The Importance of Theological Training
My dear grandfather, Pastor Jerry Osborne, hated Greek class and failed to receive his seminary degree because he just could not make the grade. What a difference 70 years or so makes. I am currently taking second-year Greek and I just can’t get enough of it! One might say that I am simply more inclined to languages than he was, but I am not so convinced. While natural ability is certainly helpful, the modern learning strategies for learning Greek are so completely different than they were in his day. Back then the emphasis was on learning ancient Greek as such, and there was an aversion to using Scripture in translation exercises. This, of course, separates the Bible student from his aim and often results in burn-out over grammar due to a lack of connection to the greater purpose of studying the New Testament in the original language in which it was inspired. Be that as it may, years later as an established pastor with a thriving church, Jerry Osborne was offered a complimentary degree; however, there was one caveat: he needed to pass Greek. He declined the offer. I remember Grandma saying with a shrug, “Grandpa just hated Greek.”
I go in the other direction entirely! I love Greek and I love studying it. I love the letters and the words, and I love the way they look on the page. With that said, I can see the plain difference in the way it is taught today versus how it was taught in Grandpa’s day. These days a student is immediately thrust into the Scriptures and can readily see the benefits of what he is learning. The textbooks, tools, and online resources are so vast and easy to navigate that this once arduous task which filled students with dread has now become vibrant, relevant, and exciting! As one professor has remarked, learning biblical Greek doesn’t reveal something inherently new about the New Testament, but it adds color to an otherwise black & white picture. Someone else has said that one wouldn’t want to learn about French literature from someone who did not know French, so why would we want to teach the Bible without an understanding of the original and inspired languages? Moreover, while our major English translations are wonderful and accurate, there is yet a “middle-man” between the reader and the word. In learning ancient Greek, one bypasses the middleman and is able to go straight to the inspired source to read and learn the Scriptures as they were given by God.
Then there is the field of New Testament text criticism. This is where one goes beyond the text and delves into the history of its transmission over time. This is where one studies the textual evidence left behind in the actual papyrus and vellum manuscripts upon which copies of the New Testament books were written. Since no two are completely alike, this is where the process of culling through variants and determining the initial text of the apostolic authors takes place for the formulation of the Greek editions which underlie the translations of every language. While this field has been one of controversy to many conservative Christians, in the new millennium there has been an insurgence of conservative evangelical scholarship in the field which has often been the playground of agnostics who treat the Bible as nothing more than ancient literature. I am truly grateful for the work of Dan Wallace and his Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts and Peter Gurry’s work with the Text and Canon Institute. There are many others currently at work in this important field which has quickly become the modern battle ground for the Bible as God’s inspired and inerrant Word.
Strangely enough, until 2016 I was disinterested in higher biblical education and joined with the chorus of cynicism over whether an aspiring pastor should bother with seminary. That was until I discovered Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary led by Dr. Jason Allen. After a season of spiritual reflection and discovery which I have written about elsewhere, I ultimately determined to pursue my master’s degree. I finally came to MBTS by default, but then found it to be the best decision I could have ever made, although sometimes I feel it came 20 years late. The point, however, is that I came to realize what my previous learning had not provided. After many years proudly imbibing from the Calvary Chapel well of biblical exposition, I endured the stark and terrible realization that I had no theological foundation upon which to stand. I had learned how to cross reference and turn Bible stories into devotional illustrations and even how to teach through the Scriptures verse-by-verse, but I had never learned how to interpret the Bible theologically.
This, of course, was intentional as I followed the examples of Calvary Chapel leaders who denigrated theology and seminary learning. While there is certainly areas of Calvary Chapel distinctives in which great pains are taken to examine the gifts of the Holy Spirit and dispensational eschatology, there is a resistance to historical theology and a consistent hermeneutic to develop a robust systematic approach to the Scriptures as a whole. This is the reason there is so much deviation and variation within the denomination itself regarding how different pastors approach various biblical issues. This is true of any church which shuns theology. Furthermore, this is how such churches can tout thoroughly Arminian soteriology yet humorously dub themselves as "Biblicists" who are neither Arminian nor Calvinist. Chuck Smith himself wrote a pamphlet called Arminianism, Calvinism, and the Word of God, wherein he attempted to locate the “Bible-centered balance” on soteriology, but in practice simply staked his claim as a synergistic Arminian. Since there is no theological underpinning holding anything together, and since there is no reflection or understanding of history, Calvarychapelites believe themselves to be in some kind of biblical ether, when in reality they are firmly, albeit ignorantly, ensconced in tradition (Arminian, premillennial dispensationalism, continuationism, etc.). The truth is they are simply unaware of what they do not know: a fact demonstrated weekly in their sermons, especially when they attempt to present their positions on theological topics.
So then, what I am affirming is that anyone who stands in the pulpit should know what the Bible teaches, not just superficially as a narrative, but theologically as the foundation of doctrine. A pastor should have a sense of history and how the church has arrived where it is. A pastor should be able to study his Bible in the original languages as he prepares his sermons. A pastor should know how to interpret Scripture reasonably, consistently, and soundly. A pastor should be able to identify where his theology is weak or inconsistent or perhaps speculative. A pastor should know what he believes theologically and how his theology effects each of his doctrines. A pastor should be aware of contemporary issues in biblical scholarship and should not be ignorant of advances in biblical studies. If we expect our doctors to experts in medicine, then our pastors should be experts in the Bible!
What is the pulpit and what should it stand for and who should stand behind it? Your theology will determine your answer to this question.
In : Meditations
Tags: seminary mbts calvary chapel theology tradition biblicist
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