Practicality of a Westminster Education

November 09, 2009
Chapel Message
The Practicality of a Westminster Education
or
Westminster Distinctives in Practice
Tuesday Morning, September 15, 2009

    We have grown sick and tired of those who say that Westminster is not practical. So, we are thinking about launching a new website. What is one of the greatest practical challenges facing Christians today?  Finding the right church. Think about a link called Meharmony.com through which we deliver more than just possibilities. Here’s what it might look like...
     Our patented Matchability System® narrows the field from thousands of churches and matches you with a highly select group of compatible churches – churches that have been prescreened on the 29 dimensions of matchability -  predictors of long-term church-going success. Why spend hours browsing through church websites and yellow pages when you don't have to? It's our goal at MeHarmony to match you with the best possible church for you.
     What are some of the dimensions of matchability…here are just two…

     Consider our worship thermometer. Do you like your worship services exciting and vibrant….warm, or do you prefer a service that is, shall we say more contemplative… quieter.  Our worship thermometer matches the worship temperature between you and potential matches so that you don’t have to be embarrassed by walking out of a service where things are too warm or too cold again. Our commitment is to match you with a worship service that is just right!
      
     Then there’s our patented sermon chronometer.  After all, you know how long you would like the sermon to be. You want no more than 15 minutes…fine…we have analyzed sermons posted on church websites and developed a database (the sermon chronometer) through which you can match your desired sermon length with dozens of preachers in your geographical area. Why sit through another sermon looking at your watch? We have already done that for you. After all, it’s not always what the preacher says…it’s how long he takes to say it!

      You will be pleased to know that it is FREE to review your church matches. All you have to do is register on the MeHarmony.com website, and take the questionnaire to receive your matches.  

      Of course I’m kidding, except about the first statement…that I am sick and tired of those who say that Westminster’s education is not practical.

       I was asked to address this topic. The first time I was approached, I was asked to address “the practicality of a Westminster education,” and then, lo and behold I heading to my blackboard page on the Westminster website and, WOW, there was this chapel time with my name and the title of the message “The Practicality of Westminster’s Distinctives.”  So, as we proceed in the time we have this morning, I intend to do two things that you will rarely hear me do in a chapel message…I will try to address two things in one message…the other thing is that it
•    Main Entry: 1prac•ti•cal
•    Pronunciation: \ˈprak-ti-kəl\
•    Function: adjective
•    Etymology: Middle English, from Late Latin practicus, from Greek praktikos, from prassein to pass over, fare, do; akin to Greek peran to pass through — more at fare
•    Date: 15th century
1 a : of, relating to, or manifested in practice or action : not theoretical or ideal b : being such in practice or effect : virtual
2 : actively engaged in some course of action or occupation

     Of course this is of interest to me, and perhaps this is the reason that I was asked to address this subject since I am the Coordinator of the Practical Theology Department.
      For historical purposes you might be interested to know that when Westminster began in 1929 there was no Professor of Practical Theology. It was taught, but by R B Kuiper  who came from 17 years of pastoral ministry and was listed as Professor of Systematic Theology.   He together with a few of part-time folk provided what was necessary in PT.     
      He left for a short time to be President of Calvin College but then returned to WTS in 1933 and then was listed as Professor of Practical Theology.

1. Very practical fundamental commitments,  otherwise described as our distinctives can be seen in many places in our literature including our catalog where we read…   

1.  Scripture, as the very Word of God written, is absolutely authoritative and without
     error.
     What can be more practical and truth?  …not truthiness  Soon after, this word was chosen as the 16th annual Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society, and defined by them as "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true."
Definition of “truth” according Cambridge online dictionary
   “truth noun [U] the quality of being true
   “the truth [S] the real facts about a situation, event or person

      What can be more practical than learning about the way that situations, events or persons really are!!

   2 Peter 1:3 “Seeing that his divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence.”

     From the first days of the existence of the seminary, our founders were concerned that our students be faithful in mining the riches of the truth of God’s Word from the text of the original languages. Quoting once again from Dr. Machen’s remarks on the occasion of the opening of the seminary:
 
        But if the Bible contains a record of revelation and redemption, what in detail does
        the Bible say?   In order to answer that question, it is not sufficient to be a
        philosopher: by being a philosopher you may perhaps determine, or think you can         
        determine, what the Bible ought to say; but if you are to tell what the Bible does say,
        you must be able to read the Bible for yourself. And you cannot read the Bible for
        yourself unless you know the languages in which it was written. We may sometimes
        be tempted to wish that the Holy Spirit had given us the Word of God in a language
        better suited to our particular race, in a language that we could easily understand;
        but in His mysterious wisdom he gives it to us in Hebrew and Greek. Hence if we
        want to know the Scriptures, to the study of Greek and Hebrew we must go.

      The attention Westminster pays to the Biblical languages is increasingly rare in other theological seminaries.  It has always been, and must continue to be, committed to give the student the “tools” with which to mine the truths of the text.  As those who hold the authority of God’s Word in highest regard as “the very words of God,” it is incumbent upon the preacher to be able to work with the original languages in which it was written.  

      Exegetical theology, mines the truth of God’s word, which is so rich that it can be looked at in different ways ways.

2.  Reformed Orthodoxy, as informed by the system of doctrine contained in the Westminster standards , represents faithfully and accurately what scripture teaches.

      How wonderful to be able to look at a systematic presentation of the truth as it is found in the Westminster standards.
            You want a summary of biblical teaching about creation…it’s there.
            You want to know about saving faith, it’s there.
            You want to know about to live as found in the 10 commandments…it’s there
            What about marriage and divorce, it’s there.

Introduction to the Westminster Standards by its authors includes these words “A most sovereign antidote to all kinds of errors is to be grounded and settled in the faith: persons unfixed in the true religion, are very receptive of a false, and they who are nothing in spiritual knowledge, are easily made anything….but yet the knowledge we commend is not a brain knowledge, a mere speculation…but an inward…heart knowledge.”    
Goodwin, Pool, Manton, and Watson

3.  Biblical Theology (in the tradition of Geerhardus Vos)

      Represents another way of presenting the truth found in God’s word.  In the preface to his Biblical Theology Vos reminds us, first of all that “the term ‘biblical theology” is really unsatisfactory because…all true Christian Theology must be Biblical theology inasmuch as apart from General Revelation the Scriptures contain the sole material with which the science of Theology can deal.”  He suggests that the “History of Special Revelation” would be better but alas, “the terminology cannot be abandoned now.”
      Here’s how he distinguishes BT from ST. “It differs from systematic theology not in being more biblical, or adhering more closely to the truths of the Scriptures, , but in that its principle of organizing the biblical material is historical rather than logical. Whereas ST takes the Bible as a completed whole and endeavors to exhibit its total teaching in an orderly, systematic form, BT deals with the material from a historical standpoint, seeking to exhibit the organic growth or development of the truths of Special Revelation…”

      Biblical theology presents the unfolding story of what God is doing in the world.      
       
Ministering to Post-Everythings  Rev. Tim Keller Edited comments from an address at the National Conversation on Renewal and Outreach Nashville, TN, 4/2003
First, remember that post-everything people like narrative and story. They tend not to like the older kind of preaching that simply enunciated doctrinal principles. Neither are they excited about the newer user-friendly sermons of seeker-churches on “How to Handle Fear,” “How to Balance Your Life,” etc. So, do we throw overboard everything we have done? Absolutely not. We turn to Geerhardus Vos who says that every single part of the Bible is really about Jesus. If you know how to do Christ-centered preaching, then you turn every single sermon into a kind of story. The plot of the human dilemma thickens, and the hero that comes to the rescue is Jesus. Christ-centered preaching converts doctrinal lectures or little how-to talks into true sermons. Post-everythings who are interested in narrative are reached by such preaching that is deeply Reformed.

2.  A Very Practical Method    “EVERYTHING PERTAINING TO LIFE AND GODLINESS THROUGH THE TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF HIM.”

What we seek to do is to engage ALL OF LIFE AND every discipline consistently with the revelation of God…     

Presuppositional Apologetics

Chapter 1, sentence 1 of The Defense of the Faith  “The basic structure of Christian Theology is simple. Its every teaching should be taken from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as being the words of prophets and apostles spoken on the authority of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of man, the Savior of sinners.”
   When the truth of the Scriptures is applied to the defense of the faith…it has very practical implications.  “Protestant Christians therefore ought to celebrate the grace of God their Savior unto them by noting carefully from what they have been saved and to what they are called [the so what? of their salvation]. Their method of apologetics should be in line with their theology. In both Christ should be taught and preached unto men who are lost in all their thinking and living without him. The natural man must be shown that on his presupposition or assumption of man’s autonomy, human predication has no meaning at all. But this negative task cannot be accomplished except on the presupposition that in Christ life does have meaning.”   Now that’s practical!

In the field of Biblical Counseling  

“We teach people how to explore the wisdom and depth of the Bible and apply its grace-centered message to the problems of daily living. Simply put our mission is to: Restore Christ to Counseling and Counseling to the Church.”    CCEF mission statement

In the field of Urban Ministry

     Harvie Conn was on the cutting edge of working through the complicated matters of contextualization, and he clearly asserted the preeminence of the Scriptures as the norm.

Scripture stands, its veracity untainted by either the cultures in which it comes to us or the cultures in which it goes. God’s revelation can make use of our cultures but always stands in judgment over them.

    Keller, protégé of Harvie Conn,

    John Frame’s definition of theology as “simply the application of Scripture to all areas of human life. We do not know what the Scriptures say until we know how it relates to our world.”

     Recently, our faculty has been discussing how we can do an even better job at showing the practical relationship between our fields of study and the world in which we minister.

     It is all the more important for us to strive to make these connections given that we live in a much more complicated world than did the founders of Westminster.  The challenges of the disintegrating geographical barriers of the increasingly “flat world” of globalization are only matched by the deteriorating moral and authoritative boundaries of postmodernism.  Failing to assist our students to make these connections is to present a different kind of “brute facts” or, worse, “brute theology;” not truth disconnected from God, but God’s truth disconnected from God’s world.   All of us in each of our disciplines must strive to answer the  “So what?” question.   With this we are wrestling.   

3.  A Very Practical Mission

Our mission is to equip people whom the Lord will use to bring this eternal word to the changing world.  

     We understand that J. Gresham Machen saw Westminster as a place that would produce “specialists in the Bible.”  Must never see that as an end it itself…
     When my family physician says, “you are going to need to see a specialist” he is not only saying…
           ”wow I have no idea what’s going on with you,” nor is he merely saying,
           “this is going to cost you a lot of money.”

      He is saying, this is someone who is an expert, by virtue of whose knowledge in the specific area of your problem will be able to help you.
 
      Being a specialist in the Bible is not to be abstracted from the founders’ mission.
   
      The  founders of the seminary had a very practical motive for establishing Westminster Seminary. While much that we read surrounding the beginning of Westminster focuses on the need for a new Presbyterian seminary in light of the theological liberalism at Princeton, the underlying purpose remained unchanged: to prepare men for pastoral ministry.  In a brief news item in the August 3, 1929 issue of the Sunday School Times there was an announcement about the establishment of a new seminary and it quoted Machen who said that, in light of what was happening at Princeton,  “we must have at least one sound source of ministerial supply)
      
      A booklet entitled Preliminary Announcements printed as the seminary began noted that “there is no charge for tuition or room rent.”  Ah, how things have changed!  In describing the curriculum it humbly states that “The course of study prescribed for the certificate at the seminary (the description of what they granted at the time) is designed to provide a complete and symmetrical training for the gospel ministry.”   

      Westminster’s first academic catalog, after recounting the unfortunate developments at Princeton, states that the seminary was founded to “provide a truly evangelical and truly Presbyterian course of ministerial supply.”   If you look in the seminary catalog you will see a description of the mission including “Forming men for the ordained Gospel ministry as pastors, teachers, evangelists, missionaries, and other tasks specified by the church.”  As the statement continues, it reminds us that this isn’t the only thing that we do, but it is the heart of what we do and always has been since the seminary opened its doors.

      Through the years I have heard it is said that “if you want to be a scholar, go to Westminster.  If you want to be a pastor, go somewhere else.”  This is somewhat perplexing given the remarkable catalog of effective pastors who have graduated from Westminster including more than 500 alumni serving in the PCA and nearly 300 who have gone on to serve in the OPC, not to mention those serving in countless other denominations.  Many of these have been looked to as leaders in their denominations.

10. What are your plans upon graduation?

 Summary:  A quick overview indicates that 80% (36 of 45) of our M.Div. graduates are moving into (or seeking) ministry positions of some kind including pastoral ministry (pastoral internships), missions, or parachurch while 4% (2 of 45) are moving toward further academic studies. Seven students are in the “other/uncertain” category including 2 who are seeking positions in public education and 1 student going on to medical school.  Those who indicated ordination as a goal were placed in the ‘ministry” category even if they are intending to pursues further academic work.

                                         2009         2008        2007       2006        2005        2004

Ministry (36)                    80%         80%         83%       92%         77%        77%     
Academics (2)                    4%        12.5%        6%         8%          20%        14%        
Other/uncertain (7)           16%         7.5%      11%                          3%          9%    

  Second, we seek to train men and women to serve Christ in kingdom ministries other than those that require ordination.”  

     We live in a very needy world needing faithful ministers, missionaries and teachers of the word.  

     The mission of the ministry of the word is not merely informational…but transformational.   

     The power of the Gospel to transform…
               ….idol worshippers to worshippers of the living and true God
               ….hardened sinners to forgiven followers of Jesus Christ
               ….distressed and dispirited people into contented sheep under the care of the Chief Shepherd.

     First statement under the Mission of the seminary “Westminster Seminary exists to extend the knowledge of the glory of God in Christ until that knowledge covers the earth as the waters cover the sea.” (Hab. 2:14)

      Here at WTS we understand that the Lord is preparing you for this very practical mission…and that preparation is comprehensive and holistic.
     
      Robert Banks warns that the current model of theological education emphasizes “knowing, at the expense of doing, and being” and that  “the professional school model now dominates, and this continues to ignore the being of the student, to exalt professionalism over calling and vocation…”    

      Description of the what we are trying to accomplish “A learned ministry set in the lifestyle of humble and “holy affection” for Jesus Christ is essential in today’s church and world and must be modeled by the board, administration, faculty, and students.”

    Rejoice that VERSE 4 “For by these he has granted to us his precious and magnificent promises, so that you may become partaker of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”  
           
     Expect your ongoing engagement with the truth to be very practical, not merely informing you…but transforming you
    
    Very Practical Commitment
    Very Practical Method
    Very Practical Mission

     We praise the Lord that “he called us by his glory and excellence” to faith in Jesus and to follow Jesus, and that for you, following Jesus has brought you here.

     As we follow, as we grow together, may we remember that He is the one who is to receive the honor and the glory…which is a key Westminster distinctive, that to God be all the glory.

    Many of you know that my son, Nate, spent 14 months in Iraq as a scout platoon commander. Many of you joined together with us in praying him through some very challenging situations. He was humbled to receive the Bronze Star Medal for heroism in combat. His alma mater, Wake Forest University, where he graduated as an ROTC distinguished military graduate decided to honor him at a home football game…and I got to go along! We arrived on Saturday morning. Wake has just completed construction of a new addition to the stadium called The Tower which includes five stories of new press and luxury boxes. Our chaperones took Nate on a tour of very restricted areas of the new facility and I got to go along.  The security folks would look at Nate in his Army dress blues, they would wave him in and I would just say,  “I’m with him” and they would wave me through as well. This happened several times on our tour including our access to a very exclusive area where only very large donors were allowed to proceed. Once again, they waved Nate through…and I was with him, so in I went!!  Then we were allowed access to the field…I was with him…right on through we went. Because I was with Nate I was allowed to go places I would  never been allowed to have access otherwise. Friends, because we are followers of Christ and are “with Him” we have access to great benefits and blessings, but it us not because of our worthiness, but his.
     Oh, there was one place I was not able to go with Nate. Just before the game began, the band and color guard were on the field,  Nate was directed to walk to the middle of the field as pictures of him in action were shown on the scoreboard and the public address announcer read the narrative describing the actions for which he was awarded the Bronze Star. He acknowledged the crescendo of cheers from the tens of thousands of fans. I wasn’t with him…I didn’t deserve the cheers, because I didn’t do anything…he did.
    Friends, as we follow Jesus in the life he will walk with to places in life and ministry that we would never have had the privilege of walking apart from him…but let’s never forget that to HIM belongs all the glory because HE DID IT!

    If your walk with the Lord brings you to Westminster,  you will receive a very practical and useful training in ministry but may you join with us in the distinctive purpose of bringing Him all the glory.   
 
    The primary core value The triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is worthy of the worship of all people in all places of his dominion, and this fact must be the fundamental motive of every activity.