Last Friday, Jenny and I went down to Due West, SC where Erskine Theological Seminary is located. I will be studying there full-time this fall in their Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) program. Apart from the usual ‘house keeping’ details that were presented, we enjoyed eating lunch with the program director, Dr. Dale Johnson, a professor of church history in Reformation studies, who also serves as a PCA ruling elder. Dr. Don Fairbairn also sat at our table. He is the director of the recently launched ThM program at Erskine. Dr. Fairbairn is also a professor of church history in Patristic studies; his courses also included studies in western philosophy and Christian thought. I will be taking two courses from Dr. Fairbairn this fall, one of which is a directed study in advanced Greek. Given my undergraduate studies in the ancient languages at New St. Andrews College, I have largely fulfilled the Seminary’s language requirements. Having taught both Hebrew and Latin for the last several years at Atlas School those languages are my stronger points, whereas my Greek has a good bit of dust on it. Discussing this with Dr. Fairbairn (who also serves as the course schedule director) and the fact that my interests for study are in church history and theology, he offered to teach a directed study in advanced Greek that would focus more on patristic Greek in addition to some advanced NT readings. Our plan is to read one New Testament epistle (possibly 1st Peter) and then go on to the three universal creeds, and finish up with some patristic Greek document that has not yet been translated. Needless to say, I’m quite excited about this opportunity. Dr. Fairbairn will also be teaching the Early and Medieval Church course that I will be taking this fall.
In addition to those two courses, I will also be taking Old Testament I from Dr. Schwab and New Testament I from Dr. Melton, both of whom look/sound like very interesting scholars. And I’m looking forward to their courses.
One of the attractive aspects of Erskine Seminary was the diversity of the school combined with a fairly strong conservative reformed presbyterian bent. One of the most disappointing characteristics of many reformed presbyterian schools/seminaries is the narrow, sectarianism that often seems to be presented to the world. And while I value bold, assertive biblical teaching, I think this needs to be held simultaneously with an open-armed graciousness to the rest of Christendom. We need to be rebuilding a Christendom that is fiercely orthodox and un-apologetically biblical and at the same time so comfortable, so at-ease with the Truth, that we fearlessly seek friendships and communion with every one who confesses the Christian faith regardless of the specks in their eyes.
At any rate, Erskine has been attractive for this very reason. Although I have yet to actually take a class, my initial impressions of the seminary continue to be confirmed: the seminary faculty is about 75% conservative and evangelical reformed presbyterian; the other 25% represent other broader bodies of American evangelicalism: United Methodist, Southern Baptist, and Presbyterian Church USA to name the three I can think of off the top of my head. Furthermore, orientation also confirmed this impression: of the 100 incoming students, 24 were present at this “early orientation”–essentially an orientation for those of us who live somewhat local to the seminary. Of the 24 students present, most were women studying for their Master of Divinity degree, most were black, and most were in their late 30s to late 50s. I suspect that this demographic is probably a little disproportionate to the rest of the student body, given that it represents those who are “local” to the seminary, but that remains to be seen.
Just to make it more personal, there were only two of us there in the MATS program on Friday. The other student was Evelyn, a very gracious 59 year old black woman from Augusta, Georgia. It was such a blessing to meet this woman, whose father was a presbyterian minister, who served as a music teacher for many years, and who now for health reasons can no longer teach. She uses a walker, but she is still quite mobile. She said on Friday that she has always had a desire to study the Bible and theology and never had an opportunity. She’s applied several times and then for various reasons decided to not to attend. Now she is finally following through. She sounds a lot like me, only I’m 30 some years younger. I’m so thankful for this opportunity to live and learn in a diverse community that is in many ways, much more representative of this country’s actual demographics as well as what is much more representative of Christendom at large. Of course this means that I must be prepared and expect to see and face the broader challenges and errors of the church in this country, but I’m thankful for that too.
So here’s to Evelyn and all of the incoming students at Erskine: May our Triune God, Father, Son and Spirit, be pleased to build us up together into faithful, fruitful servants in the Kingdom of God.