My task is to try to paint for you a realistic picture of life on “Seminary Hill.” I am referring, of course, to the fact that our Seminary is perched atop one of the highest points in the Grand Rapids area. And this reminds me immediately of the Biblical figure of the city set on a hill-top, which cannot be hidden.
This, to me, is and ought always to be the chief feature of any picture of our Theological School. I am referring, of course, not to our building and its prominent position. That is only figurative. I am referring, rather, to the proper position of our Seminary in our churches and in the church at large. That position is, properly, a prominent position – such a position that our seminary cannot fail to be noticed. Our seminary should be prominent in the church and prominent among all other seminaries by reason of its teaching and maintaining the truth of the Word of God according to our Reformed confessions. And this prominence, in turn, should become manifest in the quality of our graduates. That, I believe, is the proper sense in which our Theological School must be and is prominent, a school which forces itself upon the attention of many witnesses. And that, I hope, will always remain the outstanding feature in the picture of our school.
All the remaining features of a picture of our Seminary contribute, or ought to contribute, to portraying that one main feature. Our school’s curriculum, its scholarship, the actual teaching of the faculty and studying and learning by our students – all these stand in the service of the teaching and preaching of the truth of the Word of God as the Lord has imparted it to our Protestant Reformed Churches.
Make no mistake! At seminary we do not continually have an advanced catechism class or lengthy Bible discussion. Nor is it sufficient that a young man be filled with “zeal for the cause” and be able to mouth pious speeches. In the first place, we offer a thorough theological course. Our seminary course requires completion of some 50 subjects in three years, totaling 110 credit hours, or an overage of 18-1/2 hours per semester. That in itself is a large order. In the second place, our demands are high. We demand excellence on the part of our students. There is no such thing on Seminary Hill as marking on class average, nor any such thing as “grade inflation.’’ To hear students josh about it occasionally, of course, those professors are impossible tyrants; that must be taken with a barrel of salt. Nevertheless, we do not want lazy students; nor do we want intellectual pantywaists. Nor do we want the less-than-average graduate. Any student who cannot attain a C average in the seminary department may not appear before Synod for his final examinations. Why? Because our churches need capable and hardworking ministers? Yes, but capable and hard-working ministers in the service of the truth!
The same is true of our pre-seminary department. Its curriculum is PRE-seminary, that is, designed to prepare the student for his eventual seminary work. That is the reason why, for example, we have a heavy emphasis on languages: our students must complete 48 hours of foreign languages. The total demands of our pre-seminary curriculum are 125 semester hours, the equivalent of a 4-year college course. And again, the academic standards are high: a pre-seminary student must average B- in order to qualify for admission to the seminary department.
If you wonder sometimes, therefore, why some of our students need financial aid from the churches, remember this: we expect our students to be full-time, and even over-time students. They must not expect to have much time, and the faculty does not intend that they shall have much time, to spend on earning a living.
What are our goals in teaching at the seminary, and what must a student’s goals be?
In the first place, of course, we purpose to pass on to the students a body of knowledge – knowledge of the Reformed truth. They must have this body of knowledge -and a thorough understanding of it -in order to impart it to their future congregations.
In the second place, we purpose to teach our students to think and to work. There are, of course, many practical courses which are designed to teach a future minister how to preach, how to catechize, how to exegete, how to labor as a pastor, etc. But even in what may be called theoretical courses, we want to teach our students to think and to study and to probe the depths. In Dogmatics, for example, our interest is not merely in imparting a knowledge of Herman Hoeksema’s Reformed Dogmatics. Anyone can learn that from the book, and anyone can repeat it like a parrot. We want our students to learn to think dogmatically, that is, to grow and to develop in the ability to probe the riches of the truth and systematize them. And so it is, too, with the study of the Scriptures. A student who can only parrot what Decker, Hanko, and Hoeksema think is not a successful student; he must learn to think and develop on his own.
In the third place, part of our purpose is to teach our students to work hard! God
hates lazy preachers! And we aim to teach our students to bend every effort toward the work of the ministry and not to spare themselves. A parsonage is one of the easiest places to be lazy, but it is also one of the worst places to be lazy! When a student graduates, the faculty can no longer apply the whip. But if he still needs the whip at that stage, it will not be for lack of effort on the part of the faculty. We aim to train ministers who will find their joy in the labors of the ministry.
I have three concluding remarks.
In the first place, if any of you – especially young men – desire more detailed information, write us for a Seminary Catalogue. Or perhaps your minister has a spare copy on hand.
In the second place, if you ever have the opportunity, come and visit us at school. During the school year, the place is like a bee-hive from 8 to 12 o’clock every morning. And especially if any young man would like to get a firsthand taste of seminary, pay us a visit. We’ll even let you drink our coffee at 10 o’clock, and Prof. Decker will let you have one of his doughnuts!
In the third place, a word to potential pre-seminary students. Please get in touch with us before you begin your college work; setting up a pre-sem program will be much easier, then, for you and for us.
Young people, remember your seminary in your prayers!