in the churches today. Professors use the classroom for theological speculation that has not the remotest relation to the students’ future work as preachers. Seminaries make the students aware of all the competing and conflicting doctrines of our age, without teaching them the sound doctrine of Scripture and the confessions that they must preach to the people. Seminarians are trained to be experts in discovering who the authors of the books of the Bible were, when the books were written, how many parts each book has, and often how human, contradictory, and prone to error the books of the Bible are; but they are not trained rightly to interpret the content and message of the Bible so that they can carry out the eminently practical task of instructing the congregation in the Word of God.
What is going on in the seminaries today, and has been going on for a long time now, was indicated by the notorious, 19th century higher critic of Scripture, Julius Wellhausen, when he explained why he resigned his position as professor of theology in Greifswald:
I became a theologian because I was interested in the scientific treatment of the Bible; it has only gradually dawned upon me that a professor of theology likewise has the practical task of preparing students for service in the Evangelical Church, and that I was not fulfilling this practical task, but rather, in spite of all reserve on my part, was incapacitating my hearers for their office (quoted in Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible?, New York: Summit Books, 1987, p. 165).
If ever a liberal did the honest thing, Wellhausen did: He resigned his position as professor.
This is not to say that a Reformed seminary has no theological task whatever. It certainly does. A Reformed seminary must study, maintain, and develop theology. Better said, the church herself has a theological task, which she undertakes in part in her seminary. Our Reformed “FIPT” states that the church has a calling to “study theology,” which calling she pursues in her “theological school.” In his Reformed Dogmatics, Herman Hoeksema writes that the church’s work in her seminary is “the cultivation of theology, that the truth may be maintained and become ever richer in the consciousness of the church” (p. 630).
The apostle makes the study of theology the church’s task in the very passage that mandates the seminary, II Timothy 2:2. For he requires that Timothy teach aspiring pastors by handing over to them a definite body of truth, a body of truth made up of the doctrines which Timothy had heard from Paul. This body of truth (“theology”) the seminary intrusts to the students, so that they will teach it to the churches. And the seminary does this—”commits” it to the future pastors, to use the language of the King James Bible—by teachingthis body of truth to the seminarians. This necessarily involves the study, the maintenance, and the development of the truth, i.e., “doing theology.”
But the crucially important truth about this theological task of the church with her seminary is that the study of theology is not the main task. It is not even a task alongside, and therefore somewhat independent of, the main task of the seminary. Rather, the study of theology is a necessary part of the main task. It stands in the service of that main task. The seminary studies theology in the activity of handing over the sacred deposit of truth to men who will be pastors and teachers to the people of God. The seminary’s labor in the “Queen of Sciences” is part and parcel of its one, great task: preparing preachers for preaching.
To this theological task of the PRC with their Seminary belong the following. First, there is a body of truth possessed by the Churches which is to be passed on to future ministers by means of the seminary. This body of truth is well-known and well-defined: the things that we have learned from Paul and the other apostles in the inspired Scripture. It is the gospel concerning Jesus Christ, the Son of God, crucified and risen. It is the apostolic doctrine as systematized and authoritatively defined in the ecumenical and Reformed creeds. Even for Timothy, during the lifetime of the apostle, there had to be a standard of the truth that he was to teach: the many witnesses among whom Timothy heard the apostle’s doctrine (II Tim. 2:2). These witnesses are now the church’s creeds.
We call this body of truth the Reformed faith.
To this, the PR Seminary is committed.
This, the professors have bound themselves with an oath before God to teach the students.
Second, the Seminary defends the Reformed faith against all attacks by the lie; and in the light of the Reformed faith it exposes errors. This too is part of the theological task of the PRC with their Seminary. The Seminary cautions the would-be castors with regard to heresies; and it vindicates sound doctrine against the heresies, as both the “FIPT” and Article 18 of the Church Order of Dordt require.
Especially must the Seminary warn the students concerning errors of “the new day”—a happy phrase in the “FIPT.”
The Seminary must not live, and wage war, in the past, whether 1953, or 1924, or the 16th century. There are contemporary threats to the faith and to the faithful. There is the attack on Scripture by cunning theories of “hermeneutics” (theories of the interpretation of Scripture), all of which begin with the fatal assumption that the Bible is a human word, at least in part. There is the attack on creation and providence by theistic evolution. There is the attack on redemption by liberation theology and the “gospel” of self-esteem. There is the attack on predestination by universalism. There is the attack on the truth of the Christian life and experience both by the charismatic movement and by the advocacy of sheer lawlessness—revolution; divorce and remarriage; feminism; and homosexuality.
The PR Seminary must, and does, cast down all these high things that exalt themselves against the knowledge of God at the end of the 20th century (II Cor. 10:5).
This does not imply that the past struggles of the PRC are of no interest or value any longer, any more than this is implied about the great Protestant struggle for the faith in the 16th century. Like Protestantism in the 16th century, the PRC have contended for the gospel of the sovereign grace of God in Jesus Christ. This is the struggle of the ages. Besides, our own particular struggles on behalf of particular grace, an unconditional covenant, and the antithesis have put us in a position of strength for fighting the good fight today against modern errors that are destroying Protestant churches on every hand, e.g., universalism as regards salvation and the worldliness of the church in the realm of life and conduct.
Contending for the faith in the course of teaching men to be pastors, the Seminary trains these men to be defenders of the faith in their ministries, for the welfare—the salvation!—of the believers and their children who will be their charge. Although young men may not strive foolishly, to get a name for themselves, strive they must against heresy; as Paul himself does in II Timothy 2 against the denial of the resurrection. This striving is necessary, for the errors eat as does a cancer (II Tim. 2:17).
Third, exactly in this way the Churches maintain the truth in their Seminary. The Seminary is an important factor in the Churches being pillar and ground of the truth (I Tim. 3:15).
The Reformed faith is maintained in the PR Seminary. It is maintained there solely by the grace of God, but it is maintained. The Seminary does not spurn the creedal Reformed faith as out-dated scholasticism, but regards the Reformed faith as God’s own truth, to be passed on to the children and grandchildren of the present generation, undiminished and uncorrupted.
Because the Seminary studies, maintains, and defends Reformed theology, as it commits this faith to future preachers by teaching, there is also development of theology. Since the development of theology was a main part of my recent speech at the annual meeting of the Reformed Free Publishing Association and since the R.F.P.A. decided that this speech should be published in The SB, I can be brief about it here. Suffice it now to say that there has been development of the Reformed faith in the PRC through her theologians and preachers. I need only mention the particularity and sovereignty of grace; the nature of the gracious covenant of friendship; church government; and the antithetical Christian life.
As the Seminary studies the faith, as it explores the faith, as it compares each aspect of the faith with the other aspects, as it defends the faith against error, and especially as it always goes back to divine Scripture (all in the course of urgent, practical teaching), there will be development of Reformed theology.
This is an important task of the Churches.
For theology is the knowledge of God.
Whether “Queen of Sciences” or not, theology—Reformed theology—is essential knowledge, without which all the sciences are monumental ignorance, deceit, and folly. And in theology—Reformed theology—is the peace, the power for living, the hope in dying, and the chief end of believers and their children.
For those who teach in the Seminary, a solemn responsibility is implied.
Fulfilling that responsibility “in dependence on the Lord’s help and the light of the Holy Spirit,” they may expect the cooperation (the working together!) of the people of God, as described by the “FIPT”: “that our Seminary may continue to enjoy the respect, the support, the appreciation, the love and the prayer of the Church.”