Formative: Biblical Theological Seminary

At my Bible college, all the senior guys had to take and pass an oral theology exam to be able to graduate. For a variety of reasons, I was asked to take mine publicly – anyone could come and watch and get a sense of what the oral exam would be like. As a thank you, I guess, for taking my orals this way, the Bible department of the college took my friend Aaron and I along with them when they went to a regional gathering of the Evangelical Theological Society at Valley Forge Christian College.  


Without exaggeration and even though I had no idea until years later, I can say that it was a life-changing weekend.

ETS is like a conference for theology nerds. Academics present papers and answer questions. Think Comicon for Bible scholars. It was at this ETS gathering that I first heard the word “postmodernism.” Dr. Robert Newman presented a plenary session paper on the challenges and opportunities of postmodernism. I was intrigued. It was so over my head and yet so exactly what I already thought. Dr. Newman taught at Biblical Theological Seminary. It was the first time I heard that name too.

A few months later when I graduated, I had to make some decisions about going to seminary. I felt a good deal of pressure to attend the seminary associated with our college. But I also felt an internal yen to go elsewhere. I wanted to go somewhere different, somewhere where I would be challenged, somewhere with a fresh voice and a new perspective. I had also begun pastoring my first church, and so I needed to go somewhere that would fit with my schedule.

90 minutes away from our home on Staten Island was Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield PA. I remembered how much I had liked Dr. Newman’s paper at ETS. And when Vanessa and I visited, it felt like a place where I could think for myself, be challenged, and yet still be able to pursue my first pastoral ministry.

Going to Biblical Theological Seminary turned out to be one of the most important – and best – decisions I have ever made in my life.

At Biblical, I met some great people – including Doc Newman, Dave Dunbar, Charles Zimmerman, Tom Taylor. And I met John Franke. John introduced me to the writings of Stanley Grenz. In Grenz, I found a theologian with whom I could profoundly identify. His approach – seeing the integrative motif of the Bible as a story of community being reestablished by God’s grace – revolutionized how I read the Bible. I also got familiar with people like Wolfhart Pannenberg whose thinking would eventually shape both my eschatology and the trajectory of my theology.

formative biblical theological seminaryAnd, at Biblical, I met friends like Steve Arnold, who gave me an opportunity to move to the Boston area and cut my teeth in a creative pastoral ministry context. When I think about the church I now pastor, I can see how it is the logical extension of the youth group we started in Boston.

At Biblical, I learned that orthodoxy can be generous, that being reformed doesn’t have to equal being mean, and that we have much to learn from one another. Unity can exist when uniformity doesn’t. I also learned from Biblical’s example that fundamentalism isn’t the end, that you can grow from where you once were to something much more relevant and contemporary.

Biblical Theological Seminary was one of the most formative places I have ever been in my life. Without it, I would not be who I am today.

Get the whole Formative blog series here.


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