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Alumni Interview: Brian Lee Part 6

June 13, 2011



9. Do you have any counsel for those who are interested in studying 16th and 17th century theology?

If you love it, do it, but don’t count on getting a job teaching it.

Of course, at Westminster California you can get a good taste for 16th and 17th century theology while getting your M.Div. Not because the faculty are romantic golden-age types lost in the past, but because the faculty across the board is so thoroughly conversant with their Reformed confessions and the thought of the period that spawned them. You have Godfrey as an expert in early Dutch thought relating to the Synod of Dordt (and everything else), Horton who is doing contemporary theology par excellance and bringing it into dialogue with Calvin and Goodwin and Turretin, Clark who has studied Olevianus and knows ten times as much about covenant theology as I do, and Van Drunen who is writing serious historical studies of Natural Law in the Reformed tradition.

Oh, and Joel Kim, with whom I studied, but for some reason he focused on Arminius… I joke because we share a doctoral advisor, and an interest in exegetical history. But Joel is a great example of a New Testament professor that is conversant with the historical exegesis of the tradition, while not being slavishly bound to it. And in fact, even more important than having great historical scholars is having a faculty that sees true pastoral and theological training as incorporating all the theological disciplines — biblical, systematic, historical, practical. And because of that unified view, they actually talk to one another, they’re friends.

And because of that unified view, I think Westminster California grads make some of the best doctoral candidates, and furthermore, they make some of the best Ph.D. endowed pastors (If I may say so without being too self-serving). Because the faculty appreciates a positive relationship between academics and the pastoral calling, they instill that in their students, and as a result their graduates can be thoroughly trained academically without losing their pastoral vision.

I for one think it would be great if all pastors had Ph.D.’s… it would just about catch us up to the learning of the typical pastor of 100 years ago.  Understand me, I don’t think it’s necessary, and I certainly don’t think it’s prudent — we don’t all have five extra years, a passion for libraries, and a bunch of spare cash sitting around. But Westminster gives you a vision for integrating the life of the mind and the calling of a pastor, and lessens the risk that their pastors will become pencil-headed geeks who present systematic theology lectures from the pulpit.

Put another way, I had a fear as a young evangelical heading into seminary, and it was this:  That passionate pastors in training tended to become more theologically liberal in seminary and graduate school, and the more they learned the more likely they were to adopt the viewpoint of the secular academy over the viewpoint of the Word of God. Westminster Seminary California absolutely decimated that view. I don’t have any data, but I’d bank a month’s salary that Westminster grads who get Ph.D.’s are more orthodox in general than graduates of any other seminary who get advanced degrees. Because we were given a way of integrating head and heart, and it’s not by balancing them, or minimizing either one of them, but by submitting them both passionately to the ministerial service of the Word of God.

Oh, right, you asked about counsel. That’s easy. Go to Westminster.