Seminary as Sanctification

March 29, 2013

Alex and Teresa Chen, M.Div and MAC

Alex and Teresa Chen

Has your life ever been changed from writing a paper? Could God use the study of Greek participles to expose idols in your heart? Alex and Teresa Chen have experienced both of these unlikely scenarios during their time at Westminster (WTS). When Alex and Teresa made the move from Austin, Texas to Glenside, PA, they had planned on finishing their theological education in three years. They never expected God to use what they learned at WTS to fundamentally change their lives for His glory and their sanctification.

Alex and Teresa both met in Austin, Texas at Austin Chinese Church. Ironically, it was while working for Intel as an engineer that Alex first sensed a call to ministry. While attending an employee-led Bible study at Intel, Alex was impressed by his coworker’s knowledge of the Bible. His coworker, who attended seminary part-time, shared how his seminary education had provided him with extra tools to teach God’s Word.

Alex recalls his experience, “When [my coworker] was teaching as a lay church member, he would be afraid of people asking questions, since he wouldn’t be able to necessarily give people good answers from scripture, but after his seminary training, he looks forward to the questions so he can interact with them and dig deeper.” Although Alex enjoyed his time at Intel, God gradually changed his desires from engineering towards full time ministry.

How did Alex and Teresa decide to come to Westminster? Teresa says it was “a last minute decision to come to WTS.” They had visited 5 or 6 different places and tried to narrow it down based on their theological convictions. Alex says, “One thing we found really neat when we were contrasting WTS and other seminaries was the consistency. Everything was based on the [Westminster] Confession, which can have weaknesses as well. For instance, we visited another seminary, and that seminary has Reformed professors and professors from various theological backgrounds, so students are expected to pick and choose as they hear lots of different views. At WTS you get a cohesive, coherent view, whether in Systematic Theology or Biblical Theology.”

Teresa continues, “When we visited another seminary, Alex was sitting in on the first class of the semester and found he couldn’t agree with what the professor was teaching. That was a clear sign we weren’t supposed to go there.”

During the past two years at WTS, God has been working in both Alex and Teresa’s lives to prepare them for their future ministry. Alex says, “As we’re starting our 3rd year, we feel like seminary has been transforming, both intellectually challenging and life-changing.” Teresa continues, “There was this one paper I had to turn in for my Biblical Interpretation class. There were certain issues in my life I never thought God could change or touch, but through that paper on Acts 8, he showed me the gospel, and the reality, both of the indicative and imperative of the Gospel. He said to me, ‘No, you are changed!’”

Dynamics of Biblical Change, a counseling class at WTS, also had a significant impact on Teresa’s life. “Alex and I were in Greek together, and I struggled to fall sleep before every Greek test for much of the semester. I tried taking sleep medication, or wearing myself out, but nothing helped. When I took Dynamics of Biblical Change with Dr. Powlison and he was explaining issues of worship, I realized I was worshiping my Greek tests. Being washed in God’s Word and seeing who he was – as soon as my eyes were opened to that, I was able to sleep! You come into [seminary] thinking it’ll just be academic, but you leave a completely different person.”

As Alex reflects on his seminary experience, he has found his Systematic Theology classes very helpful in his own spiritual life. “They’ve helped us to worship who God is. In our Doctrine of God class, when you have a bigger picture of who God is, it helps put your life in perspective when you know that you serve an Almighty Sovereign God who is independent of us and our needs.” When asked whether there is one thing he’s learned at WTS that has deeply influenced his walk with the Lord, Alex says, “Probably one thing that sticks out is how apologetics is taught here using the presuppositional method. In the past, when serving in youth ministry, a lot of the apologetics I saw was based on man’s reasoning and an appeal to evidence as the final judge of truth … just seeing Romans 1 applied in an apologetic sense, and that we can have full confidence in God’s Word and what it teaches about man and man’s knowledge of God was revolutionary. Faith doesn’t ultimately rest on evidence that demands a verdict, but on God who is what he has revealed to us in our innate knowledge of Him.”

Not only have they been blessed by the classes, but the seminary community has also been very welcoming. Teresa says, “I went to the University of Texas, which has about 50,000 students. When we were taking Hebrew our first semester at WTS, and professor Libby Groves was teaching, she asked the class if there was anyone who didn’t have anywhere to go for Thanksgiving. We said we weren’t going back to Texas, and she said, ‘Great! You’ll be at my house!’ We also went to a lecture given by a Chinese scholar, and Libby even pushed our baby around for us while we were there so we could listen to the lecture! We even went to Dr. Poythress’s house to carve pumpkins the first Halloween we were here … I feel like the professors really reach out to you and want to get to know you. They make themselves ready and available to you, more than you would have at a larger school.”

Alex shares, “Before coming to seminary, [Teresa] and I did everything together, whether evangelism, church ministry, or hanging out with friends. As I was considering going into full-time study to be a pastor, I wanted Teresa to have as many opportunities to take classes as well. One of the factors that led us to WTS was their generous spousal scholarship. We felt like this would be a chance for us to grow in our knowledge of God together, and it’s been a real blessing to be able to take classes together.”

Whether through studying apologetics, reading Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics, or parsing Greek participles, Alex and Teresa have grown in their love for God and his people during their time at seminary. Alex and Teresa are not sure where God will lead them after graduation, but they ask that you pray for God’s continuing faithfulness, and that he would grant them wisdom and love as new parents.

If you would like to support the work of Westminster to train students like Alex and Teresa, please visit our online donations page here.