Biblical Institute, Seminary, and College

In my last post regarding Sovereign Grace’s Pastors’ College, I alluded to the fact that I was in seminary before attending Sovereign Grace’s Pastors’ College. Before that, I attended The, then, Bethlehem Institute [TBI], now Bethlehem College and Seminary [BCS], at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. So, I guess you could say I like school. Well, at least I like scholarship set to life.

very brief synopsis of why I thought it beneficial to go to one more year of school after having completed two degrees in seminary:

I was living in Argentina, working with Campus Crusade for Christ for two years. While I was there my love for the local church increased and my lack of theological training manifested itself. I could smell heresies, but I couldn’t name the fruit. A friend told me  about TBI and I bit hard. I wanted to get trained in a church by a group of pastors I respected with a vision for mission that I was on board with. The two years we spent in Minneapolis influenced us in more profound ways than I could recount in an ~800 word post. Suffice it to say that we are stamped with Christian Hedonism.

Desiring to finish up my Master of Divinity degree at a seminary that understood where I was theologically as well as having a love for the local church naturally led me to Southern Seminary. I got to take classes that changed my life and solidified my convictions and challenged my assumptions. I don’t overstate when I tell people that Steve Wellum’s hermeneutics class changed my life. Peter Gentry’s Isaiah and Psalms Hebrew exegesis classes revolutionized my appreciation for and love for text criticism and its vitality to devotional life. Tom Nettles’ breaking forth into song during his Church History 1 and 2 and Baptist History and Jonathan Edwards’ classes made me want to love Jesus just as much after decades of rigorous study. Tom Schreiner’s gentleness in dealing with the text and pastoring students in class made me want to be a scholar pastor. Bruce Ware’s excitement as he discussed the eternal relationships of the Persons of the Godhead made me want to be just as ecstatic when I spoke of God.

So if all these men had such an impact on my life, why feel the need to go to another college? Well, I was adamant that I would not go to the Pastors’ College. Not because I had nothing else to learn, but because I didn’t want to move my family one more time. I told Jeff Purswell that attending the PC would be a deal breaker.

Halfway through the conversation at the Plant! Conference in 2011, however, the Spirit of God changed my heart. I remember seeing Jeff tear up as he considered what such a move would require. These weren’t contrived tears, but sprang from his experience with his wife, Julie, in moving to Chicago to attend Trinity. He said to me, as I sunk my teeth into an eggroll, “The PC is not merely about scholarship, it’s about building into your marriage and your application of doctrine.” I was done.

You see seminary isn’t intended to replace the local church. It provides an essential element of scholarship that pastors won’t get by studying on their own. But in the midst of papers and exams, the foundations of my marriage began to reveal fissures. My mind and heart are embossed with Southern Seminary and TBI. Their fingerprints are all over my theology and philosophy and methodology. I am grateful and would not change a thing. PC offered me the opportunity to unpack and refold and hang up those theological raiments that had been so tightly packed.

During school I had to work full time while going to school. That provided stresses that I would not be able to understand until after I was out of that storm. Since I did not have to work while at the PC, I had opportunity to focus on my marriage and my application of God’s Word. I had an opportunity to tease out the implications of the free, unmerited favor of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. My heart became knitted to brothers from the Dominican Republic, Germany, England, Bolivia, the Philippines, the Bahamas, Pennsylvania to Florida, Texas to Chicago, Minnesota to Tennessee. I just spoke on the phone with a brother in Philadelphia who encouraged me as I prepared to preach this past Sunday and pointed me to Christ’s sufficiency and acceptance.

My theology took wings and began to stretch as a result of Sovereign Grace’s emphasis on applying doctrine. May God, by his Spirit, continue to give flight to his Truth.

Comments 2

  1. Matthew,

    What an encouraging and challenging post! I’m so grateful for your example in these things and look forward to watching as God continues to work through your life and ministry.

    Your friend,

    Aaron

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