Impressions of Our Seminary

In my opinion there are three things which characterize our seminary — work, more work, and more work yet. Sounds rather sarcastic, doesn’t it? Perhaps, but at times this is all we seminary students can see. When the professors tell us that good grades are given only to those students who, because they are studying so much, are losing weight and have dark circles around their eyes, then we all start to feel this way. But if that is the only impression which is left with you, you will have a very narrow and mistaken view of our seminary. The fact is, there are many fa     scinating and rewarding aspects of the life of the seminarian.

Last summer a new program was launched providing for a pre-sem course to be taught alongside of the regular seminary course. The reason for such a program is that our churches have a shortage of ministers and that this shortage will soon become critical, due to the fact that five of our ministers are nearing retirement age. Adopting this program would reduce the training of our ministers from seven to six years, thereby making ministers available sooner. It was felt that although a four-year college pre-sem course is recommendable, it is not absolutely essential. Coinciding with this was the sentiment that our seminary professors were quite capable of teaching the courses needed to gain admission into the seminary. Under the new program, then, the four years of college will be cut to three years and be taught by the seminary professors. The three years of seminary training will remain the same.

The effects of this program are already visible. This fall seven eager new faces graced the seminary with their presence, instead of the customary one or two. These include six pre-sem students and one full-fledged seminary student. Compared to the enrollment of other seminaries across the country, ours is still very small. But in light of the number enrolled in recent years and the size of our denomination, seven is a large number.

What does this all mean? Perhaps God has planned in His counsel that our churches will once more grow numerically. Perhaps He will give us ministers enough so that we will be able to send out missionaries to proclaim the glorious Gospel to “all nations”.  Perhaps this large enrollment in our seminary is the means by which God will start to realize this. Let that be our prayer!

As stated in the outset, our seminary is characterized by work. I’ll try not to be so facetious this time and give you a true picture of the nature of our studies. The work load which I myself have is about equal to that which every other student carries. This means seven subjects or nineteen credit hours. Nineteen credit hours involves nineteen hours per week of classes plus two to three hours of preparation for every hour of class time. Add these all up and you might start to understand why I started the article the way I did.

One thing is a constant source of frustration to the students. Since no assignments are given out, the student is merely expected in his studies to keep ahead of the professor’s lectures. The student is at the same time expected to recite in class. Recitation is not from notes and textbooks which you have before you, but from what you have already learned. Here is the catch. Sometimes the professors cover twice as much material as you had anticipated and suddenly you find yourself unprepared. Then come the bombarding questions and there you sit with a silly grin on your face trying to decide whether to tell him the unforgivable truth or bluff your way through. The trouble is, neither one works.

But seminary life is not all sweat and tears. It also has its light sides. Many humorous situations arise in class due to various reasons. These reasons in turn point to a certain few who know how to take advantage of certain situations. Then, of course, there is the coffee break. Fifteen minutes of student complaining clothed in witty remarks offers a welcome break in the day.

Reflecting briefly on the professors, we must not fail to recognize their ability. True, their formal education stopped with graduation from seminary, but their informal education has never stopped. At times, we students are amazed at the amount of knowledge these two men have obtained. But, more important, they also have the wisdom to use this knowledge effectively.

Student-professor relations are also incredible. Never have we students experienced such a concern on any professors’ part for the student body. They know just when and how to encourage a frustrated student. They also know how to put us in our proper places when the need arises. A warm, cordial feeling prevails between students and professors which greatly facilitates our studies.

As far as the academic level is concerned, our seminary rates with the best. We are often criticized for our small faculty. How, they reason, can only two men be qualified to thoroughly teach all the subjects which are necessary to prepare one for the ministry? The call today is for specialization, where one becomes an expert in a particular branch of theology. In a certain sense, this would be nice. But our seminary, because of its size, has advantages which no larger institution could possibly have. Nowhere can one receive virtually private tutoring in a larger specialized institution. Our smallness also has its assets.

Another aspect concerning the academic level is the stress laid on “self-education.” Education must not be confined to the classroom, nor must it stop after graduation. Education is a continual process which never is completed. The success of any minister rests upon his desire and capability of “self-education.” This idea is drilled into our heads time and time again. Our studies are also set up with this fundamental principle in mind. Assignments in outside reading, papers, and reports, which the student must do on his own, are frequently given. The seminary merely gives one the tools with which the goal of “self-education” can be carried out.

Another aspect, closely related to this, is the attempt on the professors’ part to make the students think. A successful minister must be able to think. This involves a thorough analyzing of situations and insights into those situations. Class discussion is set up with this principle in mind. Many thought-provoking questions are thrown our way merely for this purpose.

One aspect of our seminary still needs to be emphasized, and, perhaps, is the most important aspect. We students are thoroughly trained in the Reformed heritage. This does not mean that we stand upon tradition alone. Rather, we stand only upon the Holy Scripture with which our Reformed tradition is in agreement. God’s Word is the very foundation of our training. That God’s Word alone must direct our life and teachings is the basic principle from which our seminary operates.

This is the impression of our Protestant Reformed Seminary through the eyes of one of its students. It is this student’s wish that God will provide more young men for seminary training and that He will, at the same time, continually guide them into all truth.