Discipleship in the Classroom
One of the foundational elements of growing into the fullness of Christ is growing in knowledge of the Scriptures. How can we grow as Christians ourselves or lead others into the fullness of life in Christ if we don't have basic literacy in the divine revelation that testifies about him?
Some students today enter the seminary without having received this invaluable biblical instruction in their homes or congregations. Others have become Christians later in life and so enter seminary without prior grounding in the Scriptures. Still others have experienced Bible teaching over the years in discrete bits, like many differently shaped jigsaw puzzle pieces, without guidance as to how these pieces are connected in Christ to form a coherent picture.
In order to serve the needs of these students and prepare them for ministry, the [Calvin Theological] seminary has inaugurated, among the many other fresh and exciting things taking place here in recent days, a new Bible Survey course that is offered to incoming students in the very first semester of their programs. This is not your basic bookish Bible Survey course in which dusty details are examined in an academically detached fashion apart from any apparent relatedness to Christ or contemporary life. Rather, the goal of this course for contemporary disciples is parallel to Christ's intention for the disciples he joined on the road to Emmaus: "Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). To accomplish this end in a modest one-semester seminary course, the theme of each biblical book is presented, along with an explanation of how that theme ultimately finds its focus in Christ. This focus in Christ is then explored in the New Testament. Finally, the class considers what that fulfillment in Christ means for people who are being conformed to his likeness, and, with the help of the preaching professors, learns ways to effectively communicate that meaning to others. In the process, we all grow together in our knowledge of Scripture and in our ability to ground our theological discussions and evangelical witness in the unchanging, powerful, living and active Word of God.
Such a course at the very beginning of one's seminary education establishes a solid, biblical framework for the rest of the curriculum. It also stimulates all sorts of exciting questions that students will be able to bring with them into their other courses. I have been delighted and warmed by the healthy and eager curiosity of students as we progress through the biblical books. Wonderful, practical questions arise in the course of our study, such as the ones we've pondered for Genesis (If God chose Abraham to be the one through whom his blessing would come to the nations, then what will happen to those nations who had no contact with him or God's people?), Joshua (Isn't this ethnic cleansing?), Nehemiah (What kind of distinctions between God's people and unbelievers should we insist upon today?), Job (So how are we supposed to deal with Christian suffering?), Ephesians (What does it mean for the church to be the first-fruits of God's shalom?), Philippians (How are we supposed to understand Paul's desire to "attain to the resurrection from the dead"?), and 1 Timothy (Can there really be a truth-attesting congregational life among believers who are contentious about so many things?).
To my great joy, this course has been met with enthusiasm and active participation from the students. Just imagine a multiethnic, multi-generational class of almost fifty students at various levels of Christian maturity memorizing Scripture and biblical themes together, discussing how God's redemptive mercy manifested in Christ gives coherence to his entire self-revelation, and wrestling with the implications and applications of biblical truths, and you have some idea of the beauty and richness of this class! It is a testimony to their desire for growth in Christ-likeness that fully half of the students who were able to opt out of this course by passing an advanced placement test decided to audit the course anyway.
Moreover, technology enables us to capture each class so that students can review it online if desired—a true help for international students, who might not catch everything the first time around, or for students who are forced to miss a class due to illness or emergency. One might fear that such a feature would tempt students to skip class and simply watch it online, especially since the classroom is always filled to capacity. But each class remains bursting at the seams. I am truly excited about the future of the church when I see so many students doing their best to present themselves to God as those approved—workers who do not need to be ashamed and who correctly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). This class has re-energized my own Christian life and reinvigorated my love for teaching. Progress on the path of fullness of life in Christ for both professor and students, taking place in a classroom—how beautiful is that!