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Putting Theological Education in Perspective

By January 1, 2013June 6th, 2014No Comments

Formal services are often pomp and circumstance. The installation of James Grier as dean of the Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary was a serious and thought-provoking experience, where participants unitedly sounded a clear trumpet call for the fundamentals of the faith. The response of Dean Grier was clear, moving, and profound. It showed reverence for the past, put theological education in perspective, and sounded a clarion call for the future. Following is a substantial part of the response. —Warren H. Faber

Members of the executive board, administrators, faculty, staff, students, alumni, distinguished and honored guests, and friends. I accept the challenge that has been placed before me. By God’s grace and with your assistance, we can build on the past and accomplish even more in the future for Christ and His kingdom.

I gladly and publicly declare my support of the theological foundation and educational philosophy of the Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary. As the dean of the seminary, one of the most significant tasks I have is to provide the climate and conditions for education that accomplish the mission of the school, and to do so in such a way that we achieve the highest quality of which we are capable.

In the realization of this task, I pledge myself without compromise to enhance understanding and communication. I will seek to be the catalyst for consensus and the facilitator of progress as we prepare servants for the church, and through the church for the world. We must take care in the administration of the seminary that we do not squander the opportunity for ministry that has been placed before us. Those of us who are part of the Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary community today have opportunity to shape the seminary of tomorrow.

There are two significant things I propose as benchmarks for the seminary. The first secures its relationship to the Bible; the second to its Baptist heritage.

First, I want the Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary to teach its students the nature of the Bible from the Bible itself. Christianity is a religion of revelation. God has disclosed Himself in a prophetic/apostolic word revelation. We live in that age where the Spirit has come, and the effective ministry of the Spirit coupled with the inerrant Word of God is the basis whereby men are birthed into the kingdom of God. It is also by Word and Spirit that men are qualified for ministry and develop those characteristics that are essential to minister the new covenant. It is by Word and Spirit that the gifts of the Spirit are given, which are the essential skills a man must possess in order to minister the truth of God in the church of God. It is by the Word and the Spirit that we gain the essential knowledge that is the primary content of what we have to say as we take the Word of God and present it to the church and the world. This aspect of our task is important.

We must pursue this knowledge with unsparing intellectual persistence. We must do so with full commitment to the self-authenticating speech of Christ. We dare not avoid the problems we face in the text, but seek to give our energies to their resolution. It is an exciting day in the world of Biblical scholarship. God has given us many conservative, well-gifted men from whom we are learning answers to the new issues we are now facing. We must continue that intellectual pursuit, but scholarship and careful study of that self-authenticating Word cannot simply end up in the jargon of theological nomenclature. They must become what they were for Jeremiah—the very words that God put in his mouth. Those were the words he would bear in God’s name to a people who were stiff-necked and rebellious. When, in the midst of his languish over their rebellion and their rejection, he contemplated whether it would be best that he no longer speak in that name, he found that having eaten those words, they burned in him like fire in his bones, and he could not restrain them. We must combine in the breast of each student theological expertise with the presence of the dynamic power of the Spirit of God and the Word of God so that as men develop in spiritual characteristics, in skills, and in knowledge, they still speak plainly, passionately, and convincingly to God’s people and to the world. May our commitment to the full authority of the Word of God transcend theological jargon and kindle the fire in our bones so that we are compelled to speak it and put it in the mouths of those who will eat it and share it.

Secondly, I want Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary to be a Baptist seminary. We share many crucial doctrines with believers in Christ from other traditions and gladly acknowledge this broad fellowship. Yet we are a Baptist seminary, rooted in our historical heritage, committed to Baptist distinctives, and approved by the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches. Our theological perspective is not Catholic, Covenantal, or Arminian. It is dispensational. Respectfully, we will continue to say to others that we are dispensational Baptists because we believe this is the Biblical perspective. We dare not impoverish the next generation by neglecting the production of scholarly works in development of the defense of our position. In our teaching and writing, I want Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary to be built on the foundation of the full authority of Scripture and to clearly reflect and develop the theological tradition that constitutes its heritage.

No individual can make the difference in shaping the future. We are in this thing together—board, administration, faculty, staff, students, churches, and Christian community. This does not mean we are all best friends. It does mean we struggle together against a common enemy that would inhibit our growth in Christ; that we share the ministry of the new covenant; and that we share all the riches of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.

Faculty, students, Christian community! We must recognize the weakness of others, holding them up in their struggles, being sensitive to their needs when they hurt. We must aid them when they are overwhelmed, about to collapse, and need a friend—even though we are overworked with job, family, and academic load. It means being united in service and ministry.

As ministers of the new covenant—with its surpassing glory through which we are transformed into Christ’s image—we dare not wait until graduation to minister the grace of this covenant. There are sinners tonight traveling on the broad road to destruction. Some have never heard the good news of the gospel of grace. Others have heard but in their blindness and complacency do not sense their need for the good news. Our hope is the presence of the glory of Christ in our midst which will cause us to exalt the gospel of saving grace.

James Grier (ThD, Grace Theological Seminary) was distinguished professor of philosophical theology at Cornerstone University and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He gave this address on Jan. 14, 1983, on the occasion of his inauguration as dean of Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (May 1983).

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