Meet a Student
January 22, 2011
Rev. James Mulroney (MAR '10), ThM Student, Old Testament emphasis
The following interview is a trnscript:
What led you to Westminster?
I had been reading Van Til and John Murray, so that’s how I knew about Westminster. I was studying reformed doctrine, and was studying Gordon Clark and Van Til, which, in spite of their own controversy, I found both very fruitful at the time. So when I was talking to my wife about where to go for seminary, Westminster was the natural choice. I did think about Covenant and Reformed Theological seminary and some other places, but Westminster was the top of the list, and when I got in, I didn’t even think about the other schools, I just came here, it didn’t matter if they were yes or no.
You had been in the ordained ministry before you came to seminary, what made you decide to leave that and go into a seminary?
In the ministry I was in, I didn’t really feel prepared. I spent a few years in the ministry, and I realized, I really need to go to seminary and get a proper education, and I couldn’t think of anywhere else to go except Westminster. I think the emphasis for me was to get a proper education, and I think Westminster has given me that.
Was there any particular professor that stood out that drew you to Westminster?
Well, I had read a couple of books from Professor Oliphint, I think Revelation and Reason, which was very good. Dr. Poythress, I had been reading his works for years, and his multi-perspectivalism in Symphonic Theology was a huge pull. Also, just the work that was being done here, especially in Biblical studies. You have the Groves center, and the work being done in that area, and just the whole system. I knew I’d get good theological training, at the same time systematics, at the same time history, and at the same time Biblical studies.
Now that you have your M.Div., are going for your Th.M., and are hoping to get a Ph.D., do you feel that you are prepared for the ministry, as opposed to when you were in ordained ministry beforehand?
Well, I think ministry’s like having children, you’re never prepared to have children. But you can certainly help by coming to classes, and coming to terms with what you’re doing. So you’re never really ready for these things. The biggest factor is to recognize that you’re not adequate to do ministry, and I think having done the MDiv. work here, I realize how inadequate I am for the ministry. Yet the education helps you to figure out to know how to go to God, and understanding who He is more, and therefore finding your adequacy, actually, in Him. That is the important point. So I’m better prepared now. I think having a grasp of the languages, having a good theological understanding of the framework of Scripture and things of that nature are key to a successful preaching ministry at least.
What kind of an influence has Westminster had on your own personal life?
There has been a spiritual dimension to being at Westminster, applying the things that I’ve learned to my personal life in terms of learning to persevere, learning to trust God more. So in that sense, yes, at the same time as my time in church. It’s hard to separate the two, but for the most part, I’ve been affected by the preaching I’ve heard.
However, the most interesting classes that I’ve had here, the ones that have probably changed me the most, have been the small seminar classes. That’s the stuff that’s made the biggest difference to me here, is when professors start to get into the nitty-gritty of how things really apply, what things really mean, and how they fit in the context of scripture. The best classes that I’ve had here, the ones that have probably changed me the most, have been the small seminar classes, where it’s just three of us going through the text. You see a lot of either difficult or interesting questions about the text, and I find it very fruitful just having a reformed base on which to do that.
What would you recommend to a student that is just coming in and a student that just started?
I’d recommend incoming students to be humble, to listen to the professors, and to not be quick to make judgments about the material or the professors until you take it all in, because the classes build upon each other. And I agree with what Dr. Poythress has said before, that it is in your second and third year classes that things really start to gel and come together, you start to see the whole a bit more. So I’d encourage incoming students to be humble, and be critical. So, have an independent mind. Also, do all the work. I can’t emphasize that enough.
To a current student, I’d say, persevere, and to really start digging into the classes, and start asking really critical questions such as: “How does this relate to the framework of Scripture? How does this relate to my systematics class, how does this relate to my history class, how does this relate to my Biblical studies class? How does this relate to the sovereignty of God? How does this relate to the doctrine of God?” Start asking really critical questions about the material: so a Biblical studies student could be sitting in and doing a Poetry and Wisdom class and reading a lament, and should start asking questions like “How does this relate to God’s sovereignty and his goodness?” And really, really thinking about those things, because I think that when a student starts to exit in their third year, and get their master’s degree, there’s something to be said for that. You are saying that you are a master. If you’ve never really thought about the serious questions, can you really say that you’ve mastered the material?
Also, be involved in a church. I don’t mean attending a church, I mean actually teaching and serving in a church. I teach a theology class every week, and I lead worship and do a bunch of other things. It takes from my time, but I think it’s crucial to spiritual development in the church as a seminary student. I think about Proverbs 18:1, “He who separates himself seeks his own desire,” I think it is actually an indication of selfishness, rather than an indication of selflessness. My experience has been that you don’t know how to serve if you don’t start serving. So you don’t leave seminary and think that you’re going to start serving, when you have no practice. It’s like boot camp: the reason soldiers go through boot camp is to prepare them for the real thing, otherwise what would be the point? You just sign up, and send them off to war. You need to prepare in some fashion, seminary should be preparing you, and part of that preparation is learning to be a servant.