Tomorrow night my wife and I will be attending an event hosted by RTS (Reformed Theological Seminary) where they have some students doing a panel discussion on their experiences at RTS Jackson. While thinking in anticipation for this, there have been many thoughts go through my mind about the different ways RTS has shaped me in my time there. Although I am not done until December, I have already seen several ways that my life has been changed because of my studies there. This list could be pages and pages long but I wanted to give just a few that might be helpful. Keep in mind, I transferred to RTS from another seminary because I knew that what RTS was doing at the moment was some of the best in the world and I could not afford to miss out on it.
Big God Theology
There is no replacement for sitting under teaching for four years while soaking in theology that drowns you (and I’m not talking about theology that you can’t understand because the terms are strange and the wording is complicated but rather the theology that a child can read but an adult is overwhelmed by). True theology “happens” not when people write or teach in a complicated way where only the academic elites understand but rather when they write and teach in an overly simple, relevant, and applicable way but the truth of it is so weighty that it knocks you on your spiritual back. We live in an overly man-centered age of the Church and RTS has battled against that by showing us a God who cannot tamed. If the foundation of sin is built upon pride then the best way to combat against sin is to look to an infinitely glorious God. RTS certainly done that. I cannot tell you how many days I have walked away from class thinking, “I know nothing. I am so small.” Hopefully, you’ll laugh at that thought because we have all been prideful in our thoughts about God and need to be humbled by how “big” He really is. Two of the professors I have to thank for this first reason are Derek Thomas and Bruce Baugus.
Preaching a Big God in a Simple, Clear, and Applicable Style
What good is it to know all the theology in the world if you can’t help others understand it? Christ has commanded that all Christians live on mission (shoutout to Dr. Elias Medeiros) and that means to present the gospel in word and deed. RTS has shown us that the depths of theology are for the Church. Theology is not left for the academic elites while the rest of the Church just focuses on “Christian living”. If salvation is to know God (John 17:3) and if the entirety of the Word is what sanctifies us (John 17:17) then that means that every Christian needs to understand the depths of theology. The primary way this happens is when a man learns to preach a “big” God in simple ways. One of the best pieces of advice I have gotten came from Reverend Patrick Curles (Associate Minister at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, AL) when he told me, “If you can’t preach the gospel to the elementary kids then you can’t preach the gospel to adults.” His point was that if you don’t know the depths of the gospel so clearly that you cannot present it simply to those who can’t read then you don’t really know how to preach the gospel. RTS has put a big emphasis on this. There is no such thing as good preaching if it cannot be understood. There is also no such thing as preaching if you only explain the text. The Bible jumps out at us and redefines all of life and if the preacher does not “apply” the text to the real lives of his congregation then he is not preaching. I am very indebted to Dr. Charlie Wingard for giving us straightforward feedback on the seven sermons that we preach in front of him (and that he graciously sits through). I am also greatly indebted to Dr. Sean Michael Lucas for showing me what it was to proclaim Christ all the time.
We Must Be Pastor-Scholars
There is an unnecessary division between a pastor and a scholar. I believe it was Sinclair Ferguson who once said that this has only been a recent development in Church History. Through much of the church’s history the pastor has been the scholar and the scholar has been the pastor. RTS has sought to develop pastor-scholars rather than either/or. We make a wrong division when we say that the pastor shouldn’t be someone who studies more for the sake of shepherding the people or that the scholar shouldn’t be someone who relates his studies to the people. The pastor is the “local theologian” for the people and where the pastor is not a theologian then the people tend to be ignorant. Again, RTS has done a superb job of not just teaching us the truth but lighting a fire in us to keep pursuing a greater knowledge of the truth that applies to our people. My father is a long-time veterinarian in Montgomery and he told me once, “Vet school does make someone a veterinarian; it only gives someone a license to learn how to be a veterinarian.” In the same way, seminary doesn’t make a pastor-scholar. Seminary only gives someone the license to learn how to pursue to being a pastor-scholar. The pastor is someone who must always been studying and always learning. For this, I have a massive amount of thanks for Dr. Benjamin Gladd, Dr. Guy Waters, Dr. Miles Van Pelt, and Dr. Mike McKelvey. These four men have not merely convinced me that lifelong study is necessary but also have lit a fire in me to do so.
No Other Way To Prepare Youth Workers
Unfortunately, youth ministry is seen by many churches and pastors as a “practice round” for future pastors. Youth ministry is often treated as the “minor leagues” while the senior pastor is the “big leagues”. Here’s the problem: the students that I am leading today are the elders for tomorrow. The students I am preaching to tonight are the pastors and counselors for tomorrow. Working at Pear Orchard while pursuing my studies at RTS has been the best preparation for preaching to youth, counseling youth, and leading youth. The Church cannot afford to overlook youth ministry because where youth are neglected the Church is neglected. Our youth are growing up in a Church culture where there is much biblical illiteracy and this is greatly hurting not only the Church but the world. What we need now more than ever is better preaching to youth, better teaching to you, better counseling to youth (massive shoutout to Dr. John Kwasny—yes, the same John Kwasny who is at POPC!), and better discipling of youth. RTS has taught me that the big parts of theology are not left for the “big leagues” but rather they are of utmost necessity for the seventh grader who feels like they have no friends. The tenth grader who struggles with pornography doesn’t need just some web blockers or tips to not look at porn. What they need now more than ever is a “big” God who transforms their lives through the gospel of Jesus Christ. If our youth don’t have “big God preaching” then they will never be transformed. We have too many youth workers who give students fluff and lightweight lessons because they don’t think they can handle the more “weighty” matters of Scripture. I have seen from experience and word of others that when a “big” God is preached in simple, straightforward, relevant, and applicable ways that youth not only listen but are transformed by it. For this, I am forever indebted to RTS for training me in this way.
For all of this, I am forever grateful to Dr. Ligon Duncan for his leadership and passion for RTS and the training of future church leaders.