How Can the Puritans Help Seminary Studies?

lead_largeThe Puritans were a fascinating group of Protestants during the 16th and 17th Century intensely concerned with pious living. The seminary student of today can learn much from the Puritans. In the Puritans we see a people opposed with growing in the knowledge of God and the deep things of Christ. In thought and outlook they were radically God-centered. Their appreciation of God’s sovereign majesty was profound, and their reverence in handling his written word was deep and constant. They were patient, thorough, and methodical in searching the Scriptures.[1] In them we see a great example for the modern seminary student to emulate. The Puritans were also immensely concerned with living out the truths of Scripture in their day to day lives. Puritan Richard Baxter wrote on this point

“Sound doctrine makes a sound judgment, a sound heart, a sound conversation [life] and a sound conscience.”[2]

This shows just how closely related doctrine and practice were for the Puritans. This can be directly correlated to the seminary student of today, namely to live, love and apply the doctrinal truths learned in their studies to their daily lives. It is pointless in my opinion to enter seminary studies if this is not the student’s ultimate goal. The Puritans are one of the best examples of just how this is to be accomplished.The Puritans can also help the seminary student to read the Scripture through an Christological lens. A major principal of interpretation used by the Puritans was the idea, firmly rooted in Scripture, that all of God’s Word points to Christ.[3] This can help the student immensely in their studies because once the student grasps this important hermeneutical principle they will see the bible in a deeper and fuller sense.  Any student studying the Scriptures should desire this, namely to see Jesus Christ in all aspects of their theological studies.

The Puritans can teach the seminary student a great deal in the area of prayer and communion with God. The Puritans had a resolute prayer life and communion with God was of chief importance in their lives. The Puritan Thomas Goodwin described prayer in this manner;

“prayer is the soul’s breathing itself into the bosom of its heavenly Father.”

We can see from this beautiful quote that the Puritans were zealous about prayer and took prayer seriously. They give a great example to follow and the seminary student can learn that even the most studious of students must obtain their education through thoughtful time spent in prayer. Lastly, the Puritans can teach the modern student a great deal in nearly every aspect of the Christian life and practice. I outlined in this paper a few examples of this, but the Puritans can teach us so much more.  Whether its zeal for God, the sufficiency of Jesus Christ in all things, the atrocious nature of sin, or the proper understanding of doctrine. The Puritans were great teachers from the past and the modern student would be wise to learn from such men.

 

[1] The Puritan Study, “The Delights and Pains of Puritan Study”, https://spurgeon.wordpress.com/2006/09/06/the-puritan-study-part-1-the-delights-and-pains-of-a-puritan-study.html (accessed March 27,2014).

[2] Peter Lewis, The Genius of Puritanism, (Grand Rapids: Soli Deo GloriaPublications, 1977), 12.   

[3]  Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine For Life. (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012) 31.


Why Historical Theology Matters in a Seminary Curriculum

History-repeatsJust why is theological history important, because the study of history provides a classic mode of learning. Examinations of primary and secondary sources help students to think about their subject rigorously. They must learn to organize and assess evidence, analyze problems, interpret complex events, and finally to write with clarity and precision. In short, studying Church History helps students learn how to learn.

History is popular. History’s special appeal comes from its distinctive subject matter, the human past. Church History is interesting because it deals with real people and events, not with abstractions.  The history of the Christian Church from the earliest times to the present offers a boundless variety for selecting favorite topics and pursuing personal interests.

Historical knowledge is important. Amnesia is devastating on the individual level. If I do not know who I am and where I have come from, then I cannot know where I am or should be headed.  Studying Historical theology links seminary students to the Church’s past. Examining the history of Church doctrine down through the ages gives students a better understanding of their own beliefs and their origins. It gives the student a solid foundation of doctrine firmly established throughout the ages and gives depth to their own faith.

Studying Historical Theology helps distinguish orthodoxy from heresy. Knowing the past is important because those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it. The heresies of today are nothing new, they are old heresies resurfaced. A good understanding of church history gives one the ability to recognize heresy. For example the modern day cult known as the Jehovah Witnesses is actually a form of the ancient heresy of Arianism, which was dealt with at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. This example shows just how essential it is to know the Church’s past. It gives the student another tool to defend the truths of Christian orthodoxy against all its opponents.

Studying Historical theology also helps with biblical interpretation. Looking at the development of Christian doctrine throughout the ages helps the student to contrast one’s own interpretation with that of the church’s past. Historical theology gives the student a proper lens through which to test their own orthodoxy. For example creeds from the early church such as the Apostles Creed and the Athanasius Creed are some of the earliest attestations of proper biblical interpretation. If a believers interpretation contradicts that of these ancient creeds it would be wise to reevaluate this interpretation. These are just a few reasons why studying Historical theology is important.  It shows us that we are not alone in our Christian faith but that we stand on the shoulders of those great men who have gone before us, history matters.

 

 


Reasons to Consider a Seminary Education

seminary-woes2When one considers seminary education there are several factors that should influence the perspective student’s decision making. First and foremost, any person considering seminary education should have a love for God’s Word, along with a great desire to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of Him (Eph. 3:17-19).  In my opinion this is essential, because any person desiring to study God’s Word cannot do so half heartily, he or she must do so with diligence and passion (2 Tim. 2:15).

A second reason one may consider seminary education is out of love for Christ and His Church. Even a casual on looker would be able to ascertain today that the Church is rampantly anti-intellectual and not doctrinally detailed. Seminary education is essential for anyone who desires to preach and teach the Word of God because they will be held accountable for the congregation’s edification and spiritual growth. The bible teaches that God’s people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hos.4:6). Seminary education helps a believer to grow in God’s Word, equipping them to defend sound doctrine, keeping Christ’s church doctrinally sound.

Thirdly, studying at a seminary helps equip a person’s spiritual walk because studying God’s Word inevitable leads to this end (2 Pet. 3:18). Biblical studies and spiritual growth are linked. Why one asked, because without proper study a believer will remain stagnate in their pursuit of holiness, being limited to milk rather than growing and feeding on the meat of the Word. Seminary education helps equip the believer in their walk, giving them the tools to walk wisely, and in an increasingly unbelieving and hostile world.

Fourth, seminary education can help with family worship – the study of Scripture leads to the worship of the triune God. Therefore when one begins to attend seminary and dedicate his or her time to the study of Scripture this leads to the worship of the God. Learning biblical truth at a seminary will help with family worship because when a person begins to learn biblical truth at seminary he or she will want to share the truths he or she learns with friends and family. They will want to honor God through what they have learned sharing God’s Word with the people that they love.

Lastly Seminary studies equip the believer with the tools to go out and do their part in the spreading of the gospel for Christ Kingdom. The Bible tells us to be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Seminary is a great place to study and grow in the knowledge of the truth so that we may become good soldiers of Jesus Christ and for His Kingdom.

 

 


Essential Tools Essential for Seminary Studies

theological-toolsBefore entering seminary there are several tools that a perspective student should become familiar with and learn how to use before ever taking a class. I dare say (to the traditionalist) that a lap top computer is essential. It would help the student immensely to become familiar with this technology and acquire basic computer skills. Proper note taking skills are important part of the reason why one must have a lap top prior to attending seminary. The better the student is at taking notes the more likely he or she is prepared for their quizzes, tests, and exams. Before the student begins taking notes there are several steps that can be taken to help in the note taking process. First before class begins the student would be wise to select a seat in the classroom where they can see and hear the speaker well. Second it is important when taking notes to focus on information that may be new and to consider key points and concepts. Lastly, it is helpful when taking notes to use abbreviations and short meaningful phrases when necessary. Thinking that one can keep up to speed typing every word the professor ever says is near impossible. Learning how to short hand notes will give the student the ability to keep up with the teachers lecture so that they do not fall behind.

Another area that is of importance for study is the ability to memorize and retain information. In seminary this is essential because students are often asked to read and memorize a lot of information they have never heard. Some strategies that may help the student in the memorization process are as follows, this can be done by two simple tasks. The first key is to focus on the task at hand, it is important to concentrate on the subject and not to multi task. Second, organization is helpful, organizing the subject matter into related categorize makes memorization easier. It is helpful to read the required material over and over again until you can recite it from memory. Proper Communication skills are also a skill that is used to refine for seminary students. Communication skills can help in many different areas in a person’s life and studying at seminary is no different. Communication skills are important and integral in many classroom assignments. Many seminary courses require students to give oral presentations, speeches, and sermons. Therefore students must become comfortable speaking in front of an audience and learn to articulate their ideas clearly and as intended. Learning such skills will not only help the student during their time at seminary but also in their future careers.

Lastly the ever dreaded reading assignments for seminarians can be a daunting task. It is helpful for any seminary student to begin their own disciplined plan in order to keep them accountable to the semester reading assignments. Seminary courses often require a lot of reading so it is important to set aside sometime each day to focus on reading.  Reading is important but retaining what is read is essential, taking notes as you read helps also the highlighting key passages makes retention easier. If necessary reread the text, especially parts of the text that are complicated and hard to understand. These are just a few simple tips to help any perspective seminary student in their future studies.


Before Entering Seminary Studies

tumblr_mic9jvHIo31qlu4bqo1_500There are several areas I wish I would have considered before entering seminary. I will focus on five things that are of chief importance for anyone considering seminary studies. One thing that I have discovered in my studies is the importance of proper research and writing skills. Why had I never heard of the Turabian style format before? It would help any perspective student to familiarize themselves with the Turabian style of writing. Along with proper writing skills a student must learn proper research skills, this goes hand and hand with paper writing, learning such skills before one enters seminary will help the student immensely, and save much time taken away from their primary studies in seminary.

Another area that is of great importance for seminary studies is a lab top. Most classes require a laptop because many Professors send the class notes and the course syllabus electronically, or expect you to type notes while they lecture. A laptop is also useful in assisting students in their studies, online libraries, and various websites that allow students to purchase class textbooks electronically if they so chose. Laptops also help to make any student self sufficient in their studies. Laptops also assist students in their research and writing, because a laptop gives the student access to websites that can give references to research paper examples and proper format. These are just a few of the many benefits of having a lab top for perspective seminary students.

Another factor I wish I would have considered before entering seminary is the cost of books for my personal library. Nearly every class at seminary requires a textbook sometimes two or three or the list goes on. This can add up after awhile, however there are several places online where you can go and search for the best deals to help you cut down of your textbook expenses. Speaking of books, I wish I would have considered how to effectively use a library for research, this is of utmost importance. Before staring at seminary it would be wise for any perspective student to familiarizing oneself with the ins and outs of a library. For example get to know the different cataloging systems different libraries use, such as Library of Congress and Dewey Decimal etc, or their own institutional cataloging systems they may have for study centers.  Visit your local library and talk with the librarian for help in these areas. This will put you one step ahead of the game and when the time comes when you need to use the library for research you will be more familiar with it. Nothing is worse than learning how to use a library for research when needing to cram a thirty page paper within a week.

The last area to consider before entering seminary is how time consuming theological studies can be. This is important because seminary studies cannot be just a hobby one pursues on the side, (unless you plan on being a part time student for the rest of your life). Full time study takes time and effort one must not only have time for class, but also set aside several hours each day for reading, homework, and studying for exams. Before I entered seminary I did not realize just how time consuming this could be. Seminary is a full time job one must be passionate for theology to invest such time and effort; any perspective student must consider this when having a full time job, family, especially children.

 


Avoiding Plagiarism Like the Plague

Plagiarism is a growing problem both domestically and internationally. Even more so in circles it should not, namely seminary education. The word plagiarize is defined in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition) as

“to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own.”

Plagiarism can take one of two forms: intentional or unintentional. When a writer knowingly uses other authors’ works without providing appropriate reference citations, he or she is intentionally plagiarizing. If, on the other hand, a writer uses others’ thoughts or ideas and does not realize that credit must be provided, he or she is guilty of unintentional plagiarism. Unfortunately, both types of mistakes can result in serious consequences. Here is a helpful remembrance,

It is incumbent on the writer to be forthright and honest with regard to using original and/or existing writing. Plagiarism can be easily avoided if the writer simply provides appropriate credit when borrowing ideas or citing directly from another individual’s work.

**Quote taken from Houghton, Peggy M.; Houghton, Timothy J. (2008-12-18). Turabian: The Easy Way! (Kindle Locations 213-215). Baker College. Kindle Edition.


James Boyce, Southern Seminary & Confessions

As Boyce stated and made clear during the birth of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) “Three Changes” were a must to build a common theological seminary in the South. Boyce suggested three ideals that SBTS should embody, that they may stand strong for the years to come. The first being openness, a seminary for everyone and anyone who was called by God regardless of academic background or social status. Second, was excellence. Boyce was intent upon establishing an advanced program of theological study which in its academic rigor would be compared with they type of instruction that was being offered at Princeton, Andover, Harvard, and Yale. However it is the third change that Boyce brought to SBTS that would establish a set of doctrines that must be held and a confessional guidelines for those that taught at SBTS. Timothy George sheds light about this in his work Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (which I started reading this week and highly recommend reading);

The third ideal was confessional identity. Boyce proposed that the seminary be established on a set of doctrinal principles that would provide consistency and direction for the future. This, too, was a radical step in the context of nineteenth-century Baptist life. Newton Theological Institute, the first seminary founded by Baptists in America, had no such confessional guidelines. Nor, indeed, did the Southern Baptist Convention, organized in 1845. However, Boyce firmly believed that it was necessary to protect the seminary from doctrinal erosion. From his student days in New England, Boyce was aware of the recent currents in theology: Unitarianism, Transcendentalism, the New Divinity. In particular, he spoke against the “blasphemous doctrines” of Theodore Parker, who had denied that Christianity was based on a special revelation of God. At the same time he was concerned about populist theologies in the South, and warned against the “twin errors of Campbellism and Arminianism.”

Two things come to mind. One while all three are true of SBTS today, some more than others, it does interest me today why SBTS would use dominantly and primarily use Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine and not their own confessional standards, The Abstract of Systematic Theology written by their founder James Boyce’s. Then second, if the Abstracts by Dr. Boyce truly came from the Philadelphia Confession, which came from the 2nd London Baptist Confession, which had agreed with the Cannons of Dort, then how could an Arminian Professor sign and adhere to the Abstracts to teach at SBTS?

***Quote taken from Timothy George and David S. Dockery, Theologians of the Baptist Tradition (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 77.