What I Wish I Had Learned in Seminary

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Seminary changed my life. Spending time both inside and outside the classroom with my godly professors, learning from them, praying with them, and receiving counsel from them revolutionized my walk with Christ. I cannot remember a time when my professors were unavailable to meet with me. Everyone from Robert Godfrey to Michael Horton, R. Scott Clark to Dennis Johnson made themselves easily accessible. I graduated from seminary thankful for all the time (i.e., personal mentorship) they provided. 

As I look back on my experience, there are many things that I would change. Fortunately, those things that I would change have more to do with me than the faculty and curriculum. While I cannot mention that enough, there are a few things I would change regarding my learning experience (i.e., the curriculum). I share this one thing not to indict my seminary -- I love them a great deal -- but more as a reflection of my time in seminary now that I have been separated from that environment for a couple of years. You can think of this as the final evaluation that students had to complete upon graduation now two years removed.

I imagine that many of the reformed seminaries in America have similar curriculum. If so, maybe this will be of some help to them as well. If not, they can discard this post like many of the others I have written.

What I wish I had learned in seminary:

I have learned a tremendous amount from those in the reformed tradition. In particular, I am grateful for those American theological giants who helped mold me. Although dead, their words live. B. B. Warfield, Charles and A. A. Hodge, James Henley Thornwell, J. Gresham Machen, and many others were instrumental in my theological outlook both while in seminary and now, but what do these men have in common besides their theology and American citizenship? They are all white. Is that a problem? Absolutely not! Again, I am grateful for these men. They have shaped my understanding of the Bible. In fact, I still read their literature. I wonder, however, if others, specifically African-Americans and Latinos, have contributed to reformed thought in an influential manner much like the men listed above?

Why do I raise this question?

The vast majority of the time when an African-American or Latino was highlighted in my theological education, they were associated with liberation theology (of the negative fold). Is that all people of color in America have contributed to theology, or reformed theology more specifically? I would have never questioned this until I graduated from seminary and began reading more broadly. I can specifically thank Dr. Carl Ellis, Dr. Eric Washington and Reverend Thabiti Anyabwile. Some of the materials they have published, and classes they have taught, have helped me realize that people of color have contributed in a positive and influential manner to reformed thought. In other words, there is more to their theology than the social gospel. 

How can this help you? How does this help me?

First, it expands our view of church history and the theological contributions of others to the church. Secondly, and perhaps more subjectively, when I speak with many people of color, they believe that to be reformed is to be white. As they look at the dominant ethnic composition of reformed congregations, they see white skin and immediately make that association.  When I, therefore, as an African-American PCA pastor, come along side my brothers and sisters of color and begin explaining the truths of reformed doctrine, there is an association with reformed theology that I must overcome while explaining the biblical accuracy of reformed doctrine. That association is the "whiteness", at least in their minds, of reformed theology. If I, however, willingly acknowledge that our congregations may presently be composed primarily of white people, although I hope to see that change, but also share other information of which they are unaware, that will help them. Particularly, if I am able to demonstrate that there were people of color who contributed significantly to reformed theology, I can slay the notion, at least historically, that to be reformed means to be white and perhaps gain a greater hearing for reformed theology among my people of color.

We do this all the time. Whenever we appeal to history to help people more clearly see how a particular doctrine was rooted in the church for hundreds of years, we appeal to the history of the church to demonstrate the validity of that doctrine. While history, in this instance, may not provide all the help we require, it is an aid for us. It can help people move toward a certain denomination or doctrine when they more fully understand its roots in church history.

Final thoughts:

Learning about how African-Americans, Latinos, and other people of color have contributed to reformed theology in America is something I wished I had learned in seminary. Although this a desire of mine now, I am confident that my former professors did not neglect this area to somehow degrade my educational experience. As I shared previously, those men, along with their teaching, changed my life. I still keep in touch with them; I am thankful for them! I love them. Nevertheless, what I would like to see in my seminary, as well as others, is a curriculum that provides the positive and influential contributions that people of color have made to reformed theology in America. They are out there. We simply must do our research to find them.
Posted April 7, 2014 @ 9:29 AM by Leon Brown

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