Monday, September 10, 2012

Low Cost and High Commitment: Why GPTS is the Right Choice for a Seminary Education

The growing burden of student-loan debt and a lack of commitment to traditional theology is threatening the survival of mainline seminaries and watered-down Bible schools who are losing their relevancy to the real needs of the church and its future ministers.

So says a seminary dean in an op-ed article published late last month in the Wall Street Journal commenting on a study by The Center for the Study of Theological Education at Auburn Theological Seminary, which has done several studies in the past on the implications of theological student debt.

"Big-box seminaries, unanchored from any ecclesiastical tradition and from any family of churches, might suffer as costs rise and technology evolves," wrote Russell D. Moore, dean of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.

"But that doesn't mean the only alternative is the clickable equivalent of a mail-order divinity degree. When it comes to ministry, brick and mortar, flesh and blood, can't be wholly replaced by pixels and bandwidth. Some seminaries will teeter, and theological education will change. But I think that finding the next generation of pastors will not mean plunging into the brave new world so much as treading good old paths with a fresh outlook."

According to the Auburn study, churches could have fewer job candidates from which to choose since ministerial students are often so hampered by college student loans—which can range from $30,000 to $80,000. Such potential or actual debt burdens will either render them unable to continue their studies or make it eventually impossible to live on the usually modest salaries that await graduates.

The Auburn study was reported recently in Christianity Today. As the study put it, seminarians may be "too poor for a vow of poverty."

The founders of Greenville Seminary foresaw this more than 25 years ago, and our trustees have consequently been determined to keep tuition rates low while maintaining quality education based on a firm commitment to Scripture and historic Christian confessions. GPTS tuition is approximately two-thirds of that at comparable schools, a fact that has driven our determination to fund our programs largely through contributions by faithful supporters who share our vision — both individuals and churches.

Christianity Today predicted that recent trends in the cost and quality of seminary education would lead to increased reliance on what it called the "iSeminary" — online theological education.

"Trends such as these make Christian academics nervous. After all, our hymnals and songbooks are already fighting a losing battle against the overhead-projection screen and iTunes. What happens, academics worry, when we replace accredited seminaries dedicated to classical disciplines with the online equivalent of Uncle Ronnie's Bible School?" Moore wrote, adding, "That bleak view of the future is misdirected."

"First of all, solid theological education, steeped in the classical disciplines, has a long history; so does low-quality religious education by unaccountable schools offering credentials to the lazy and unqualified. Churches and future ministers know the difference. The technological revolution may empower dumbed-down schools, but no more so than the dubious correspondence programs of the past."

At Greenville Seminary, our commitments to solid, historically based theological education at an affordable price seek to avoid the "dumbing-down" of ministerial training while still offering innovations in delivery. All of our classes are available to locally mentored distance-learning students via online streaming or electronic download. While we continue to stress the preferability of on-campus learning, fellowship and scholarly interaction, the new methods of delivery are an option for those who cannot make the move to residency studies for one reason or another.

"And not all online ministerial education will be suspect—just as first-rate universities like Stanford and Harvard are exploring ways to offer classes online to a wider audience, so too will solid seminaries," Moore wrote. "Churches and future ministers will know the difference there as well. I suspect that the next generation will find what the seminary I serve has seen: online programs supplementing rather than supplanting the life-on-life classical theological education.

"More important, the sorts of questions raised by student debt and ministerial career instability may help reattach ministerial education to its real-world moorings: education with churches in mind, not just theology. In order to train ministers, Protestant communities must abandon the current system in which future pastors discern, almost in isolation, a call from God and then seek out training ad hoc."

Moore noted that there will always be, as there has in the past as far back as the Apostles, a number of men who enter the ministry as a "second career," having been educated and employed in other professions.

"But the ideal pattern is for churches to seek to identify, early in life, those who are gifted and called to ministry; the churches should then be held accountable for guiding these potential ministers in seeking strategic, sound and affordable training. What if local congregations didn't merely rely on the availability of seminary graduates who decided to embark on a theological education after college, but actively kept an eye out for the stirring of the religious calling in young people all the way back to vacation Bible school?"

This is precisely what Greenville Seminary has always encouraged and sought to implement by establishing and maintaining close working relationships with churches, church bodies and denominations. Our accreditation comes from those who are like-minded, and we have established contractual accountability relationships with 13 church bodies.

Furthermore, churches like these and others who agree to support us financially at specified levels are eligible to send students whose tuition is waived by the seminary, in exchange for certain work-study obligations. We ask churches who send us students to test and confirm the prospective student's gifts, and men who apply for the divinity program must be endorsed by their church's elders.

"The seminaries most closely tied to churches would be those most likely to thrive," said Moore. "Churches that have an existing relationship with their young potential pastors will be more likely to support them financially, and to tie their learning to the life of their churches. That would be an improvement over the current education model, an artificially supervised one in which students do pastor-like tasks and are evaluated by strangers. The churches would be better able to discern a call to ministry the way the church always has: by watching ministers minister and, to use biblical imagery, fanning flickering gifts into a flame."

Moore said that the approach he described "would weed out those who simply want to 'help people' or to deal with their personal demons—a common enough motivation for entering seminary. And such an approach would narrow the search's scope to those genuinely equipped to preach, counsel and lead. It would also enable one generation of pastors to guide the next one not only through questions like 'What's the relationship of predestination to free will?' but also 'Where should I go to school and how should I pay for it?'"

New Sponsoring Church to Join GPTS Oversight Group

It was with great joy and satisfaction that we recently received an official agreement from Sovereign Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church (OPC) to enter into a Sponsoring Church Court relationship with Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. The Hickory, N.C. church is the first in several years to take this step of commitment to GPTS, bringing the total to 13 churches, presbyteries or denominations. The seminary Board of Trustees is expected to ratify this covenant when it next meets in November.

We are frequently asked about the denominational affiliation of Greenville Seminary, but because of our unique position with regard to the general church we sometimes struggle to answer that question. The terms “non-denominational” and “undenominational” do not properly describe us, since we are committed to and closely aligned with a number of denominations. Sometimes the term “trans-denominational” comes to mind, but that too is not a completely accurate descriptor of our position vis-à-vis the church.

“Independent” is perhaps the least appropriate term to describe us. True, we were founded more than 25 years ago by an ad hoc group of individuals concerned about the future directions of the church and committed to the historic confessions of our commonly held Reformed and Presbyterian faith. We are a board-governed institution, but we have always been committed to the principle of the accountability of seminaries to the so-called "courts" of the church. This combination of self-governance and commitment to accountability has given rise to our unique relationship to sponsoring church denominations, presbyteries and local church governing bodies.

Sovereign Grace will be entering into this fraternity of twelve church bodies who have previously pledged to hold us to fullest faithfulness to the Word of God and the particular system of doctrine which Presbyterianism has derived from the sacred Scriptures of the Christian faith. We look forward to welcoming them among our overseers and anticipate a long and fruitful relationship as we labor together for our Lord’s Kingdom. For a list of sponsoring church courts and information about this accountability arrangement, go here.

GPTS is also accredited by the Association of Reformed Theological Seminaries (ARTS). More info at

Sovereign Grace Church's senior minister is Pastor Cody Ray. Member Ronnie Morgan serves as GPTS's "Ambassador" at the church.

Dr. Pipa Ministers in Korea, WCF Study Guide Translated

Greenville Seminary President Joseph Pipa Jr. spent the last week of August ministering in South Korea as part of GPTS's relationship with the Korean Institute for Reformed Preaching (KIRP).

On Sunday, Aug. 26, Dr. Pipa preached at a church pastored by Mr. Kim JoonBum, who holds a Th.D. from GPTS. In the afternoon, he preached at Yulin Church (Mr Kim Namjoon, pastor.) Both churches are in Seoul.

Dr. Changwon Shu
For the rest of the week, he taught and preached at the 25th Anniversary Conference of the Korean Institute. The KIRP was founded by Dr. Changwon Shu, who spoke a year ago at the 25th GPTS Convocation. The purpose of the Institute is to promote reformation among Korean pastors and students. Dr. Pipa's contacts with Korean colleagues have result in two men studying at Greenville Seminary.

This was Dr. Pipa's fifth oppotunity to teach at KIRP.  Because of the anniversary conference, there were four lectures and four sermons instead of the usual three of each. Each lecture with translation was two hours. He lectured on "The Nature and Government of the Church," "The Dignity and Work of Ruling Elders," The Role of the Holy Spirit in Preaching," and "The Confession and the Church." His sermons dealt with Psalm 87, "The Beauty of the Church"; Psalm 96, "The Work of the Church"; Psalm 100, "The Nature of Worship"; and Colossians 4:2-4, "The Importance of Prayer."

Dr. Pipa's book The Westminster Confession of Faith Study Guide has recently been translated into Korean and published by The Revival and Reformation Press in Seoul in cooperation with the original British publisher Christian Focus Publications Ltd. through rMaeng2 of Korea. The English version is available through our bookstore here.

Financial Report for August 2012

The tables below show our financial condition as of the end of August 2012 and the first two  months of our 2012-13 fiscal year. While the figures show a positive bottom line for both periods, the Donation Income figure for August is nearly $30,500 below what we had budgeted. For the first two months of the fiscal year, total contributions were nearly $55,000 below budget.

Please prayerfully consider how you might help provide the seminary with a solid financial foundation for our new academic year.

Expenses $82,337
Donation Income $32,368
Other Income $67,075
Total Income $106,001
Net Income +$23,764

Expenses $177,418
Donation Income $70,715
Other Income $94,657
Total Income $165,372
Net Income -$12,045

Goal $3,500,000
Received $3,047,393
Long-term Pledges Outstanding $589,861
Total Received and Pledged $3,637,254
Outstanding Obligations $35,000
Monthly Note $4,264
Remaining Mortgage $889,794

We occasionally receive gifts given in lieu of flowers in memory of a deceased loved one. Recently, however, we received a $300 gift from some newlyweds who gave in the name of a Coast Guard chaplain, an alumnus of GPTS who officiated at their wedding. It may have been that the chaplain recommended this gift to GPTS in lieu of his honorarium for performing the ceremony. Moral of the story: there are many creative ways to give.

If you would like to make a convenient online donation to Greenville Seminary, click the  "Donate" button below. Whether or not you can contribute financially, here is another way you can help the seminary: Spread the Word! Do you know someone that would be interested in learning more about our organization or supporting us? If so, fill out the form here and an e-mail message with a link to our website will be sent to them. Thank you for your continued support for Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary


Sharing in the Advancement of GPTS

Visit the GPTS Development Office web site for information on ways to support and spread the word about Greenville Seminary.

Confessing Our Hope

Listen to the GPTS Web-based radio broadcasts, with new interviews weekly! Several new programs are now available for listening or download. 

  • "Letters from the Front" — Barry Waugh was our guest as we discussed the book he edited titled Letters from the Front: J. Gresham Machen’s Correspondence from World War 1 
  • "When a Pastor Leaves His Church" — What happens to a pastor when he believes that God is calling him to leave one congregation to pastor another congregation? What are some of the pitfalls and problems associated with it?  Are there any fundamental processes that a pastor can use to help him determine if this is the will of God? Guest: Pastor Ryan McGraw
  • "Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons" — Thabiti Anyabwile was our guest as we discussed his book Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons. This was a very informative and practical discussion on the topic.
  • "Galatians in the Lectio Continua Commentary Series" — Dr. J.V. Fesko was our guest as we discussed his latest work on the book of Galatians in the Lectio Continua Commentary Series.
Our new GPTS "app" for smartphones and tablets provides a new avenue to access our podcast on the go. Get the app here or go to the iPhone App Store or your Android market place from your device (not compatible with all Android devices). 

Visit Host William Hill's new Confessing Our Hope Blog for news and information about the broadcast as well as access to all program recordings. Podcasts can also be accessed through our mobile web site

Seminary Family Welcomes New Myers Baby

GPTS Student Mike Myers and his wife Katy announced the birth of their second son, Samuel Zachariah Myers on September 4. According to Mike, the new baby will go by his nickname, Zach.

At birth, Zach was 19.5 inches and 6 lbs. 12 oz., exactly the same statistics as those of his big brother Nate at birth a couple of years ago. It appears that the boys also have another trait in common: Mike's red hair.

"We are very thankful both for the health of this little blessing and the timing [of Zach's arrival]," said Mike, an Army reservist who had to be out of town the following weekend. "God is good, and we are looking forward to seeing His love endure to this member of the next generation."

“You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream” — American Proverb

We often try to convince students who are studying through our distance-learning program of the advantages of becoming a resident on-campus student. There are many good reasons for doing so. One we usually fail to mention is shown below. Once a year, G5, the local company that provides and services our office copiers and printers, sends it's ice cream truck to its customers' locations and offers free frozen delights. The photos below show students, faculty, staff and families enjoying their treats just as classes began for the new semester.

American writer Heywood C. Broun once said, “I doubt whether the world holds for anyone a more soul-stirring surprise than the first adventure with ice cream.” That may or may not be the world's most soul-stirring surprise, but we at GPTS are grateful that our Creator, through His word and works, offers much greater things to stir our souls.

Still, as playwright and novelist Thornton Wilder put it, "My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate - that's my philosophy.”

We did enjoy our ice cream.

Thanks to our G5 representative Justin Wagner, member of a local Presbyterian Church, for arranging and hosting this visit. G5 was also among the generous financial supporters of our 25th anniversary dinner earlier this year.

New at Katekōmen

κατέχω - Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.... Hebrews 10:23

Check out new material in our online journal Katekōmen. Pastor Ryan McGraw examines the importance of continuing education for ministers.

Annual Fall Picnic in Pictures