Monday, August 18, 2008

Teaching Theology for 140 Years - XIII.

With the death of Dr. Dick in 1833, the United Secession Synod was once again set upon the task of seeking a new professor. Although appointing a well-qualified younger man might have lessened the frequency of these crises, the Synod wisely recognised that age brings wisdom, especially if the younger years are spent in the pastorate. An older man, settled in his theology and given the balance that a pastorate of many years brings, is a far safer guide for youth than a man not much younger than his students, and lacking in the practical experience of the ministerial calling. The Synod maintained the old method of retaining the pastoral office with the Professorial, to ensure that the teaching of theology never became merely academic. What the Professors taught to their students they also taught to their congregations. In recognition of the calls of the Professorial role, not only did the Synod pay pulpit supplies for the Professors during the session of the Hall, but the professors received a salary of £100 a year - enough to buy the books needed for the course, but not enough to live on.

But the Synod did not appoint one man to succeed Dr. Dick. Instead it resolved to once more double the size of the faculty, appointing a committee to decide on three men to take the place of Dr. Dick. They hoped that this larger faculty would secure a more through education.

The Committee examined the teaching methods in other seminaries, Scots, English, Welsh and American. They were determined to learn from the experience of others, a wise move. In their report they recommended the creation of new professorships, and to that they added the recommendation that the provinces of the professorships should be clearly defined, so that each professor knew exactly what he was supposed to be teaching. Although all the men who had taught the Secession students had been excellent scholars and teachers, they had each proceeded in a slightly different way, and that had made the change-over period difficult for existing students. If each professor had a defined province of teaching, and a rough outline of how the course would proceed, this would tend to make the teaching more efficient. One thing the Synod's committee did not change was the fact that each professor would also be a pastor.

The new appointments were as follows: Rev. Alexander Duncan of Mid-Calder was elected to the Chair of systematic theology to succeed Dr. Dick, and two new professors were appointed, Rev. Robert Balmer of Berwick-on-Tweed to the Chair of Pastoral theology, and Rev. Dr. John Brown of Broughton Place to the Chair of Exegetical Theology. Some surprise was later expressed that Dr. Balmer (he was later awarded a D.D.) had not been appointed to the Systematics chair. He was undeniably gifted in that department, but then so was Duncan. Both were men of orderly minds, and well-read in the old Puritanical theology. Nevertheless, subsequently Doctors Duncan and Balmer did exchange chairs. As before, classes were divided into Junior and Senior. However, the appointment of professors from four different places presented a problem. Dr. Dick and Dr. Mitchell had both been Glasgow ministers, and in the days of a single professor the Hall had migrated to follow the Professor. But now, with four professors, that was impractical, and so the question had to be asked, where would the Hall be located? Glasgow would be convenient for Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Duncan, but unquestionably Edinburgh would be better situated for Dr. Brown and Dr. Balmer.

Next time, God willing, we shall see how the problem was solved, at least for a time, and how the increase in professors affected the Hall.



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