Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

From Our Theological Instructor

Written by Dr. G.M. Bilkes
First of all, we acknowledge God for his faithfulness and mercy evident in a new year of theological instruction at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. At Puritan we frequently get appeals from Christians all over the world for theological instruction. It doesnÕt take long before you realize that there are whole lands and even continents where Christians lack much in the way of theological instruction. We are liable to take the privilege we enjoy for granted.

The 2002-2003 course schedule lists over 50 courses, 25 instructors, and 15 full-time students. We are in the middle of a bustling academic year. Though Dr. Beeke and I are the only two full-time instructors, the seminary coordinates a broad-based program utilizing many outside resources that are too detailed to describe in full. Let me just mention a few items that may be of interest. This past semester (2002), Dr. Beeke taught Modern Church History (17th-20th centuries) and Homiletics I (sermon preparation, construction and delivery). I taught an exegesis course on the Prophets, Hermeneutics (biblical interpretation), and an exegesis course on the Gospels.

Other lecturers from all over North America and even Great Britain come to teach courses or segments of courses. As I write this, Rev. C. Schouls has just finished a module for our own students on the topic of preaching. He has done so now for four years in a row, every year for about two weeks in January, and since last year, an additional week in May. This is an opportunity for our students to get some additional theoretical and practical guidance in preaching. The students keep asking for more of this and we have done our best to supply it. Next week Rev. K. Herfst will be coming to give a one-week course on International Missions. Others, including Dr. Michael Haykin, Dr. Jan Van Vliet, Rev. David Lipsy, and Rev. Bartel Elshout either have come or are scheduled to lecture at the seminary. In May of this year, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson will give a class on the Westminster Standards, and in June Dr. George Scipioni will be teaching a two-week class on biblical counseling. Later this spring Rev. C. Pronk is scheduled to come for a number of weeks and teach the Doctrine of Man (Anthropology) for our own Free Reformed students. For some classes, we make use of Calvin Theological Seminary or the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary. Occasionally, we also use taped courses, either our own (classes taped in the past) or courses from reputable organizations and seminaries.

It is sometimes a surprise to people how many denominations are represented among the student body. Besides students from the HNRC and FRC, there are students who are United Reformed, Reformed Baptist, Reformed Presbyterian, and one belongs to a Reformed Bible Church. Two students hail from the Netherlands, one from South Africa, one from Australia, the others from various states of the US or provinces of Canada. About 60% of the students are married, while the rest are single. Most live in rented houses or apartments near the seminary. They supplement their classroom instruction with various opportunities for practical ministry in jails, shelters, nursing homes, or even the street. Of course, there are also preaching assignments, catechism teaching and visiting. The students also nurture fellowship with each other, coming together regularly for meals, sharing, and singing.

Efforts are under way to move the seminary to a bigger and more suitable building. For a while now, we have been working at the maximum capacity of our current building. Everyone deals with the constrictions of space cheerfully; yet, it is clear that the building is no longer adequate. In light of this, the board of the Seminary has been looking at other options. Currently, it is considering either to purchase an existing building or perhaps to build something new. Likely within the next year, or maybe two, the seminary will be in a different facility.

The seminary is also working on the process of accreditation. This is taking place on two fronts: the political and academic. As far as the political accreditation is concerned, unlike most other states, the state of Michigan controls who may issue theological degrees. They have certain guidelines, most of which deal with the facility, the availability of funds, and certain formal components of the program. The main obstacle has been the building, which is not Òup to state codeÓ for an educational facility. Once we have a new facility, we can begin the process of applying for the right to award degrees. In the meantime, PRTS has worked out a temporary arrangement with Greenville Theological Seminary, whose President, Dr. Joseph Pipa, is known to many of us. Greenville will accept the whole program of study at PRTS and award the degree of Master of Divinity for it.

On the academic front, we are working together with a small accrediting agency of theologically conservative schools. They started their organization a few years ago as a way for smaller schools such as PRTS and Greenville to hold one another accountable to a credible standard of excellence in theological training. We are in the process of obtaining this accreditation. We have thus far not pursued becoming accredited with the mainstream organization because of concerns with the place given to political correctness above theological standards. It may be helpful to note that a number of graduates of PRTS have gone on for Ph.D. studies at various accredited institutions and have been doing well.

Needless to say, we prefer faithfulness to the principles of Scripture and the Reformed confessions over the opinions of others. Our aim continues to be that theological students be thoroughly trained in Scripture and doctrine, along with the other necessary disciplines. It is our prayer that God would equip our students by these means and with such graces as no seminary curriculum or faculty can furnish. Furthermore, we pray that He would add his blessing to our small efforts to the glory of His name.

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