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D. G. Hart – A Confessing Theology for Postmodern Times

Reading A Confessing Theology for Postmodern Times

The only men evangelicals recognized as having some authority were the prophets and apostles who wrote the Bible…to put it another way, the only legitimate authority in this world was God’s, a presumption that made rebellion against a king alright but posed a few dilemmas when the ox being gored was headship in the home.  – p. 115

Bible-onlyism threaten all earthly authorities, but ironically it made the individual sovereign. – p.115

…evangelicals have no real foundation for intellectual life because, unlike mainline Protestants, “They will not,” in the words of Hatch, “surrender to learned experts the right to think for themselves.” – p.116

He adds that, “evangelical scholars are far more likely to speak and write to a popular evangelical audience than to pursue serious scholarship.” – p. 116

It is one thing to challenge the cultural authority of cosseted academics, but it is another to demean the special office of the minister of Word and sacrament. But this is exactly what happens when the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, i.e., the sovereignty of the individual, obscures the doctrine of vocation. – p. 117

Benjamin B. Warfield for instance, defined the purpose of a seminary as an instrument of the church designed to provide prospective ministers with “nothing less” than a “serious mastery of the several branches of theological science.” “When we satisfy ourselves with a less comprehensive and thorough theological training,” he warned, “we are only condemning ourselves to a less qualified ministry.” J. Gresham Machen’s aims in founding Westminster in 1929 perpetuated Warfield’s vision. According to Machen, a seminary should train a minister not to be a “jack-of-all-trades” but a “specialist” in the Christian religion. Rather than equipping ministers with the practical skills required for parish ministry, a seminary, Machen wrote, “should provide those particular things which can best be learned…in school.” In other words, Machen and Warfield advocated advanced theological training for seminarians. In contrast to the egalitarian impulse of evangelicalism, Machen insisted that “a theological seminary is an institution of higher learning whose standards should not be inferior to the highest academic standards that anywhere prevail.” – pp. 121-122

First, Reformed theological education is hierarchical, in contrast to evangelicalism’s egalitarianism. Reformed seminaries should be characterized by advanced scholarship that mirrors the academic pecking order.

Second, Reformed seminaries assume students and faculty have lives away from seminary. Theological education should not be a totalizing experience where it functions as family, church, and neighborhood.

Third, seminary assumes the prior work and authority of the church, a point very much related to the second. Ultimately, presbyteries or classes train and ordain candidates for the ministry. Seminaries, ideally, only provide the book learning necessary to sustain licensure and ordination exams….many evangelical students go off to seminary to train for the ministry with very little experience in a congregational setting and without the oversight of the church.

Fourth, Reformed theological education assumes a high view of the nature and work of the church. In evangelical conceptions of the church and special office, ministry is something to which all believers are called, and this helps to explain why attending seminary makes no sense for many evangelicals. – pp. 121-123

Presbyterians are supposed to take theology seriously and believe that theology is important for all believers, not just church officers. – p. 125

What we need is an expansive view of theological education, seeing it not simply as the task of the seminary but also as the responsibility of church officers and parents. – p. 126

Whether evangelical seminaries can ever acquire such a conception of the ministry, given their historic egalitarian ways, is certainly debatable. But if Reformed and other confessional seminaries want to avoid the schizophrenia afflicting evangelicals, they need to reject the egalitarian impulses of the American Revolution and recover that understanding of the church that lies at the heart of the Protestant Reformation. – p. 128-129

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