What is one of your biggest concerns in terms of what the church faces today?
We face many dangers today. The church is always susceptible to false teaching, worldliness, pride, and prayerlessness. But I have a particular concern today for our lack of confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture. We don’t look to our Bibles or trust them. Yet God has given us what we need in the Bible. It teaches us how to worship God correctly. It shows us the glories of Christ and the way of salvation. It provides a lamp to our feet and a light to our path as we seek to live lives pleasing to God. We would be in the dark without God’s Word. When I look at many churches today, I see worship that is guided by trends and preferences, preaching that seems to think that the Bible really isn’t enough, and individuals and families who say that they believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures but who, in their daily lives, rarely give attention to their Bibles. This lack of confidence in the Word of God is a troubling trend with many significant consequences.
What does your role as president of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (GPTS) entail?
I have the great privilege of overseeing the training of many future ministers of the gospel in service to the church. We strive to do one thing: to prepare faithful men to serve Christ in pastoral ministry. Part of my job is to say no to things that distract us from this single focus or that run the risk of moving us away from our confessional commitments. I am accountable to the church through our board of trustees for maintaining the fidelity and focus of the seminary. We watch closely over the professors we hire, the priorities of the staff, the curriculum, and the overall spiritual climate for the students.
As an ordained minister, I often have opportunities to travel for preaching and teaching. As I travel, I get to meet with churches and individuals, updating them on the work of the seminary and asking for their continued support.
Why is advanced theological education important for pastors?
Pastors are on the front lines in their service to Christ. They are charged with feeding and leading the flock through faithful preaching and teaching. They must lead the church through prayer, publicly and privately, and they are often called on to apply Scripture in complex life situations. None of this is easy. It is front-line work, and it is becoming more dangerous as our culture turns more obviously against the church. The Scriptures tell pastors to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Therefore, we want all pastors to be approved workers. This means that they must be well trained in how to study, apply, proclaim, and pray God’s Word and how to persevere in godliness in the midst of a world opposed to the things of Christ.
How has GPTS maintained biblical and confessional fidelity?
Our biblical and confessional fidelity is a gift of God. It is by God’s grace that we stand and remain faithful. I and many others pray daily that the Lord would keep us faithful, and I think God has seen fit to answer these prayers. We are totally dependent on Him. But we also take many steps to ensure our faithfulness. We know the warning of Scripture: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). One of those steps is our openness about our confessional commitments. Everyone at GPTS—from trustees to faculty members—publicly reaffirms his commitment to the Westminster Standards every year. This gives a very open and transparent form of accountability to a watching world and a watching church. People know what we believe, and we strive to be “men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God [speaking] in Christ” (2 Cor. 2:17). Both the board of trustees and I see this sincere fidelity to be our highest priority.
How has GPTS sought to make seminary affordable?
From the beginning, our trustees made it a goal to never have a student borrow money to study at Greenville Seminary. My predecessor had a phrase that I’ve repeated: “We want our students to graduate with a burden for the lost, not a burden of debt.” Because of this commitment, tuition revenue plays a very small role in our budget. This makes us dependent on the Lord and the generosity of God’s people every year, so we ask for help—first from the Lord, but also from individuals and churches. That’s a good position to be in. The Lord has been faithful in meeting our needs. We have not had to compromise how we teach and what we teach, and more than 92 percent of our M.Div. graduates continue in pastoral ministry today, which is an astonishing record for which we give thanks.
What should someone who is considering seminary look for in a potential school?
Anyone considering seminary should look at that seminary’s mission and curriculum. Make sure that the courses required are rigorous and oriented around the traditional emphases in Reformed pastoral ministry. Find out who will be in your classes. You want to be studying exclusively or at least primarily with other men who are preparing for the same task as you. Find a seminary that shares your theological commitments and is very clear about them, and one that explicitly weds rigorous academic training to an emphasis on personal piety. Seminaries should be primarily concerned about forming ministers of the gospel. Finally, look for a place where you can learn to preach. This happens through a preaching emphasis in the curriculum, but it also happens by sitting under sound preaching every Lord’s Day. Look at the churches around the seminary. You and your family will be worshiping and serving during your time of study, and that pastor and congregation will have a significant influence on your future ministry.
What does a healthy relationship between a seminary and local churches look like?
Seminary education is an extension of the work of the church. Seminaries should never give the impression that they stand above or outside the oversight of the church. Seminaries should be engaged with local congregations, governed at a board level by elders, and responsive to the concerns of presbyteries and sessions. I am convinced as well that seminary professors should be ordained and accountable to the church and that they should also have significant pastoral experience before entering the seminary classroom.
What are some ways that Christians have misunderstood the doctrine of sanctification?
Many churches today teach or imply that holiness of life is simply an option that Christians should pursue, but that it is not essential. They often neglect teaching about the new birth, which is, according to Jesus, essential to our salvation (John 3:3) and is the fountainhead of our sanctification. Some churches also teach that sanctification involves simply sitting back and letting God do all the work. While it is true that all our growth is attributed to God’s grace in our lives, we are still commanded to make every effort, to work hard, and to give careful attention to the commands of God. If we are ignoring our need to strive to obey all that God commands, this may stem from a misunderstanding of biblical sanctification.
What are some of the most common misconceptions about Reformed theology?
Some believe that Reformed theology is an overly intellectualized form of Christianity. Or they believe that because of our emphasis on God’s sovereignty, we deny any human responsibility. Some see Reformed theology as destroying the mandate to proclaim the gospel and to offer Christ freely. Others have sadly encountered Reformed Christians who are filled with pride, and they now associate that sinful attitude with Reformed theology itself. All these are misunderstandings or gross distortions, but they are often encountered when trying to explain the Reformed faith to someone.
Why are the Reformed confessions and catechisms useful for the church today?
Confessions and catechisms help in at least three ways. First, they can be used to clearly articulate and proclaim what we believe. We want to be transparent about our convictions, and there is nothing clearer and more transparent than a shared public confession. Second, confessions hold us accountable. False teachers often change their convictions and then act as though everyone else should change with them. But confessions hold us to a standard. They enable us to assess true teaching and hold accountable teachers who veer off course. Finally, they are one of the most useful means of teaching our faith to newcomers and to those who are being raised in the church—especially to children. Having succinct biblical answers to the most important questions enables us to pass along a coherent account of the faith to those who are learning and growing.
What should Christians look for in a local church?
Traditionally, Reformed theology has taught that there are three marks of a gospel church: (1) the true preaching of the Word; (2) the right administration of the sacraments; and (3) the exercise of church discipline. These are all essential. But another way of getting at this is to ask this question: Is every aspect of church life—preaching, teaching, worship, sacraments, leadership—governed and guided by God’s Word? Jesus Christ rules His church through His Word, and how a church handles and obeys God’s Word—especially in teaching and worship—displays in a very real way how it views the authority of Jesus Christ. Examine these things carefully.